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Desalination is a Viable Response to Water Crises

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/22/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 7 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 378 times Debate No: 87053
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (1)





I will argue that desalination is a viable response to water crises.

Definitions (from Google)
Viable: capable of working successfully; feasible
Desalination: any process that removes the excess salt and other minerals from water in order to obtain fresh water suitable for animal consumption or irrigation
Water crisis: a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand

Round 1: acceptance only
Round 2: main arguments
Round 3: rebuttals
Round 4: conclusion; no new arguments

Time per round: up to 48 hours
Characters per round: up to 10,000 characters

No trolling; serious debaters only please
Forfeiture results in a loss

If there are questions, please write in the comments. Thanks!
Debate Round No. 1


Hello Purple_Circle, and thank you for accepting!

I will argue that desalination is a viable response to water crises.

We have all heard the statistics. Earth"s surface is roughly 70% water, and only 2.5% of that water is freshwater. Of that 2.5%, barely 1% of all freshwater is easily attainable [1]. But what do these numbers actually translate to? They mean that of the seemingly infinite amount of water on Earth, only a miniscule fraction is readily available for over 7 billion humans to drink, whom all need water to survive. While this matter may seem irrelevant to people living in places where water scarcity has never been a concern, many parts of the world are already experiencing this. "Even in the United States, demand for water in drought-ravaged California and the desert Southwest is outpacing supply" [2]. The future is not looking to improve anytime soon; in less than a decade, 1.8 billion people will live in areas under absolute water scarcity, the worst level of water scarcity [3]. The Earth"s population is growing while its freshwater supply is diminishing. The Earth"s aquifers, underground deposits of water, are quickly being depleted, which account for 35% of human"s water use [11].

In order to combat water crises, I believe that desalination, the process of removing salt from ocean water in order to yield clean water, will be a strong solution until a better one is discovered. I will now provide reasons why desalination is a viable response to water crises.

1. The ocean is huge
Desalination requires a large amount of salt water. Fortunately, the ocean is a virtually unlimited supply of water that we have available to us to desalinate. Anybody who has seen the ocean knows how massive it is. Imagine how many water bottles could be filled from an average sized swimming pool. Now picture the ocean. Thus, it is nonsensical to worry about depleting the Earth of all its water. In fact, the global sea level has risen approximately four to eight inches in the last century due to global warming, so to an extent desalination plants would actually help counter this situation [4]. Of course, this would be no excuse to stop worrying about rising sea levels and the environment. But it could at least help. In essence, more salt water equals more drinking water, by way of desalination.

2. Desalination is effective and reliable
Reverse osmosis is "where salt water is forced against a filter. The filter has extremely small openings, so small that only water can go through it and the salt is left behind" [6]. This is the most popular technique used in desalination plants and has been well researched for years [9]. As I mentioned earlier, desalination has proven to be extremely efficient, particularly in response to California"s drought. "While [desalination] has long been confined by steep costs and environmental concerns, even some critics now say it merits a place in the state"s water portfolio" [5]. The largest desalination plant in the United States is located near San Diego, California and is capable of producing tens of millions of gallons of water every day. By itself it can provide water to 7% of San Diego County [5].

3. We need water for other uses besides drinking
Humans are not the only animals that require water to live; all of them do, including the ones we eat. In the case of a sever water crisis, we will need water not only for drinking but also for maintaining our livestock as well as watering our crops. In California, 80% of water use is used for agriculture [10]. Taking into consideration just how much fresh water desalination plants can produce in as little as a day, we can see how this technique would allow us to sustain livestock and crops. In the case of an actual water crisis, people would likely conserve more water for themselves than for their animals and plants, which is where desalination could come in to help.

