Enviro The Water Wars
posted by June 16 at 15:39 PMon
Four years behind schedule and nearly $80 million over the original budget, the nation’s largest sea water desalination facility finally supplies much-needed drinking water to 2.4 million people in the Tampa Bay region.
Despite the plant’s troubled history, a handful of Florida communities want to follow Tampa Bay’s footsteps in a high-stakes bid to keep water flowing to meet the state’s growth. […]
This spring, the Legislature debated a bill that would have helped utilities develop their own desalination systems. The idea was approved, but the bill stalled because of the state’s budget woes.
Nevertheless, utilities and water supply planners believe it is only a matter of time before more facilities like Tampa Bay’s dot Florida’s landscape.
The new focus on desalination comes as the federal government has released a 300-page report on the technology’s status as a viable drinking water source.
The report concluded that sea water desalination could forestall looming water crises in many regions of the country, but cited significant environmental issues needing more study.
The increased focus on harnessing oceans for drinking water is easy to explain: Many places are running out of fresh water and have few alternatives.[…]
While many environmentalists would like to see Florida slow growth, state leaders say that is not realistic.
“You can’t stop people from coming to Florida,” said state Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, who sponsored the proposed desalination law.
1) The environmental issues surrounding desalination “need more study”? Hardly. According to a report issued last year by the World Wildlife Fund, the process of filtering the salt out of seawater creates massive greenhouse-gas emissions that worsen climate change, leading to drought and glacial melting and (ironically) threatening existing freshwater supplies. Desalination has also been linked to saltwater leaching, pollution, and damage to marine ecosystems. Moreover, desalination promotes sprawl and unsustainable population growth.
2) Statements like “You can’t stop people from moving to Florida” remind me of arguments like this one against investing in mass transit (or like this one against requiring density around transit stops): People drive now, after all, and by God, we can’t force them not to! These kind of arguments—don’t socially engineer me out of my car/ uninhabitable desert / suburb—ignore the fact that those high-speed freeways/ massive, unsustainable irrigation systems/ miles upon miles of uncontrolled sprawl are just as artificial or “engineered” as transit/ living sustainably/ density. There’s nothing “natural” about moving to Florida and drinking desalinated water, any more than there is about taking transit to work from your dense urban community with a sustainable water supply. Both are choices about the way we live—and what kind of future we want to leave to our children—something even some suburban communities are finally starting to recognize. Once we can acknowledge that choices like where to live and how to deal with our limited resources are “engineering,” it becomes possible to engineer things differently.
UPDATE: Just came across another nice example of engineering that could be called unengineering (ungineering?): Parking meters in San Francisco that are cheaper when demand is low, and higher when demand is high. Unlike the traditional (“natural”) approach to parking (increasing supply as demand increases), pricing meters reduces demand to equal the existing parking supply.