Importance of Natural Resources

Can Seawater Fix California’s Drought?


Maybe you’ve heard that California has been
having some water trouble lately. And by lately, I mean for the past five years. California is experiencing a serious drought,
and if it continues, it could cause permanent past five ydamage to its ecosystems, threaten
its precious freshwater resources, and ruin the state’s many, many crops. But maybe you are thinking, how can a state
that shares 1350 kilometers of coastline with an ocean be out of water? Well, ocean water is full of salt, that’s
how. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Because there’s a process called desalination,
which removes the salt from seawater to make it drinkable. It’s already used in some parts of the world
on a large scale. So now, both scientists and citizens are wondering
whether “desal,” as it’s sometimes called, can help California out of its drought. So let’s take a look at how desalination
currently works. There are five different methods used facilities
around the world, to extract pure water from seawater. But over 80% of the world’s desalinated
water is produced by just two of these methods: They’re known as reverse osmosis and multi-stage
flash. Reverse osmosis uses pressure to remove salt,
other minerals, and microbes from seawater. The water is pumped through a bunch of semi-permeable
membranes, which contain tiny pores that let water molecules pass through, but filter out
other particles if they’re too big or charged. The water that gets forced through the membranes
becomes useable freshwater. But the leftover water is so salty and full
of other junk that it’s too expensive to try and extract any more freshwater, so it’s
sent off to a separate treatment plant. This extremely salt-saturated water is known
as concentrate or brine. In multi-stage flash, seawater is brought
to a boil multiple times as it travels through a series of chambers, creating some water
vapor and leaving the dissolved salts in a liquid. Freshwater is collected as the water vapor
rises to the tops of these chambers and condenses. And the leftover brine is either recycled
in other parts of the system, or disposed somehow. These technologies have been effectively used
in thirsty countries around the world. For example, the Ras Al Khair Desalination
Plant in Saudi Arabia uses both reverse osmosis and multi-stage flash processes. It’s capable of pumping out about 1 million
cubic meters of desalinated water every day. In Israel, meanwhile, Sorek Desalination Plant,
uses reverse osmosis exclusively, and can supply around 620,000 cubic meters of freshwater
per day to the country’s water system. So why don’t we use this stuff to solve
California’s drought problems? Well, even the biggest desal plants in the
world are only supplemental – they don’t make enough water to support an entire population. The Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California,
for instance, is helping produce freshwater through reverse osmosis. But, at best, it provides less than 10% of
regional water demands. Desalinating seawater can also be twice as
expensive as treating other water sources, like rainwater or wastewater. On a large scale, most of that expense comes
from the energy that’s needed to heat the water, or apply pressure to it. According to some estimates, it takes about
25,000 US dollars’ worth of electricity per month to produce enough desal water for
only 1,200 homes. Plus, there’s the problem of how to process
all that leftover brine. You can’t just dump it back into the ocean,
because the extreme levels of salt have been shown to damage fish, coral, and sea grass. And finally, there are logistics to consider. Most of California’s water is used for agriculture,
but the state’s growers would be largely unaffected/ by any efforts to desalinate seawater. Why? Because most California farms are inland,
and not even close to the ocean, which is generally where you’d want to put a desalination
plant. So, to help quench California’s thirst,
we’re gonna have to try new desal technologies. One promising technique scientists are developing
in California is solar desalination, which harnesses the thermal energy of the Sun to
power a desalination plant. An example of this would be a multiple-effect
distillation plant, which is a lot like multi-stage flash… except the steam from the first stage
is used to boil water in the second stage. And the steam from the second stage is used
to boil water in the third stage –and so on. Solar desal may be able to make clean water
at a lower cost than conventional desal, and it could produce less brine. Some companies even estimate around 93% of
the saltwater being turned into freshwater. For now, though, the cost and logistical problems
of desalinating seawater are just too big to solve problems like the California drought. But with more research and ingenuity, desal
plants could provide at least some relief to drought-stricken communities everywhere. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, just
go to patreon.com/scishow, and don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe!


