A couple weeks back I blogged about a widely published report that held that the west was entering into a prolonged drying spell. The New York Times detailed solutions being proposed & implimented that included desalination.

What was not mentioned was an idea that will be bandied about during a meeting in Calgary. That meeting will be held next week in Calgary. It addresses the idea of massive water transfers from Canada to the USA & Mexico to address water shortages. You won’t hear about it south of the border however. The only place this is mentioned is in Calgary.

April 25, 2007 April 25, 2007

Next week, government officials and academics from the three countries will gather in Calgary for the two-day North American Future 2025 Project (see page 6)where they’ll brainstorm ideas on how the continent should implement policies to deal with various challenges – including security, energy and labour.

But it’s the agenda on water that has activists concerned, given that the discussions will be held behind closed doors without public scrutiny, said Maude Barlow, national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians.

”We want this out in the light of day. We tried contacting them and they said this meeting is private,” Barlow said. ”How could it be private if it is setting up the political and policy framework for the future of North America?”

An outline of the proceedings states that climate change is expected to greatly exacerbate water shortages in the United States and Mexico while Canada, which has the world’s largest supply of fresh water in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, is not expected to suffer to the same extent.

It goes on to state that ”creative” solutions – such as water transfers and artificial diversions of fresh water – may be needed to address the ”profound changes” that are bound to occur south of the border.


Water transfers is something that’s hotly debated in Canada …(search google under Canada “bulk water”) but you don’t hear much about it in the lower 48–though President Bush has mentioned his support for the idea. Asked about the possibility of water transfers world renowned water expert Peter Gleick said the economics simply weren’t there. Mr. Gleick says.

I actually think this enormous controversy over bulk water exports is a little bit silly because no one’s going to be able to afford it,” he says.“And frankly I think some of these people who complain because they have been prohibited from doing it, I think we’ve saved them a lot of money. I think they should have been allowed to do it and go bankrupt.”

Santa Barbara looked into the idea several years back and decided on water desalination even at then current prices.

Never the less, according to a joint report entitled Global Water Futures produced by the CSIS and the Sandia National Laboratories.

Finding 5: Solutions must be innovative, revolutionary, and self-sustaining. Current
trajectories for improvement in freshwater availability and quality are inadequate to meet global
needs in a timely way. Innovative solutions must be found and employed that replace steady,
incremental rates of progress with dramatic, revolutionary changes. These solutions must be designed to be self-sustaining over the long-term.

Given the recognized urgency of the need for water solutions and the fact that the meetings are behind closed doors, it looks like much of the time & effort will be put into expediting Bush’s desire for water transfers–rather than doing any actual brain storming.

This is a shame. Especially as likely it will suck up what federal institutional energy there is behind water desalination R&D. Its especially shameful because the feds could get so much more bang for their buck out desalination R&D.

So if you happen to know someone who knows someone who is attending the meeting in Calgary next week…be sure to mention to them that basic research suggests that the cost of water desalination & transport will collapse in the next 5 to 10 years.

Here are three promising avenues of research mentioned in this blog from three different research labs.

1. Lawrence Livermore


3. University of Rochester

Here’s a strategy for turning municipal sewage into pure water and oil.

Here’s a strategy for cutting the cost of pumping water

To hasten the pace of research, I would greatly increase the amount of money available to federal university & corporate labs for water desalination research. As well, I would include DARPA in the effort to fund start up companies. Further, I would suggest three ways to focus research dollars.

The first would be to make available prize money like the X-Prize that Newt Gingrich touts as a frugal way to get the most bang for the research buck. I blog about this in a piece called harvesting research unknown unknowns.

The second suggestion would be to attack known unkowns by employing a much less publicized method of crowdsourcing scientific research which I discuss in detail here.

How does a research administrator best deploy his dollars between projects competing for research dollars? Choosing rightly between known knowns is difficult. In fast paced industries companies use something called prediction markets. I discuss this strategy here.

Finally, make plain to those in attendance that those supporting Chinatown type scenarios are going to be overwhelmed and their careers sidelined by scientific innovation. In the next 20 years there will  be more scientific innovation than the last 100 years. The best that the government can do is enable the scientists, the entrepreneurs and the corporations — and then sit tight. Water from Canada is nice but the right stuff comes from the ocean.


There’s still a little time left for anyone interested in getting a hand in on these RFPs.

