NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Oceans are Full of Drinking Water

April 1, 2003

In many places around the globe, water has become a hot commodity. However, dry areas lying along the Earth's shorelines have an advantage over inland ones thanks to technical improvements in desalination which are making it commercially feasible to turn seawater into drinking water.

  • Saudi Arabia now gets 70 percent of its water from the ocean.
  • In California, 13 sites along its coast have been proposed or planned for desalination plants.
  • The largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere will soon begin operating in Tampa, Fla., producing 25 million gallons of drinking water a day -- or 10 about percent of the city's needs.
  • Nine water districts in South Texas have submitted plans to the state to operate desalination plants along the Gulf of Mexico.

For every two gallons of salt water that enters a plant, one gallon of fresh water and one gallon of brine comes out, after passing through plastic membranes that remove the salt. Those membranes have gotten cheaper and more efficient in recent years.

Water authorities say that any and all plans for increasing a region's water supply are expensive and often attended by legal hurdles. But desalination, also expensive, has certain advantages: it is both drought-proof and reliable.

Only three percent of the Earth's water is fresh, while the entire remainder is in the oceans.

Source: William Booth, "Thirsty Cities Look Seaward for More Water," March 30, 2003, Washington Post.


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