Reader Comments

  1. Put a cathode and anode in water and with a battery, create sodium and chlorine that attach to the cathode/anode, or make it easier to filter.

  2. Aaaand when exactly does the gov't plan on stepping in to prevent big water bottling companies like Nestle and Coke from coming into our neighborhoods and stealing our public water reserves to sell back to us at premium prices, because they helped cause these nationwide droughts in the first place?

  3. I'm actually really irked by the fact that where I live in Texas, we were in drought from 2005-2015, with it becoming severe (rainfall totals for 7 years were pretty much stagnate across the state) in 2007. And yet, no one talked about it; no one thought twice about the second largest state in the nation drying up for ten years. Then we got a flood or two and pretty average rainfall at the same time California's drought started to get really freaking bad, and suddenly everyone cares about California!

    We lost tens of billions of USD in crops, and because of the arid climate in much of the state a lot of lower-income areas started losing people to heat exhaustion and dehydration by the hundreds because they couldn't afford to buy the now-absurdly-priced water they needed. But for all that time, no one outside of Texas was saying, "Wow, this could permanently damage the ecosystem," or anything like that while our natural rivers dried up and our lakes dwindled down to 1/3 capacity (we literally found large furniture sandbanks that had been underwater for years here in Austin).

    Then California — a state so naturally dry that they had to build an pipeline from a river 420 miles away to have any water in the lower half of the state — starts to get dry, and the whole world flips out! I ask you, what's a worse sign of the times: a massive landmass absolutely riddled with rivers to the point that most of its borders are rivers losing nearly all of its water and not getting rain for 10 years; or a state that defies its own nature so extremely that they decided to put their center of commerce and industry in the middle of a desert with no water around for hundreds of miles and just make it work?

    When the water in a desert starts to dry up, it's going back to it's natural state. When the water in the East Texas swamps starts to dry up, something's gone horribly wrong. Hate to break it to y'all, but you missed the real harbinger of climate change by a few years and about 1,500 miles.

  4. if California's people would just stop eating Mcdonald and other meat products they will have much more than enough water even for other states

  5. Interesting and well done, but it's edited to sound very stressed. Insert some pause between sentences for a more natural flow.

  6. So half the country is flooded? And the other half spends a good portion of the year catching on fire and spray painting their front lawns green? If only there was some way to build an XL pipeline of some sort across the country to deliver a fluid that we all need to survive… hmmm, sorry California but I'm afraid you're all going to die!

  7. what would happen in 50-100 years from now when their is no more land or sea ice, would this help with desalination or would it have no affect?

  8. 60 procent of the budget can go to military bs and meanwhile a state aint even got plenty of fuckin water! Water! its not a question of whether the problem can be solved it s a question of politics

  9. I did a research paper on the California drought in college. Desalination is definitely viable and can be a supplemental source as said in the video, but the real long term solution is to improve the efficiency of the system by recycling waste water. Countries like Singapore that have implemented water recycling keep their reserves above 90% full even in severe droughts.

  10. Importing millions of immigrants to a place already overburdening it's ancient water works and electric grid? What could possibly go wrong?

  11. Want to know the quickest way to end a Drought?
    Start building a Desal plant and just before it is ready to commission the rains will come and break the drought.
    Well thats what happened here in Victoria, Australia, the rains came and now the plant sits idle but still costing us money.

  12. In canada we need lot of salt for winter, send it free to us, you won't need to throw it back to the ocean.
    I wasn thinking also that same can be used as house insulation, as material when mixed with ciment.
    There are many things we can do with salt, other than to consume it.

    We can create large sold cube of salt and stock it in the desert

  13. California is already arid as hell.
    Not only do you 'Muricans grow plants and crops there in ridiculously large amounts for a country that is so arid, but you also use crops that need a high amount of water to grow.
    Additionally you make sure that the ground water level keeps falling and that the soil is made unfertile through a high salinity level.
    Like you have to be a special kind of stupid to do that much wrong.
    Not saying it's different in other countries, it just annoys me how so much obviously stupid shit is done all over the world without apparently anyone caring about it.

  14. well they better figure it out quick 🙁 cause as of right now usa is suing my country ( canada ) for all of our fresh water to help california….. and everyone here is like " why are you trying to take our water for free to stop california from turning back into sand?" water wars are comming people

  15. When push comes to shove diets are going to have to change. That doesn't men malnutrition. Just that many foods may not be available year round. Bad news for those who sustinence depends on an unsustainable model.

  16. Shut down golf courses!! Seriously!! The amount of water they use very day is disgusting. It wont fix the problem, but it would help

  17. Did they even look at their own math? 25,000 dollars @ 1200 Homes is only $21 per home in water! That is less than anyone in CA pays right now! In Santa Clara, CA you have to pay the 28$ min regardless of usage.

  18. Its kind of ironimic that when they talk about California being in a drought they dont account for where the water went.. rising sea levels = less water in ground, think of it as an equation that needs to be balanced if you dry water from ground in cali it will ultimately end up in the sea of cali ect..

  19. Danm illegals are drinking up all the water. Kick em out, and keep em out. Problem solved. Oh and stop smoking so much pot. You get dry mouth and then what. Drink more water is what. Plus you pothead hippies need to stop growing the shit. Let the people in Washington do that, they get the rain.

  20. Its easy to fix the preblem just pump masive amounts of Sea water to any desert basin and evaporate it, you will get Ta ta !!  Rain people   Rain tru evaporation of salt water its simple what California does not have is good leaders.

  21. Sounds like a great idea until the state gets the bill for the plant and the people have to pay for it. Solar panels are extremely expensive and produce very little energy for their size. NASA on the other hand has created much more efficient solar panels yet the cost of those are even higher then conventional. In other words farmers and citizens will have to fork out hundreds of dollars a month for water.

  22. LOL .. Left Coast Libtards oppose any and all water retention projects (i.e. DAMS) .. then they pout and cry when the DESERT they live in runs short of water ! haa ha hah ha

    Hey Dipshits, it's January 2017 and it's raining and snowing in California at historic levels .. maybe it's time you quit your whining and did something about your water problem other than blame Colorado for wanting to hold on to their Superior Water Rights eh?

  23. I have an idea that has already proven to work and with irrigation highways and junctions but no idea who to talk to in California can anyone help with this

  24. Oh yeah, 20 bucks a month is increadably expensive, what kind of madman would pay such money? Please stop hiding the fact that it's dirt cheap behind ""only" 1200 homes", don't insult the inteligence of your audience.

  25. hey sci show do show about the see through rats and mice using uDISCO is super cool.  also do show on our suns solid surface  . you guys rock

  26. If SoCal has the best weather in the US, Why are the officials whining about drought? It's unneccessary.

  27. Crazy idea. Build to plants next to each other. One a solar desal plant and the second a solar plant that melts salt and in turn powers turbines. The plant with mirrors focused on a point. The desal provides all the slat you need and eventually the salt power station provides electricity. Any excess power can also be diverted to homes and local communities. Thoughts?

  28. supplemental is better than nothing. they should have a large scale plant, powered by both wind and solar, and have the potable water brought to the drying lakes.

  29. 20 dollars per month for distilled water? That's next to nothing. Even people on food stamps can afford that.

  30. Heres what I'm thinking…giant glass piramades (reinforced, of course) that float off the coast. Gutters on the inside collect the freshwater and a hose or underground pipe takes it to the nearest city. The heating free as CA gets plenty of sun, and it would be anchored like bouy far enough off shore the storms shouldn't effect it. Bonus, u don't have to worry about the brine, the tide will carry it away

  31. They should just move away and foster infrastructural and cultural development in the rest of the country. There is no reason for all the temperate fertile land to be conservative shitholes.

  32. California already has dozens of systems in place for moving water around including pips that cross the entire state, a canal system running from the north to the south and many others. Build the desalination plants in the north to take advantage of those systems. Also, for those who don’t know this: California produces 40-50% of all fruit and vegetables grown in the USA. The Midwest grows mainly grains like wheat, barley, corn, etc except rice. If we want to continue eating we (the entire USA) had better figure something out and soon. Another thing to consider is that California’s population keeps growing and growing and growing and in order to house all those people they keep covering some of the greatest farm lands in the world with suburban sprawl. That needs to stop immediately! The population is now larger than Canada or Australia. And as a % of population California has one of the highest rates of poverty in the entire US. As for money HA! Seriously?! California has the 5th largest economy in the WORLD! If they got rid of the millions of illegal aliens that drain the resources of the system they could afford to build all of the desalination plants they would ever need. Side effects? Several million fewer cars on their roads, ER’s not being overwhelmed by people without insurance, less crime, less gang activity, more jobs for Americans and people there legally, fewer people on food stamps, no housing shortage, wages would increase as the number of available jobs would be larger than the pool of people looking for work, less pollution, fewer people means less water needed, the list goes on and on. I don’t care about anyone’s politics either. It would be good for everyone not just the left or the right.

  33. Furthermore if they used desalination plants to provide fresh water to the most populated areas which are mainly along the coast it would decrease the distance the water would need to be transported and the fresh water from regular sources could be used for the rest of the state. Also, he mentioned solar power as a way to supply the energy needs of the desalination plants. California has vast areas of desert like the Mojave and just about everything east of Los Angeles. In the end California will probably have to adopt multiple strategies in order to save itself. Desalinising sea water, solar power, nuclear power, lowering the population, restricting housing locations, smaller or no lawns, reusing waste water, water conservation, no golf courses, etc etc.

  34. Cold Steam the efficient way to use heat sources to produce electricity and or distilled water explained from basic concept to employment.
    Two open containers one full of water the other empty connect them at the bottom and water will reach an equilibrium 50 50. If one is sealed except for the connection the other will remain empty because of the vacuum created in the sealed container.
    Gravity will overcome this vacuum if the containers are taller than 30 feet.
    If the tanks are 40 feet tall the tanks will reach an equilibrium of water levels at 30 feet leaving ten feet of hard vacuum in the sealed tank. This makes a vacuum pump set we need two of them if we were going to distill water as the cold side open tank is used to collect the distilled water from it as the continuous input of water needs to go somewhere.

    Each sealed tank has four valves three at the top two of those on opposite sides (B&C) one at the very top (D) one at the bottom on the side (A), water-based vacuum pump operations are, Close bottom tank valve A and top tank valve C. Open top tank valve D. Fill sealed tank through top side valve B. Close valve B and D when full. Open bottom valve A.
    This primes the system to let the warm water in that will vaporize and run through the system when you partially reopen valve B (to control flow rate) and open valve C to its fullest.

    For only power generation need one pump set and one vacuum tank so we can have a Hot side and a Cold side one to boil the water and one to have the low pressure/vacuum to draw the steam in through the turbine then the cooling coils then to the tank.
    At the bottom of the cold side, tank is a return pipe with the one way valve to the heat source the one-way valve prevents expansion back to the cold side and as the hot side vacuum chamber is the only outlet for the expanding water and it is drawn by the vacuum the cycle proceeds.

    You can combine the two and get power generation and distilled water keeping the return line from the power generation system will let you switch if you don't need distilled water on a continuous basis in large quantities.
    I am going to make one feel free to make one as well it is open source.

