Archive for the 'desalination' Category

Water supply key to outcome of conflicts in Iraq and Syria

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“Rivers, canals, dams, sewage, and desalination plants are now all military targets in the semi-arid region that regularly experiences extreme water shortages, says Michael Stephen, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in Qatar, speaking from Baghdad.

“Control of water supplies gives strategic control over both cities and countryside. We are seeing a battle for control of water. Water is now the major strategic objective of all groups in Iraq. It’s life or death. If you control water in Iraq, you have a grip on Baghdad, and you can cause major problems. Water is essential in this conflict,” he said.

ISIS Islamic rebels now control most of the key upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates, the two great rivers that flow from Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south and on which all Iraq and much of Syria depends for food, water, and industry.

“Rebel forces are targeting water installations to cut off supplies to the largely Shia south of Iraq,” says Matthew Machowski, a Middle East security researcher at the U.K. houses of parliament and Queen Mary University of London.

In April, ISIS fighters in Fallujah captured the smaller Nuaimiyah Dam on the Euphrates and deliberately diverted its water to “drown” government forces in the surrounding area. Millions of people in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Babylon, and Nasiriyah had their water cut off but the town of Abu Ghraib was catastrophically flooded along with farms and villages over 200 square miles. According to the U.N., around 12,000 families lost their homes.

Earlier this year, Kurdish forces reportedly diverted water supplies from the Mosul Dam. Equally, Turkey has been accused of reducing flows to the giant Lake Assad, Syria’s largest body of fresh water, to cut off supplies to Aleppo, and ISIS forces have reportedly targeted water supplies in the refugee camps set up for internally displaced people.”

Read more: Grist



Jordan, the PA and Israel trade water from the Red and Sea of Galilee

Some good news out of the Middle East region for a change: It was announced at the Israel Business Forum that Israel has signed an historic water-sharing agreement with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. But not all parties are happy with political manoeuvrings around the announcement.

The new project will include a new desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan, at the northern tip of the Red Sea in order to provide Jordan and Israel with a new source of drinking water. As per the agreement, Israel would release some of its water from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), further north, to flow to Jordan, and at the same time provide desalinated water to the Palestinians to use in the West Bank.

In a later phase of the project a 180km pipeline system might transport brine produced in the desalination plant form the Red Sea north to the Dead Sea, but officials on the ground say they don’t have information that it would be part of Monday’s agreement.

Read More: Green Prophet


Is Syria The First Water War?

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“In Syria, a civil war has raged for two years, and while many people have ideas about what should be done, few have any hope that the war will soon stop. In California, a forest fire the size of Chicago is now 80% contained, after weeks of coordinated efforts to manage the fire. There is a common exacerbating factor between the California Rim Fire and the Syrian Civil War: water, or, more specifically, the lack of water.

Droughts didn’t cause Bashar al-Assad to be a heartless dictator (and incompetent manager), nor did droughts cause sectarian conflicts to exist in the first place, but the increased heat from climate change has parched the Middle East, particularly Syria, and combined with Syria’s internal strife, the nation is barely holding itself together.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman gives an excellent summary of this issue in his column,Without Water, Revolution:

“’The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,’” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work….

“Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported.”

Unless there is a breakthrough in desalination technology, water is likely to be the resource where shortages cause large and unpleasant global shifts. Humans are decimating the water supply through constant usage on one end, and climate change driven droughts on the other. Furthermore, much of the water we use is fossil water, which does not replenish (or it does, but it takes thousands of years).”

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Suez Wins Water-Supply Contract for Oil Vessels Off Brazil Coast

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Suez Environnement (SEV), the second-largest water company in Europe, won a supply contract for vessels involved in offshore oil production in Brazil.

Degremont, Suez’s water-management subsidiary, was awarded an engineering and procurement contract for four water-supply units for Keppel FELS Brasil and its affiliates Lindel Private Ltd. and Estaleiro BrasFELS Ltda.

The water-supply units, two of them seawater desalination, will equip two floating production, storage and offloading or FPSOs vessels ordered by Tupi BV, a subsidiary of state-owned Petrobras Brasileiro SA, for offshore oil production in Brazil. The other two are sulphate removal units that treat seawater to make it suitable for water injection, helping avoid clogging rock reservoirs and contributing to enhanced oil recovery, Suez said today in a statement. No contract terms were disclosed.

