Report: Ocean Desalination Too Costly

Food & Water Watch released on Feb. 4 a new report concluding that ocean desalination creates a myriad of environmental and social problems.

"Desalination: An Ocean of Problems" finds that the process of removing salt from seawater to make it drinkable carries a high price tag, releases unregulated chemicals into drinking water supplies, uses large amounts of energy, pollutes waterways, and threatens fisheries and marine environments, among other drawbacks.

"Private companies are marketing desalination as a long-term solution to water shortages. In reality, they are taking advantage of communities where impending water crises are leading water managers to believe they must adopt extreme measures," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director, Food & Water Watch. "Desalination is a risky water supply option that actually creates more problems than it solves."

The report finds:

  • Desalination is expensive, often two to four times as costly as traditional options.

  • The by-products of desalination include coagulalants, bisulfates, and chlorines. When concentrated waste is dumped into the ocean as it is with desalination, it is harmful to marine life and environments. Furthermore, power plants' intake mechanisms, which are often teamed with desalination plants, kill at least 3.4 billion fish and other marine organisms annually. These effects cause fishermen to lose at least 165 million pounds of fish a year today.

  • Desalted water puts drinking water supplies at risk because seawater contains chemicals such as boron. Only 50 to 70 percent of boron is removed through desalination. It has been found to cause reproductive problems and developmental problems in animals and irritation of the human digestive track. Current drinking water regulations do not protect the public from boron.

  • Removing salt from large volumes of water takes nine times as much energy as surface water treatment and 14 times as much energy as groundwater protection.

  • Private corporations are investing in desalination because it is a leading growth area in the global water market. As water becomes a scarcer commodity, global corporations are setting themselves up to sell water for a profit.

"Policymakers can better provide the public with safe, affordable water by implementing conservation measures to protect water supplies. It is up to the government to ensure the integrity of this vital natural resource. It should not be left to private corporations more concerned with revenue than service delivery," said Hauter.

The full report is available at

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