From Water and Wastewater.com
Industry News
New RFP’s from the WateReuse Foundation

Mar 29, 2007 – 2:25:22 PM

Alexandria, VA — The WateReuse Foundation announces the release of three new RFPs under its Solicited Research program. Proposals are to be submitted to the Foundation’s office in Alexandria, VA by 5:00 pm Eastern Time on May 2, 2007.

1) Low Cost Treatment Technologies for Small-Scale Water Reclamation Plants (WRF-06-008)

The overall goals of this project are to identify and evaluate established and innovative treatment technologies that will provide economic treatment processes that can be used in small-scale water reclamation plants, maximize automation to minimize labor requirements, increase treatment efficiency without sacrificing water quality, increase simplicity of operation, and increase the potential to export new treatment technologies to developing countries.

2) Predictive Models to Aid in Design of Membrane Systems for Organic Micropollutants Removal (WRF-06-009)

This project will improve and expand on one or more recently developed preliminary modeling techniques to predict the rejection of bioactive pharmaceutics and specific disinfection byproducts by RO membranes.

3) Guidance on Links Between Water Reclamation and Reuse and Regional Growth (WRF-06-016)

The objective of this project is to provide background and guidance to water reclamation and reuse managers and decision makers on connections between water reuse, water supply reliability, regional economic growth, demographic growth, and quality of life impacts for current residents.

The mission of the WateReuse Foundation is to conduct and promote applied research on the reclamation, recycling, reuse, and desalination of water.

For more information about submitting proposals to the Foundation: http://www.watereuse.org/Foundation/rfp.htm

Source: http://www.watereuse.org/

According to this article:

The Texas Water Development Board awarded San Antonio Water System a $205,000 grant to test a particular technology to turn brackish groundwater into high-quality drinking water.

SAWS will work with the Evergreen Underground Water District to churn highly salinated water into a potable water source for the region.

The research study will determine the feasibility and costs of Vibratory Shear Enhanced Processing technology at SAWS’ proposed desalination plant.

SAWS is an add on for membrane technology that prevents fouling. So one thing for membrane researchers out there to consider is that there are transitional ways around fouling like SAWS such that anti fouling need not be accomplished by the membrane itself. Below is the details for how SAWS works. (Come to think of it between SAWS and charge all you need from a membrane is flux.)

Products & ServicesVibratory Shear Enhanced Processing VSEP

[Technology] [System Operation] [System Components] [Applications] [Models] [Download]

While membrane-based separations of liquids from solids have enjoyed increasing popularity over the last 20 years, the technology has an inherent Achilles heel that affects all membrane devices: fouling. This long-term loss in throughput capacity is due primarily to the formation of a boundary layer that builds up naturally on the membranes surface during the filtration process. In addition to cutting down on the flux performance of the membrane, this boundary or gel layer acts as a secondary membrane reducing the native design selectivity of the membrane in use. This inability to handle the buildup of solids has also limited the use of membranes to low-solids feed streams.


To help minimize this boundary layer buildup, membrane designers have used a method known as tangential-flow or cross-flow filtration that relies on high velocity fluid flow pumped across the membranes surface as a means of reducing the boundary layer effect. (See Figure 1)

In cross-flow designs, it is not economic to create high shear forces, thus limiting the use of cross-flow to low-viscosity (watery) fluids. In addition, increased cross-flow velocities result in a significant pressure drop from the inlet (high pressure) to the outlet (lower pressure) end of the device, which leads to premature fouling of the membrane that creeps up the device until permeate rates drop to unacceptably low levels.

(Figure 2)

Instead of producing high cross flow, an alternative method for producing intense shear waves on the face of a membrane is developed. The technique is called Vibratory Shear Enhanced Processing (VSEP). In a VSEP System, the feed slurry remains nearly stationary, moving in a leisurely, meandering flow between parallel membrane leaf elements. Shear cleaning action is created by vigorously vibrating the leaf elements in a direction tangent to the faces of the membranes.

The shear waves produced by the membrane’s vibration cause solids and foulants to be lifted off the membrane surface and remixed with the bulk material flowing through the membrane stack. This high shear processing exposes the membrane pores for maximum throughput that is typically between 3 and 10 times the throughput of conventional cross-flow systems. (See Figure 2, above)

The oscillation produces a shear at the membrane surface of about 150,000 inverse seconds (equivalent to over 200 G’s of force), which is approximately 10 times the shear rate of the best conventional cross-flow systems. More importantly, the shear in a VSEP System is focused at the membrane surface where it is cost effective and most useful in preventing fouling, while the bulk fluid between the membrane disks moves very little.

Because VSEP does not depend on feed flow induced shearing forces, the feed slurry can become extremely viscous and still be successfully dewatered. The concentrate is essentially extruded between the vibrating disc elements and exits the machine once it reaches the desired concentration level. Thus, VSEP Systems can be run in a single pass through the system, eliminating the need for costly working tanks, ancillary equipment and associated valving.

The disc pack hold up volume of a system with 1,400 ft2 (130 sq. meters) of membrane area, is less than 50 gallons (189 liters). As a result, product recovery in batch processes can be extremely high.

Most newspapers this week have published reports as to the effect of global warming on deserts in the US southwest. Droughts will be longer and more persistant.

Perhaps in anticipation of the reports the New York Times this week did a piece on the water shortage out west that included methods for aleviating the drought. Water desalination is seen as one of many options to insure secure water supplies.

The New York Times


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April 4, 2007

An Arid West No Longer Waits for Rain

A Western drought that began in 1999 has continued after the respite of a couple of wet years that now feel like a cruel tease. But this time people in the driest states are not just scanning the skies and hoping for rescue.

Some $2.5 billion in water projects are planned or under way in four states, the biggest expansion in the West’s quest for water in decades. Among them is a proposed 280-mile pipeline that would direct water to Las Vegas from northern Nevada. A proposed reservoir just north of the California-Mexico border would correct an inefficient water delivery system that allows excess water to pass to Mexico.

In Yuma, Ariz., federal officials have restarted an idled desalination plant, long seen as a white elephant from a bygone era, partly in the hope of purifying salty underground water for neighboring towns.

The scramble for water is driven by the realities of population growth, political pressure and the hard truth that the Colorado River, a 1,400-mile-long silver thread of snowmelt and a lifeline for more than 20 million people in seven states, is providing much less water than it had.

According to some long-term projections, the mountain snows that feed the Colorado River will melt faster and evaporate in greater amounts with rising global temperatures, providing stress to the waterway even without drought. This year, the spring runoff is expected to be about half its long-term average. In only one year of the last seven, 2005, has the runoff been above average.

Everywhere in the West, along the Colorado and other rivers, as officials search for water to fill current and future needs, tempers are flaring among competing water users, old rivalries are hardening and some states are waging legal fights.

In one of the most acrimonious disputes, Montana filed a suit in February at the United States Supreme Court accusing Wyoming of taking more than its fair share of water from the Tongue and Powder Rivers, north-flowing tributaries of the Yellowstone River that supply water for farms and wells in both states.

Preparing for worst-case outcomes, the seven states that draw water from the Colorado River — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in the upper basin and California, Arizona and Nevada in the lower basin — and the United States Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river, are considering plans that lay out what to do if the river cannot meet the demand for water, a prospect that some experts predict will occur in about five years.

“What you are hearing about global warming, explosive growth — combine with a real push to set aside extra water for environmental purpose — means you got a perfect situation for a major tug-of-war contest,” said Sid Wilson, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix area.

New scientific evidence suggests that periodic long, severe droughts have become the norm in the Colorado River basin, undermining calculations of how much water the river can be expected to provide and intensifying pressures to find new solutions or sources.

The effects of the drought can be seen at Lake Mead in Nevada, where a drop in the water level left docks hanging from newly formed cliffs, and a marina surrounded by dry land. Upriver at Lake Powell, which is at its lowest level since spring 1973, receding waters have exposed miles of mud in the side canyons leading to the Glen Canyon Dam.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has sounded alarm bells by pushing for a ballot measure in 2008 that would allocate $4.5 billion in bonds for new water storage in the state. The water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack has reached the lowest level in about two decades, state hydrologists have reported, putting additional pressure on the nation’s most populous state to find and store more water.

“Scientists say that global warming will eliminate 25 percent of our snowpack by the half of this century,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said recently in Fresno, Calif., “which will mean less snow stored in the mountains, which will mean more flooding in the winter and less drinking water in the summer.”

In Montana, where about two-thirds of the Missouri River and half of the Columbia River have their headwaters, officials have embarked on a long-term project to validate old water-rights claims in an effort to legally shore up supplies the state now counts on.