Following the discovery of ultra-deep reservoirs 300 kilometers off shore, Brazil will become the sixth-largest oil producer by 2020, said Remi Lantier, chief executive officer of Degremont. With the contract,” “Degremont proves its capability to accompany Petrobras in its needs for innovative water solutions for upstream oil and gas production.”


Read more: Bloomberg


Santa Cruz desal critics pick apart environmental eval

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“SANTA CRUZ — Desalination skeptics packed a Quaker Meetinghouse on Thursday to hear a critical evaluation of an environmental report for a $129 million facility that would serve 135,000 water ratepayers.

More than 100 people listened as Rick Longinotti, a founder of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, questioned a draft environmental impact report’s conclusions about water supply shortages, alternatives and the impact on growth and the environment. He argued the city has made a political decision to allow for water use to grow at UC Santa Cruz and within the city’s limits from 3.2 billion gallons in annual demand now to 3.8 billion by 2030, figures published in the report, rather than hold demand down.

The former electrician turned marriage counselor and anti-desal crusader said the city needs to wean golf courses off drinking water, share excess winter flow with neighboring districts, become more aggressive with conservation measures and better manage the Loch Lomond Reservoir rather than pursue a costly desalting facility. He called again for a formal water-neutral development policy similar to one in place within the city’s desalination partner, the Soquel Creek Water District, which requires developers to directly offset their new use through conservation rather than pay fees that may not all go toward conservation.”

Read more: Santa Cruz Sentinel



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“The City of Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District are planning jointly to construct a seawater desalination plant. The construction cost is estimated to be over $100 million dollars. Ratepayers in the City of Santa Cruz will be on the hook to pay 60% of that cost. Water rates will go up significantly if the plant is built. On a more philosophical plane, a decision to build a desal plant will be a decision to release our community from the inherent limits of the natural environment. Currently, we have to live within the limits of our natural water supply. Desalination is a way to “manufacture water.” As long as the ratepayers are willing to pay the costs, the supplies of water that can be produced are essentially unconstrained. The City of Santa Cruz has promised UCSC that it will pursue modular desalination plants in the future, to meet “system demand” for water. In other words, the decision on desal is a decision about University growth in particular, and future growth in general.

This is one of those cases in which the Wittwer & Parkin law firm, where I am “Of Counsel,” is representing an interested party, namely the Community Water Coalition. The environmental review process is just beginning, and I hope all of you will get personally involved. I have put links to the Draft EIR in today’s transcript. Comments are due by July 15th.”

Read more: KUSP


Desal or Not?- Big Meets Small in the Nexus with the Future Up for Grabs

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Desal or Not?- Big Meets Small in the Nexus with the Future Up for Grabs

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Desalinisation is a fascinating expression of the water-energy nexus, and its inherent contention. Though there are many technical approaches to actually achieving the desired results, the idea is simply to produce fresh water from salt water. Depending upon your perspective, this technology and it likely approach to water management can generally be one of two things- a brilliant technical fix or a socio-environmental nightmare.

Regardless of one’s positionality, there is a strong backing (powerful stakeholders some of whom have access to lots of capital) for desalinisation and the problem it purports to solve will only spread out and increase in intensity over time. Should it prove technically feasible at some signifiant scale, we may see more than just demonstration plants in the next ten years and increasing commercialisation by 2050. An interesting question for folks considered about more than just security of supply is the sustainability of desal technologies. One interesting prospect for instance is the potential for solar powered desalination.

This past month has been incredibly busy for me, in no small way due to progress on my pursuit of a PhD. As I’ve moved through the application process the project has been refined and my ideas polished. My focus will be on arid case studies, places with scarcity of both energy and water (a major hypothesis being that there’s cross causality there). The conditions that make desal look viable, its potential impacts and the socio-technical system itself all exemplify this. As a part of a centralised resource management plan, desal would include both energy for water (the desalinisation process itself is extremely energy intensive, and so is moving around all that water from points of production to its diffused consumption)  and water for energy (centralised power which is usually produced using large thermal electricity plants which consume fuels such as coal, gas and uranium often use water as their primary coolant). Desalinisation in many ways represents a central dualism in socio-environmental policymaking, one I hope to explore at length in my research.

