Thursday, November 29, 2007

Soapbox: Only God can make water, right?

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2007 at 10:57 PM

By Bill Crane

There's nothing quite like a drought of the century to focus one's attention on water use, conservation and consumption. As federal, state and local officials grapple with any possible solution to meet the water demands of Georgia, Alabama and Florida, now is the time to begin planning to prevent such a drought from impacting this region ever again. Water covers more than 70 percent of the globe, but 97 percent of that is salt water not fit for drinking, irrigation or most any commercial purpose.

Western states long ago harnessed the Colorado River to help handle the water needs of Las Vegas and Los Angeles -- both without a natural water supply. Today, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as sailors in the nuclear navy, daily consume desalinated water.

The world's largest desalination plants are logically located near some of the world's largest deserts, including the largest at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. Water desalination plants in Saudi Arabia currently account for nearly 25 percent of the world's total desalination capacity. Perth, Australia, now operates a wind-powered desalination plant capable of producing 40 million gallons of clean water per day.

Israel is producing desalinized water at 53 cents per cubic meter, and Singapore is down to 49 cents. Desalination in all forms requires significant energy, to separate and remove the sodium and other sediment from the fresh water. One of the processes most energy-efficient for desalination is called co-generation, combining the use of electricity production and producing heat. This heat is then recovered and re-used. In the Middle East and North Africa, there are co-generation plants that produce both electricity and water, with the combined facility consuming less fuel than would be needed by two separate facilities.

In Georgia and Alabama, there are three nuclear power plants, which might be ideal for co-generation. Today these plants also have substantial need for water, to produce steam for running their turbines as well as cooling the nuclear reactors and rods. For all three plants peak electric-generation demand time is during daylight hours.

What if we pumped brackish water from the Savannah River, or saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean, to a co-generation plant at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle near Augusta producing co-generated fresh water primarily at night, when energy consumption needs decline sharply? The co-generation plant could produce enough water to supply and cool Vogtle, as well as additional water suitable for farm use and irrigation, manufacturing and other commercial purposes. The fresh water now consumed by Vogtle could then stay in aquifers and other municipal water supplies.

Hopefully it will be at least another century before we are faced with a water shortfall this significant or potentially disastrous to our economy, lifestyle and our health and hopefully, long before that happens we will follow the examples of many other governments and utilities who have already found a way to turn the Earth's most prevalent resource, sea water, into our most valuable resource, fresh water. This doesn't require new ideas or genius; it just requires some fresh thinking, and a sense of urgency, as well as what remains at stake if we don't.

Bill Crane is a political analyst at 11Alive News and WSB-AM (750).

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