4. Better technology is making desalination cheaper and more eco-friendly
Desalination requires large amounts of energy. Fortunately, renewable energy such as solar energy is beginning to be implemented. A company in California is working on a system which uses the sun"s energy rather than reverse osmosis to produce drinkable water. "This concentrated solar still collects the sun's energy, which heats a pipe containing natural oil, providing heat for the subsequent distillation process." This process is beginning to see use around the world, such as a plant in Australia. "Located 100 metres from the shore, the solar-powered plant treats salt water pumped directly from the sea. As well as returning freshwater, the plant uses hot water generated during the desalination process to heat nearby greenhouses" [7]. This shows how new options will not only be cheaper but also beneficial to the surrounding areas.
Other new technologies are also being looked into. In 2011, a physics professor at the University of Chicago was awarded a grant to continue research and development on a nanoparticle desalination system which could significantly cut down on energy usage and expenses that results from the energy required for reverse osmosis. "As a result, it allows 100 times more flow at the same pressure. In addition, the self-assembly process used to fabricate it reduces costs" [8].
As technology becomes better, so will the efficiency of desalination techniques. Costs and carbon emissions will decrease, and drinking water output will increase.

It is important to note the criteria of what I am arguing: I am arguing that desalination is a viable response to a water crisis. The term "water crisis" can be quite subjective, which is why I defined it as "a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand." When plants, livestock and people begin getting sick and dying due to dehydration, this would be a situation we could classify as a crisis, and I believe it would certainly call for the utilization of desalination in order to make available drinkable water to hundreds of millions of people if not more.

To conclude, water is the most basic of our physiological needs. Humans cannot survive more than a few days without water, thus our first priority must be ensuring the survival of our species. Desalination may currently be costly and potentially harmful to the environment, but advances in technology are rapidly changing this. The ocean is virtually an inexhaustible supply of water that we can harness until a better solution to the issue is resolved. Through desalination, the percentage of Earth"s water that is both attainable and capable of being drinkable by billions of people around the world will go from a fraction of a percent to virtually 100%.



While desalination is a possible response to water shortages, in my opinion it is not the best option. Here is a list of reasons why I think that desalination is not a viable solution to water crises:

1. Energy costs

The start-up costs of building a new desalination plant are very high. Many countries that are not as economically developed do not always have the ability to spend large amounts of money on desalination plants so it is clearly not a viable solution to manage a water crisis because it can be too expensive so desalination is not a suitable method of dealing with water scarcity.

Desalination requires a large amount of energy. While the price of oil and gas has been quite low in recent months, the cost of desalination has fallen as well. Despite this, in the future the world will start to run out of oil and we should expect the price of oil and gas to increase substantially compared to today’s prices. This means that in the future, it will not be economically viable to continue to desalinate water because the running costs of desalination plants will likely become a lot higher and be too expensive to be a long term solution to water crises.

2. Air Pollution

Most desalination plants use fossil fuels to heat the saline water to it can be turned into drinkable water. As I previously mentioned, desalination requires a large amount of energy which means that producing drinkable water via desalination is going to result in a large amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. The resulting change in the global climate will submerge large amounts of land due to rising sea levels as a result of the melting ice caps. Thousands of people who live along the coastlines will be displaced which means that desalination is not a sustainable response to water crises.

3. Ecological impacts

Desalination will create a lot of waste products including salt and other chemicals which needs to be disposed of somewhere. Dumping this salt into water sources like the ocean will have massive ecological problems because the increased salinity of the water will kill aquatic life. This can cause economic problems like a decline in the fishing and tourism industries for example due to the environmental damage. Even if the waste products are dumped on land, it will still have ecological problems for land based life instead so desalination is going to cause environmental problems wherever the wasted salt is left.

Also, when the saline water is pumped into the desalination plants, aquatic organisms tend to get sucked up along with the water. Plankton, fish eggs and larvae are among some of the things that are killed during the desalination process, many of which are vital for the aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, desalination is disrupting ecosystems that can impact humans as well through a decline in tourism and fishing which I mentioned previously.

