NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

City Officials Take a Second Look at Desalination

November 22, 2002

Early experiments in desalination of sea water were discouraging. The process of removing salt from sea water and turning it into fresh water suitable for drinking turned out to be too expensive and impractical when fresh water was abundant.

But soaring demand for water has led cities to reconsider investments in the process.

  • Desalination is common in other parts of the world -- particularly the Middle East -- where Israel and Saudi Arabia have built plants.
  • Worldwide, more than 13,500 plants are in operation.
  • But population growth in coastal areas of the U.S. are straining fresh water supplies -- particularly in California, Texas and Florida.
  • Technological advances have nudged the costs down and, in some regions, desalination can squeeze more out of depleted supplies by treating ground water that's naturally brackish.

Prices for desalinized water have become more competitive. For example, water from Tampa's $208 million plant will sell for $1.88 per thousand gallons -- compared to $1.50 to $1.75 from traditional sources.

Taste is not an issue. When people tried desalinated water in a blind test, 95 percent of them preferred it over reservoir water.

Source: John Ritter, "Cities Look to Sea for Fresh Water," USA Today, November November 22, 2002.


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