Under the West’s water laws, claims are hierarchal. The oldest, first-filed claims, many dating to pioneer days, get water first, with newer claims at the bottom of the pecking order.

Still, some of the sharpest tensions stem more from population growth than cautionary climate science, especially those between Nevada and Utah, states with booming desert economies and clout to fight for what they say is theirs.

Las Vegas, the fastest-growing major city in the country, and the driest, developed the pipeline plan several years ago to bring groundwater from the rural, northern reaches of the state. The metropolitan area, which relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water, is awaiting approval from Nevada’s chief engineer.

Ranchers and farmers in northern Nevada and Utah are opposed to the pipeline plan and have vowed to fight it in court, saying it smacks of the famous water grab by Los Angeles nearly a century ago that caused severe environmental damage in the Owens Valley in California.

“Southern Nevada thinks it can come up here and suck all these springs dry without any problems,” said Dean Baker, whose family’s ranch straddles the Nevada-Utah border, pointing out springs that farmers have run dry with their own wells. “We did this ourselves. Now imagine what pumping for a whole big city is going to do.”

Meanwhile, Utah has proposed a $500 million, 120-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to serve the fast-growing City of St. George and Washington County in the state’s southwestern corner. Nevada officials have said they will seek to block that plan if Utah stands in the way of theirs.

“Utah is being very disingenuous, and we’re calling them on it,” said Patricia Mulroy, the chief executive of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency responsible for finding water for Las Vegas and its suburbs. “St. George, Utah, is growing as fast as southern Nevada, because the growth is going right up the I-15 corridor.”

Dennis J. Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said Nevada was protesting too much and instead should be cheering the Lake Powell project because Colorado River water that Utah does not use would flow in Nevada’s direction. Mr. Strong said that Nevada’s protests “may be a bargaining chip.” He said he hoped for a compromise that would allow both projects to move forward.

In Yuma, near the Arizona border with Mexico, officials have pinned hopes on a desalination plant built 15 years ago. The plan then had been to treat salty runoff from farms before it made its way into Colorado River headed to Mexico, thus meeting the terms of an old water treaty.

But a series of unusually wet years made it more efficient to meet the treaty obligations with water from Lake Mead, so the plant sat idle. Drought has changed all that. Arizona water managers, who are first in line to have their water cut in a shortage under an agreement with other states, called for the plant to be turned on.

Under an agreement with environmentalists, the federal Bureau of Reclamation plans to monitor the environmental effects of using the plant, and study, among other things, using the purified water for purposes other than meeting its treaty obligations, like supplying the growing communities around Yuma.

“It never made sense to me to just dump bottled-water quality water into the river anyway,” said Jim Cherry, the bureau’s Yuma area manager.

What unites the Western states is a growing consensus among scientists that future climate change and warmer temperatures, if they continue, could hit harder here than elsewhere in the continental United States.

“The Western mountain states are by far more vulnerable to the kinds of change we’ve been talking about compared to the rest of the country, with the New England states coming in a relatively distant second,” said Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey who studies the relationships between water and climate.

Mr. Dettinger said higher temperatures had pushed the spring snowmelt and runoff to about 10 days earlier on average than in the past. Higher temperatures would mean more rain falling rather than snow, compounding issues of water storage and potentially affecting flooding.

In some places, the new tensions and pressures could even push water users toward compromise.

Colorado recently hired a mediator to try to settle a long-running dispute over how water from the Rocky Mountains should be shared among users in the Denver area and the western half of the state. Denver gets most of the water and has most of the state’s population. But water users in the mountains, notably the ski resort industry, also have clout and want to keep their share.

Robert W. Johnson, the Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said he shared the optimism that the disputes could be worked out, but he said he thought it might take a reconsideration of the West’s original conception of what water was for.

The great dams and reservoirs that were envisioned beginning in the 1800s were conceived with farmers in mind, and farmers still take about 90 percent of the Colorado River’s flow. More and more, Mr. Johnson said, the cities will need that water.

An agreement reached a few years ago between farmers and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the chief supplier of water to that region, is one model. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers would let their fields lie fallow and send water to urban areas in exchange for money to cover the crop losses.

“I definitely see that as the future,” Mr. Johnson said.

Randal C. Archibold reported from Yuma, Ariz., and Kirk Johnson from Denver.