Water Crisis Promotes Desalination Boom

Worldwide growth in the use of desalination rose sharply over the past year, indicating that desalination technologies are being used more than ever to address the global thirst for new sources of potable water, according to statistics released Oct. 29 by the International Desalination Association (IDA).

According to the 2008-2009 edition of IDA's Desalination Yearbook, the amount of global contracted (planned) capacity grew by 43 percent in 2007, or 6.8 million cubic meters per day (m3/d), up from 4.7 million m3/d in total contracted capacity in 2006. This increase of 2.1 million m3/d is enough to supply potable water to more than 50 million people.

IDA reports that this growth trend has continued in 2008. During the first six months of the year, newly contracted capacity has increased by an additional 39 percent. As of June 30, 2008, the cumulative contracted capacity of desalination plants around the world stood at 62.8 million m3/d. Sixty-two percent of the newly contracted capacity is seawater desalination, with brackish water desalination representing another 12.2 million m3/d. Wastewater applications of desalination technologies for water reuse is growing fast, currently representing 5 percent of total capacity.

The 2008-2009 Desalination Yearbook also reports that the number of contracted desalination plants worldwide totaled 13,869 as of June 30, 2008, up from 13,080 the prior year. "For many communities, desalination provides the only reliable source of potable water," said Patricia Burke, IDA's secretary general.

The Desalination Yearbook also shows that plants are now being built on a new massive scale. Currently, the largest single desalination plant in operation is the 456,000 m3/d plant serving Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. However, there are five other plants with capacities in excess of 500,000 m3/d now under construction in the Middle East region. The largest of these is the 880,000 m3/d Shoaiba 3 unit in Saudi Arabia.

While not approaching this magnitude, large-scale desalination facilities are also being planned in the United States. For example, the recently approved Carlsbad, Calif. desalination facility will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, providing 50 million gallons (189.3 m3/day) of high quality drinking water per day.

Copies of the IDA Desalination Yearbook 2008-2009 are available to IDA members or can be obtained directly from Global Water Intelligence; visit www.idadesal.org.

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