Why DeSal is the Sanest Option to more ‘Damn’ Building

We’re in a drought – who in the southwest hasn’t heard these words? But is our drought due to climate change, poor water management, or just plain bad luck? Ultimately, historians hold the answer to the southwest’s recurring drought question, but let’s not wait for history to foretell our future.

Let’s presume there are two types of drought:

  1. Lack of precipitation (rain, snow, and sleet)
  2. Demand exceeds supply (too many users for too little water)

The second scenario is valid if and only if, humans settled the region when there was ample water for the settlement to grow and prosper. Both types of drought may be human-induced, but one type was readily mitigated by building vast storage facilities to store excessive water in times of plenty for use in times of scarcity.

The southwest prospers by building great water storage and distribution systems – how else could Los Angles expand, or Las Vegas exist? The system of water storage and distribution worked well as long as the ‘cycle of plenty’ repeated and the population growth did not outstrip the system’s storage capacity.

dam overflow blog

But with any system of supply there are environmental and social issues; vast acreage of natural beauty must be flooded, damns built, rivers harnessed, water life threaten. And let’s not forget water storage systems only work if and when: (1) it rains or snows within our collections systems, and (2) the runoff can be successfully channeled towards the water storage system.

As we have recently seen, sometimes the rain falls where we have no storage facilities and cannot be captured or rerouted that runoff towards the existing storage system. Dam failures have threatened the safety of residents and businesses. Additionally, dams require constant maintenance to remove silt buildup, construction is expensive, and their operations require participation within the water collection area.

There must be a better means of gathering or saving water for urban use.

Responsible desalination to the rescue

Desalination (using ocean water to create fresh drinking water) is a well known and utilized technology throughout the world. The United States is just now experimenting with regional and small-scale desalination facilities. If we employed desalination on a larger-scale, we could effectively diminish the need for dams.

Desalination can be done responsibly, with minimized environmental risks, by combining advanced technology with solar power. This provides reliable water supplies independent of climate conditions while the desalination system maintenance is within “onsite” control – no silt or clogged water storage spillway facilities that can fail. Solar desalination utilizing large scale solar generation and grid storage can also provide assistance to our electric grid during times of stress – peak loads, cloudy days, or transmission outages while also providing an environmentally friendly source of electricity.

With responsible (thoughtfully created) desalination systems, we wouldn’t have a need for most of the water gathering facilities required for collecting precipitation and storing that water. Desalinated water production would give us is controllable, generating water only when needed.

Solar panels sunset

There is no one perfect solution to our ceaseless demand for additional sources of potable water. However, desalination (when done thoughtfully) does offer a sustainable, environmentally sound source of clean water. Making the switch to responsible desalination could help us avoid the dangers of dams including failures, regional land requirements, and ecological destruction related to major facility construction and maintenance.