To conclude, desalination is an expensive solution to water crises and will have global problems to both humans and animals as it is damaging to the environment which is why I do not think that desalination is a viable response to water crises.

Debate Round No. 2


Thank you Purple_Circle!

I will now respond to my opponent's arguments in the order listed.

1. Energy Costs
The cost to maintain and operate desalination plants has been tremendously reduced in the last few decades. The image below shows how much less expensive they have become. “The historic downward trend of the cost of desalination is generally associated with technology improvements such as improved SWRO membrane performance and significant advances in the ability to recover more energy from the desalination process” [1]. Also, new ideas are constantly being put forth that would further reduce expenses, such as the nanoparticle desalination system that I mentioned in round two. Other methods such as renewable energy will not only reduce costs over time, but allow us to depend on energy sources other than oils and gasses.

2. Air Pollution
The power of desalination plants and their large output capacity does come at a cost. The burning of fossil fuels can be detrimental to the environment over time, as it releases unnatural gasses such as SO2 (sulfur-dioxide). Fortunately, there are several techniques that are being adopted by desalination plants to limit their environmental impact. For example, the use of fuel oil with a low sulfur content can reduce SO2 emissions by 72% [2]. Using natural gasses can nearly eliminate SO2 emissions. To further reduce emissions, desalination plants can implement end of pipe control, such as flue gas desulphurization. This technique can almost eliminate SO2 emissions. "[It is] used to remove sulfur dioxide (SO2) from exhaust flue gases of fossil-fuel power plants” [3]. The following image demonstrates what this process looks like [3].

3. Ecological Impacts
My opponent writes “Desalination will create a lot of waste products including salt...Dumping this salt into water sources like the ocean will have massive ecological problems because the increased salinity of the water will kill aquatic life.” Con is right to worry about this, but this is no longer a problem with modern desalination plants. Rather than dumping the salt straight back into the ocean, they have methods to gradually disperse the salt back into the sea, such as sprayers, or in the case of one facility in California, pipes. “[The pipe] runs thousands of feet out to sea, with small holes spaced ten feet apart, so not too much brine [extremely salty water] would pour out in any one place” [4]. Alternative methods are also being utilized, such as in the San Diego desalination plant I mentioned earlier. “The captured salt is diluted with the cooling water from the neighboring power station, and that’s discharged back into the ocean” [5]. The main priority of desalination plants, after ensuring that a region is not deprived of water, is to inflict the least amount of harm possible onto both the local environment and the planet as a whole.

Next, Con states “Also, when the saline water is pumped into the desalination plants, aquatic organisms tend to get sucked up along with the water. Plankton, fish eggs and larvae are among some of the things that are killed during the desalination process, many of which are vital for the aquatic ecosystems.” This is yet another issue that is no longer present in modern desalination facilities. Desalination plants will place grates in front of the pipes that bring in the ocean water, which prevents most water life from entering. Another relatively new technique being utilized is called directional drilling, which eliminates the chance of sucking in water life. “From below 200 feet of sand, and well insulated from any vulnerable sea life, Cal Am hopes to suck up a couple thousand gallons of water per minute” [4].



Purple_Circle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend arguments.


Purple_Circle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by JayShay 7 months ago
Thank you Purple_Circle, I appreciate you taking the time to write that. No worries; life happens :)
Posted by Purple_Circle 7 months ago
Hi everyone,

I would like to apologise to JayShay and to everyone else for forfeiting this debate. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen events I have had to devote my time elsewhere. I will make sure that this does not happen again and I'm sorry for any disappointment as I too was looking forward to an interesting debate.
Posted by JayShay 8 months ago
I apologize for the lack of chronological order of the appearance of my sources. I was a bit rushed to submit my argument before 7:00, so I had no time to rearrange them. Thanks for understanding
Posted by JayShay 8 months ago
Thanks for accepting! I'm a bit busy at the moment, so expect my argument around tomorrow afternoon.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by fire_wings 7 months ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture