Who can fill in the blank? “Five passengers set sail that day for a ____-hour tour.” Most of us are familiar with the 60s classic, Gilligan’s Island and the fate of that three-hour tour group. Thinking back, they didn’t have any running water but luckily, the Professor always came to the rescue. The castaways landed on a very rainy island, and even found a cave of clean water in one episode, so there was no shortage of fresh water for drinking.
But we all aren’t that lucky. In today’s “water reality,” our most precious resource is increasingly threatened by dynamics including pollution, decay of freshwater ecosystems, increased population and higher demand, and global climate change that can lead to drought.
Awareness, conservation and water reuse efforts are on the rise and are helping. We are in a position where we need more to keep up with the pace of climate change. This is where desalination comes in—and I’m happy to say that American Water’s technology and success are light years beyond the Professor’s!
Through a process of desalination and water treatment, we can convert brackish (low-salinity) water from inland and industrial sources into freshwater for a variety of uses ranging from irrigation and industrial to cooking and drinking. Coastal areas have been adding to their drinking water portfolio with seawater desalination.
Through a joint venture, American Water operates the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant in Florida, which, at the time that it went online in 2009, was the largest desalination plant in North America. We also operate the brackish water desalination plant in Sand City, California. I had the privilege of working with and learning from dedicated professionals at our desalination plants during various research projects, including my doctoral dissertation.
As an environmentalist and water professional, I am motivated to find sustainable solutions for desalination. My PhD research focused on reducing a costly operational issue that occurs during the desalination process using a method we developed at American Water. This desalination research was recognized by Public Utilities Fortnightly magazine earlier this year.
Our vision is to continue to innovate and hone our technology to drive down the cost desalination for areas most at risk for drought and water contamination due to the rise in sea water encroaching on groundwater aquifers. With more water companies focused on such technology and accessibility we can continue to reduce the strain on our freshwater resources and keep life flowing.