  35. Solar desalination is usually a byproduct of solar power plants using collectors, where the steam is used to drive a turbine. So you produce fresh water AND electircity, to boot. Solar collection power plants are larger and more expensive than PV plants, but they can transform a larger portion of solar radiation than PV panels (ca 0.4 kW/m² compared to 0.2 kW/m²) into electricity

  36. I agree with desalination but not the current process. Because it will need lots of power that will cost lots of money. Better way is newer technology that use green technology and its more inexpensive. Check out the link
    gofundme.com/solve-the-world039s-water-problem

  37. Or…. Stop trying to populate and farm the desert…..morons. I so hope Calexit goes through. Let the idiots have their own country lol.

  38. Why aren’t hundreds of these things being built. You 25k for 1200 people a months. That’s a case a beer. California has 40 million people. They could build 33,000 and the people would only pay 20 bucks a month. I’m sure 33,000 is over kill. But how about 2500 plants and still make people pay 20 bucks. This would pay for canals to have plants inland and employees. There must be other eco-systematical issues preventing the cure to a serious drought in America’s most populated state. Boosting agriculture is always a win win in my book at least.

  39. Actually, Israel now gets more than HALF of its fresh water from desalination. Where there's a will there's a way!

  40. Well first step would be to get those idiots down in Southern California to stop watering grass. Seriously, look up how much water lawn grass consumes. Even worse is when you realize exactly how much water do you use taking a shower compared to how much water we receive and rain. Best way to do this is with the RV. Find out how much water that think and hold fill it up and take a normal shower. See how much water is left over, then get the rain totals for a single year. Quick little math and it does not look good, then combine that to how many people are living in your area. Absolutely horrifying, I also notice how the news rarely gives out the proper information. The news gets all excited our Lakes are full but that's only a small percentage of the water that we use. Other sources such as groundwater are not feeling up. If they were more honest and blunt about the water totals to the population here perhaps more people would make better choices

  41. There is the Beijiang Power Plant located in Tianjin. The power plant boiler itself uses desalinated sea water and is fired using coal. The hot steam from the exit of the turbine is used to heat the sea water in a multi-stage flash process and other industrial processes nearby, as well as providing room heating for the nearby communities. The desalinated water goes into the city water supply. The brine also goes to the same industrial processes nearby, which provides chlorine, soda and table salt from the brine. As of the hot ash from the coal, limestone is added turn the ash into cement. This way every single material that went into the power plant complex becomes some kind of useful product, except CO2: the coal's energy gets turned into electricity, industrial heat and room heating for winters, the coal itself turns into cement and CO2 (sadly that is not caught now.) Seawater is pumped in with the initial intention to be cooling water of the power plant, but it turned into a practical source of city water supply. As of the brine it is put into multiple uses after being concentrated at the power plant.

  42. How bout dumping the sea water in the mojave desert? Get some hydro dams to recover income. The sea water evaporates and the salt water builds up over time. Don't have to worry about the salt build up because it's in a desert.

  43. Well build more and it will become cheaper plus it will improve the technology. Also stop trying to tap into into our watersheds, like really California piss off

  44. In 2020 CA. WILL limit citizens use of water. The reason? Conservation of course——NOOOOT!!!
    Get this-"Budget control". Huh?? "Well what does that mean", you ask? No one knows.

  45. STOP PRODUCING SO MANY PEOPLE! LOWER YOUR POPULATION! You're going to be wall-to-wall people eventually! STOP IT!!!!!

  46. "Or disposed of somehow…" What they don't want to say is that means – pump it back into the nearby ocean….

  47. $25,000 a month for enough water to supply 1200 homes for a month? That’s less than $21 a month per house… doesn’t sound too expensive

  48. Why there are 13 gas and or oil burning power plants producing electricity thru steam generation , along the coast of california plus the 2 active nuclear power plants ? the infrastructure exists convert what already exists and start desalinating!

  49. It's ridiculous that this is not being thoroughly explored. It's so obvious, is the primary school kids solution, the earth is 4/5, we live on the blue planet get our drinking water from the sea.

