Water Week

EWN Publishing

WWF wants conditions set for large scale desalination projects: option of last resort

Posted by waterweek on 28 September 2007

The pioneering work of the World Commission on Dams pointed the way to an assessment process for large scale water infrastructure projects generally, according to the WWF’s Phil Dickie.

Open process required: WWF believed that a compatible process could and should be established for large scale desalination projects, to ensure that any proposed plant was needed and was the best option for meeting the identified water needs after open, comprehensive and equivalent consideration of the costs and impacts of all options.

Restrictions on desalination: WWF considered such a model process should include considering desalination and in particular seawater desalination as an option:

• only after integrated water resource management plans were in place at the catchment and local levels and these demonstratde a need to augment water supplies;

• for seawater desalination, only after relevant marine protection plans were in place;

• only where robust land use planning schemes that give adequate weight to environmental constraints existed and were enforced. (These might include provisions to manage demand through the exclusion of thirsty developments such as irrigated agriculture or golf courses from water scarce districts);

• only after all no regrets conservation and efficiency measures had already been undertaken or allowed for in the assessment of water needs in the proposed area of supply.

Conservation and efficiency a better answer: Implementation plans backed by adequate resourcing should exist for medium and longer term water conservation and efficiency measures:

• only where water, including agricultural water, is appropriately priced to reflect the full costs of supply. Where social reasons exist for reducing the real cost of water, the subsidies should be directed specifically to the target group, should be transparent and should not be applied to the water price; and

• only where the capital expenditure devoted to desalination plants could not be more productively or cost-effectively be devoted to demand management as an alternative to additional supply; using related technologies to recycle water; using related technologies to treat “impaired water” resulting from prior poor environmental practice; and restoring the functioning of damaged natural water supply systems.

Reference: Phil Dickie, WWF for a living planet, ‘Making Water – Desalination option or distraction for a thirsty world?’, June 2007

Erisk Net, 23/9/2007

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