The Water–Energy Nexus in the American West

The Water–Energy Nexus in the American West

Edited by Douglas S. Kenney and Robert Wilkinson

The nexus between water and energy raises a set of public policy questions that go far beyond water and energy. Economic vitality and management of scarce and precious resources are at stake. This book contributes to the body of knowledge and understanding regarding water, energy, and the links between the two in the American West and beyond.

Chapter 10: The Energy Implications of Desalination

Heather Cooley

Subjects: environment, climate change, energy policy and regulation, environmental geography, environmental law, water, law - academic, environmental law


Heather Cooley 10.1. INTRODUCTION Long considered the Holy Grail of water supply, desalination offers the potential of an unlimited source of fresh water purified from the vast oceans of salt water that surround us. The public, politicians and water managers continue to hope that cost-effective and environmentally safe seawater desalination will come to the rescue of water-short regions. At present, however, the only significant seawater desalination capacity is in the Persian Gulf, islands with limited local supplies, and selected other locations where water options are limited and the public is willing to pay high prices. In the United States, almost all seawater desalination facilities are small systems used for high-valued industrial and commercial needs. This may be changing. Despite some major barriers to desalination – including its extremely high energy footprint – interest has recently mushroomed as technology has improved, demands for water have grown and prices for some desalination technology have declined. Interest in desalination has been especially high in the West, where rapidly growing populations, inadequate regulation of the water supply/land-use nexus, and ecosystem degradation from existing water supply sources have forced a rethinking of water policies and management. For example, public and private entities in California have put forward more than 20 proposals for large seawater desalination facilities along the coast over the past ten years. In south Texas, two seawater desalination plants have been proposed within the last year. Even officials in Las Vegas have explored the possibility of financing a seawater desalination plant in California in exchange...

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