That is, between two broad scales of technology and governance structures- technocratic centralisation vs. democratised dispersion (for those of you familiar with energy policy, its essentially Amory Lovin’s Road Not Taken- Hard Path vs. Soft Path, with more socio-political considerations added in). Briefly now let me tool this apart before going back to Desal and a specific case. On one hand you have the technology on a continuum of degree of centralisation (really just big vs. small). Think nuclear power plant versus solar panel. On the other you have decision making, and how it’s concentrated. In a strong technocratic system, its an unelected elite of experts making all the calls with little or no transparency and access by other stakeholders. The opposite of that would be a system with very diffuse decision-making with non-experts and regular folks having a lot of input in a very open system. Its your classic top-down versus bottom-up divide. Even with water and the Nexus itself I often relate things back to this thinking. To keep it simple lets just think of it as big vs. small (both in tech and governance).

Near the end of February, the New York Times published a piece on the development of a $1 billion desalinisation plant in Carlasbad, California which began construction in late 2012. The San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) has agreed to purchase 48,000 acre-feet of water (one of the main units of measure in water policy, one acre-foot being equivalent to about 326,000 American gallons) per year at $2,000 an acre-foot. This will supply 7% of total water supplies for 30 years.

Beyond of the socio-environmental considerations of this reverse-osmosis plant the central debate in the area is on cost. Both the firm building the plant, Poseidon Resources and the SDCWA are betting on a continuation and acceleration of the trend in rising water demand.  In its scenario calculations the SDCWA estimates that this may be cheaper than status quo cost projections by 2024. They currently get their water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for about $1000 per acre-foot. Its a gamble, but both the agency, the firm and their backers argue that in a time of dwindling fresh water supplies and growth demand will inevitably rise. Critics, both from environmental NGOs and independent research institute argue strongly that not only will this raise consumer water bills but also electricity as more energy is needed to power the plant, and that there’s no guarantee on the development of the region’s shifting thirst. Their proposed alternative is greater investment in demand side management (DSM), that there isn’t a need for a supply-driven drive to forge a new market for desal plants to solve our water crisis.

This is a classic case of big vs. small. Right now there’s only one other commercial scale desal plant in the US- in Tampa Bay, Florida. It’s not been a dramatic success for the burgeoning industry, lots of costly mistakes. That goes with the territory, risks are always higher at the opening of a market. Over time the costs may go down and with the right governmental support there very well may be a boom. The problem is that even should one accept it as a viable and acceptable approach, desalinisation will in all likelihood dis-incentivise water conservation & reuse and investment in efficiency. Think about it, you invest all this money and sign a contract for guaranteed supply. If you can reach a point where this becomes the new cheap option, why go back to sorting out your demand?

It really does matter where you start. From a supply orientation (big) you have a shortage that needs to be plugged by any means necessary and using economies of scale. Demand orientation (little) means focusing on using what’s already available more effectively and working to change the conditions that caused the shortage to begin with. The former generally does little to curb demand growth and is resource inefficient, but the latter risks supply insecurity if DSM isn’t effective enough.

I’m going to leave you all with a rather unfair quandary now, a dichotomy (of sorts) to revisit soon. No matter what we decide, we set ourselves down a trajectory which may not be easy to change further down the line. This is infrastructure we’re talking about, decisions made at one moment will shape decades to come.

Question is, which do we bet our money on?

~ Miles on Water



Desalination Seen Booming at 15% a Year as World Water Dries Up

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“In the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, 158,438 residents of the city of Copiapo suffered daily cutoffs of tap water last year as Anglo American Plc and other companies helped suck nearby aquifers dry for their mines. With little water left for drinking or mining, the government of President Sebastian Pinera convinced the companies to seek a solution to the water crisis 60 kilometers away from Copiapo — on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

London-based Anglo American is spending $107 million to build a desalination plant on the coast that will pump about 120 liters (32 gallons) a second of water through the desert to its Mantoverde copper mine. Set for completion in the second half of this year, the project will provide enough salt-free water, which is used to separate copper from ore, to operate the mine. Two other companies are building similar desalination plants in an effort to keep Chile’s mining-driven economic boom alive, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.”