    Almost every major expansive technological network starts off as expensive. It's only through continuous implementation and experimentation that it gets cheaper. As ever it looks like there's other forces at play 😒

  50. Why not just use salt water for flushing toilets and fire mains. It's a system currently used by all our Navy ships. Add a green dye so people don't mix them up. Salt water deters rats in the sewers and it's better for fire fighting because it boils at a higher temperature. That would free up millions of gallons of treated, potable water.

    Salt water could be used for many industrial uses as well. Of course the infrastructure of having a new set of pipes and drains run for the "green briney" would be a steep up-front cost. However, if we had sewers just for sewage, sewage treatment plants would have much less volume to process. And non-sewage drains could simply be directed to rivers with little to no treatment.

  51. 2:56 But aren't the melting Poles desalinating water and ruining ecossystems?
    Can't they just throw brine and mix it in those areas to recover them?

  52. I have been promoting LARGE SCALE DESALINATION FOR 10 YEARS!!! 10 years ago when i was in cali and they had a drought…i spoke to people and suggested it but they had every excuse, mainly money (even though i have cheap ideas). Ive posted all these years and i barely got people to acknowledge the potential solution and guess what..if u believe in global warming, DESALINATION IS THAT ANSWER TO WATER RISING..

  53. The cost of of "Heating water" is (dam i swear i was going to say solar light but you said it as i waa writing). Another solutions can be lazer heat (i am not sure of th costs of battery/powersource sustainable but, lazers can evaporate water VERY FAST.

  54. Terrific rain storms in California. Huge floods in Nevada and Texas. Massive Hurricanes along the east coast. There is no drought. Hasn't been for years. Wheres the water ?

  55. Huge floods and storms but no water ? Where is it. Well we know. Because this has happened to us. People are before the court here. And the government is in very serious trouble.

  56. Your water is stockpiled in "environmental" reserves behind earthworths disguised as roads under a federal "environmental" plan. YOUR water is then used for private IRRIGATION. A severe criminal act.

  57. Diversion legislation has been given for a federal body to set run off diversion tables in any way it sees fit over state natural water supply. It has been granted license to divert water into "environmental" reserves and SELL it to irrigators. A most severe act against sovereign settlements along the natural course of water.

  58. Frosty doubts whether the act of legislation has state governor signatures. If they do. The parties have betrayed the people. If they don't. Washington has no consent to implement such a "management" plan upon the states water supply. The act applies to Federal territory only.

  59. Getting more water is only part of the problem, I think. Another part of it is that America tends to use it so wastefully: golf courses, unsuitable crops, unsustainable farming practices, and hour long showers.

  60. 3:08 – you forget that the Delta, where the State Water Project that supplies the Central Valley as well as LA, is below sea level. With some well-constructed dikes, dams and pumps it wouldn't be difficult to bring in salty water from the Suisun and San Pablo Bays to feed a massive, modern solar-powered Desal Plant.

  61. California should ask the land owners to make ponds on their land so that they can collect the water and let it soak in the ground to refill the aquifers. That will increase the ground water and increase the well water. They should key-line their property to allow more rainwater to soak into the land and help prevent all these fires in California. They should reforest their land to bring more humidity into the air and thus help create more rainfall. Trees and swales should be on all the hills to help collect the rainfall and thus make the ground more moist. No water from the rivers should be allowed to flow into the ocean. Every home owner should have a 1200 gallon water storage tank to collect water from the roof. Wal lah , water problem solved!

  62. It's not hard to do the problem is investers who will want a return therefore charging growers and the growers charging the consumer. Another thing is moving the water. Imagine the pretty penny they would have to pay you to run a pipeline through your house or your property. That's alot of permissions needed and alot of checks to come with it. Cut that cost by just getting it to the California aqueduct from the bay. Problem solved. No high speed railway nor border wall on Californias side. Unless the feds fund it. Whatever the obstacles this doesn't seem impossible like putting a man on the moon did before we did it. It cost alot and returned nothing. This will.

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