CONGRESS NEWS Desalination industry embraces conservation as vital ally

Desalination industry leaders this week declared emphatic support for the role of sustainable measures alongside advances in desalination to address growing water scarcity. Opening speakers at the IDA World Congress in San Diego emphasized the importance of conservation and water recycling in meeting an escalating global challenge from water scarcity.

Outgoing IDA president, Abdullah Al-Alshaikh, called for greater pace in regulatory decision making: “Streamlining approval is a must,” he said

The public’s measure of the value of desalination had taken a u-turn to widespread acceptance according to mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer. “Ten to 15 years ago the public said they wanted no part of it – now there is strong support,” he said. He went to say people viewed the need for desalination as “not a matter of if but when.”

He stressed that the search for new sources of water could not be limited to desalination or any other single option: “How we get new supplies is not one thing or another – it has to be conservation, desalination and reuse,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of water and electricity, Abdullah Al-Hussain, warned of a “formidable challenge for the desalination community” and added: “Our product is still far to expensive to make a difference where it counts.” He highlighted the importance of conservation by noting that the 27% savings in water consumption made in San Diego under a state mandate was the equivalent of 40 desalination plants the size of the nearby US$ 1 billion, 250Ml/d Carlsbad facility scheduled to begin operation this year.

San Diego water authority vice chairman, Mark Weston said it was crucial to diversify measures to create new municipal water supplies. “Ultimately we will desalinate wastewater to potable water,” he said.

It was not enough to implement current desalination technology and greeter innovation was vital according to president of global civil and infrastructure at Aecom Technology, Vahid Ownjazayeri and called for greater use of renewable energy to power desalination and water reuse projects.

President and chief executive officer of ACWA Power, Paddy Padmanathan, spoke of the “massive and as yet unutilized source” of water in recycling. He said that while 85% of water used went to waste streams only 2.4% of consumption was from recycled water. He said recycling must be “first, second and third” lines of investigation in the search for new water supplies.

Chief executive officer of Singapore’s water agency PUB, Peter Joo Hee Ng, pressed the case for advances in desalination technology: “Only innovation guarantees a good future. Otherwise the next drop will always be more expensive,” he said.

NASA research scientist, Benjamin Cook, presented a possible chilling outlook for global water resources. He described the current drought in south western US as the worst 1,000 years but presented data demonstrating the emergence of a “mega drought” lasting decades was possible. He said tree-ring evidence indicated that a mega-drought had gripped parts of the planet more than a millennium ago and current findings pointed to “an 80% chance of another in the latter part of the twenty first century.” Cook said that while this was “not apocalyptic” there was a need to “maximize the use of new and existing sources of water.”