Thursday, June 29, 2006

Will desalination pave the desert?

    I've heard a lot in the news recently about new ideas for the technology of desalination -- turning salty water into fresh water.  (See some links here and here and here.)  Long used on ships for boiling, desalination has been expensive and complex when used on a large scale.  But when an increasing demand for fresh water combines with better technology, desalination will become practical for more and more places, including for domestic and agricultural water usage in water-hungry parts of the United States.
    Imagine the land use consequences!  Consider a time -- and it may be soon in the future -- when it is relatively inexpensive to desalinate water from the Pacific or the Gulf of California and pump it across the Southwest.  There would then not be much to stop new retirement homes from popping up along the length and breadth of the Arizona desert ... and Utah … and all of sparsely populated eastern California.  It would be a developer's dream … a groundwater conservationist's deliverance …and an urbanist's nightmare.

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