Read more: Bloomberg


Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

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Spreading the Nexus and Finding it Everywhere

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Applying for PhDs is an intimidating prospect. So too is trying to make a real, valuable contribution to a burgeoning field. As is navigating the current job market. Fair readers, you find me now striving through all three.

Once you start its hard to shut off, colouring your perspective on everything else. You might even start seeing the world through it. In the midst of this now I can attest to the surreality of spreading the word and finding it everywhere you look.

On some level applying for a PhD is an exercise in arrogance, assuming that not only is there a gap in the knowledge that you, you lowly peon you, have accurately identified but that its something to which you can bring a unique constructive addition.  You’ve got to find the right niche though, or it all can fall apart. Though I’m not sure yet what the next step for me will be after my MSc I’m knee-deep now in the process of finding such a niche myself. I’ve several materials put together now, spent a particular amount of time developing an energy-water policy nexus research proposal.

Effectively, I’m trying to take the approach here at Exeter’s energy policy group and combine it with the Transitions literature (basically about the interplay between the society and economy with technology over time- i.e. transitioning to decarbonisation in energy) to study energy-water nexus case studies from the American Southwest, the United Kingdom and desert lands around the world. All this is towards helping to develop a water equivalent to the global energy system transition. I spent a lot of time on my literature review trying to throw together a whole slew of different perspectives and areas, and went through several revisions with the help of my Tremough mentors.  Hopefully I got in a decent stab at balancing the practicality (both in terms of execution and impact) and uniqueness (both intellectually and to creative problem-solving). As the comic here shows, this terrifying balance dominates the first stages in every doctoral studentship.  Wish me luck. The experience has crystallised my thinking on energy-water issues, I see it everywhere now.

I’m already dedicating one module (on environmental and sustainability policy) to exploring the nexus in California and the UK, had an incredible seminar on energy and the built environment (including water-in-energy infrastructure) and spent an afternoon recently watching the live Guardian debate on the energy-water-food nexus discussing its contours on Twitter. Right now I’m in the depths of a one-week intensive module on international energy issues, its a lot of time spent being bombarded with incredible and deeply complex material. The water-energy nexus has been a constant theme from India’s bilateral water resource treaties with Pakistan and Tibet to Big Hydro in China and Middle Eastern solar desalinisation. We’ll continue through Friday afternoon, providing a plethora of new areas and datasets for study. I doubt this project will end any time soon.

Though I’ve many other interests in energy and specialisms I hope to develop I’m working right now to find a placement further exploring the nexus, might even end up combining such an experience with my PhD research proposal to develop my dissertation over the summer. Whether I find a job or start a PhD, after I finish at Exeter there’s a very good chance this work will go on well into the near future. I’ll continue chasing the nexus.

Its a big thing to be a part of.

~ Miles on Water

“Irresponsible” World Bank Says Red-Dead Canal Feasible

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“It was about a decade in the making: without much fanfare the World Bank has released a report stating that the Dead Sea – Red Sea Canal project (also called the Red Dead Conduit) will work. The basic idea is to take salty water from the Red Sea, pump it up to a channel, desalinate it and then run the excess saline water to the Dead Sea via the channel where it can replenish the super-salty water at the lowest  place on earth. Fresh drinking water will go to Jordanians as well as energy created by hydro-electric processes.

The Dead Sea is shrinking due to human overuse of water that should normally run to the Dead Sea, as well as mineral cultivation in the South end of the sea by the Dead Sea Works owned by Israel Corp (ILCO:Tel Aviv). While the World Bank report (which can be downloaded here in English, Hebrew and Arabic) says that the canal is feasible and contingent on about $10 billion in investments, it does point out some environmental considerations.

It is these very considerations, green organizations like Friends of the Earth Middle East state, which should stop the Red-Dead plan from ever materializing. In a statement issued after the publishing of the report, Friends of the Middle East write that the World Bank study is “irresponsible” and that their conclusions do not match the findings in the report.  In short: The ‘Red Dead Canal’ project idea has wasted a decade for the Dead Sea, says the NGO which is based in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.”

Read more: Green Prophet