Desalination Needed Only if Valid State Water Policy is Neglected
Center for a Sustainable Coast
Summer/Fall 2006 Newsletter
This article on desalination was written for the Center's newsletter in the fall of 2006, based
on comments made by the Center's executive director to a session of a state legislative study committee on
desalination held on Saint Simons Island in August. Anyone who would like to be added to the Center's mailing
list to receive our newsletters by mail should send their address to the Center or call the Center staff to provide
us with mailing information (phone 912-638-3612).
legislative study committee recently met on Saint Simons Island to
investigate the feasibility of providing future water supplies from
processing ocean water using a modern filtration process that is among
the best known methods for desalination.
Formation of the study committee occurred as a result of an initial
proposal to create an official ≥authority≤ to use public funds to help
develop and implement desalination in Georgia. Rather than simply
moving ahead on the assumption that such a proposal would prove
practical, our legislators formed a 10-member committee to look into the
feasibility of using desalination to supplement natural fresh-water
No one doubts that water supply and good water quality are needed to
meet the needs of our rapidly growing state, but there seems to be
general misunderstanding about just how to achieve these goals. To be
most responsible in meeting future water needs will take sustained
political support vital to developing and implementing a state water
plan, now being prepared by the Department of Natural Resources.
Interim water management and permitting plans for areas in Georgia
having more immediate water management problems have been developed for
the Atlanta metropolitan area, the Flint River area, and the coast. If
the requirements set forth in these plans by DNR's Environmental
Protection Division are any indication, it seems likely that the state
plan, expected by 2008, will put priority on protecting and making more
efficient use of water supplies that are already available.
Both the EPD draft plan and supporting comments from the
conservation-minded Georgia Water Coalition suggest that efficiency
improvements could yield enormous benefits, greatly extending the
population and economic activity that could be supported by existing
Among recommended improvements are:
- Wastewater recovery, distributing partially treated water for
non-drinking uses such as irrigation and industrial cooling.
- Restructuring water-use rates to reward higher efficiency and to make
wasting water more costly.
- Repair leaks and replace inefficient
- Install accurate meters for measuring all water uses.
- Adopt controls on outdoor uses (lawn & garden watering, golf-course
- When appropriate, replace septic systems with
sewage treatment plants, improving water quality & recovery. Based on
the success of water management efforts such as these being done in
other states, it is likely that Georgia can save at least 20% of what is
now being used, and probably 30% or more. Savings on this scale would
be equivalent to ten or fifteen years of growth at current per-capita
rates of water use. But with better water-using efficiencies, each new
Georgian would require less water than in the past.
All told, the Center for a Sustainable Coast estimates that water
management improvements such as those listed would support Georgia's
growth without any new sources of water supply for several decades.
But unless other state policies are linked to water management, Georgia
will be working against itself and would likely fall far short of that
Take energy policy, for example. Currently proposed Georgia energy
policy supports development and use of conventional fossil fuel (oil,
natural gas, coal) and nuclear-powered plants for generating
electricity. Many power plants are among the most wasteful of all water
users, while alternatives like wind and solar power are weakly
supported. Therefore, state energy policy now being advanced squanders
water that, simultaneously, is being carefully managed to reduce waste
and improve efficiency under EPD's water resources plan. (See p. 6)
The Center's executive director, David Kyler made these points as an
invited speaker in a presentation to the study committee on August 23.
After explaining these troubling contradictions, Kyler concluded by
telling legislators serving on the committee that Georgia does not have
a water supply problem, but rather a profound water management
"Desalination is a solution to a problem we don't have and can prevent
for many years. With proper steps in water management, supported by
adequate public funding, Georgia will not suffer water supply
shortages for decades." - David Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast
In a follow-up memo to the committee, Kyler warned that he was
apprehensive that providing the promise of water supply alternatives
such as desalination would distract state leaders from the more
practical and environmentally responsible tasks of water management and
implementing progressive energy policy.
State Senator Jeff Chapman, who serves on the committee, seemed to
agree. He told Kyler that Georgia's water situation was very similar to
the energy crisis of the 1970s, when America could have made major
advancements in fuel efficiency but lost interest when fuel prices fell
as available supplies grew. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves
reaching similar conclusions thirty years later, having squandered our
first opportunity to become energy independent through alternative
technologies that would have saved resources.
To responsibly sustain Georgia's growth, it is essential that elected
officials become more sensible in their approach by adopting policies
that consistently support our quality of life. Analysis of the
feasibility of new proposals for development and technology must be
based on long-term public interest, not driven by political expedience
and short-term payoffs.