UN warns of rising levels of toxic brine as desalination plants meet growing water needs

UN warns of rising levels of toxic brine as desalination plants meet growing water needs

World’s ~16,000 desalination plants discharge 142 million cubic meters of brine daily — 50 percent more than previously estimated; Enough in a year to cover Florida under a foot (30.5 cm) of brine

United Nations University – Institute for Water, Environment and Health

Today 15,906 operational desalination plants are found in 177 countries. Almost half of the global desalination capacity is located in the Middle East and North Africa region (48 percent), with Saudi Arabia (15.5 percent), the United Arab Emirates (10.1 percent) and Kuwait (3.7 percent) being both the major producers in the region and globally. (download image in high-res: http://bit.ly/2AysFoV) Credit UNU-INWEH

The fast-rising number of desalination plants worldwide — now almost 16,000, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa — quench a growing thirst for freshwater but create a salty dilemma as well: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine.

In a UN-backed paper, experts estimate the freshwater output capacity of desalination plants at 95 million cubic meters per day — equal to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls.

For every litre of freshwater output, however, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 litres of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity and desalination technology used, and local conditions). Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments).

That’s enough in a year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Florida under 30.5 cm (1 foot) of brine.

The authors, from UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Republic of Korea, analyzed a newly-updated dataset — the most complete ever compiled — to revise the world’s badly outdated statistics on desalination plants.

And they call for improved brine management strategies to meet a fast-growing challenge, noting predictions of a dramatic rise in the number of desalination plants, and hence the volume of brine produced, worldwide.

(Note: The authors use the term “brine” to refer to all concentrate discharged from desalination plants, as the vast majority of concentrate (>95%) originates from seawater and highly brackish groundwater sources.)

The paper found that 55% of global brine is produced in just four countries: Saudi Arabia (22%), UAE (20.2%), Kuwait (6.6%) and Qatar (5.8%). Middle Eastern plants, which largely operate using seawater and thermal desalination technologies, typically produce four times as much brine per cubic meter of clean water as plants where river water membrane processes dominate, such as in the US.

The paper says brine disposal methods are largely dictated by geography but traditionally include direct discharge into oceans, surface water or sewers, deep well injection and brine evaporation ponds.

Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.

The authors cite major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems posed by brine greatly raising the salinity of the receiving seawater, and by polluting the oceans with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major concern).

“Brine underflows deplete dissolved oxygen in the receiving waters,” says lead author Edward Jones, who worked at UNU-INWEH, and is now at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. “High salinity and reduced dissolved oxygen levels can have profound impacts on benthic organisms, which can translate into ecological effects observable throughout the food chain.”

Meanwhile, the paper highlights economic opportunities to use brine in aquaculture, to irrigate salt tolerant species, to generate electricity, and by recovering the salt and metals contained in brine — including magnesium, gypsum, sodium chloride, calcium, potassium, chlorine, bromine and lithium.

With better technology, a large number of metals and salts in desalination plant effluent could be mined. These include sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, boron, strontium, lithium, rubidium and uranium, all used by industry, in products, and in agriculture. The needed technologies are immature, however; recovery of these resources is economically uncompetitive today.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity,” says author Dr. Manzoor Qadir, Assistant Director of UNU-INWEH. “This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.”

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinization).”

“Around 1.5 to 2 billion people currently live in areas of physical water scarcity, where water resources are insufficient to meet water demands, at least during part of the year. Around half a billion people experience water scarcity year round,” says Dr. Vladimir Smakhtin, a co-author of the paper and the Director of UNU-INWEH, whose institute is actively pursuing research related to a variety of unconventional water sources.

“There is an urgent need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low-income and lower-middle income countries. At the same time, though, we have to address potentially severe downsides of desalination — the harm of brine and chemical pollution to the marine environment and human health.”

“The good news is that efforts have been made in recent years and, with continuing technology refinement and improving economic affordability, we see a positive and promising outlook.”

Background

The growth of desalination

Starting from a few, mostly Middle Eastern facilities in the 1960s, today 15,906 operational desalination plants are found in 177 countries. Two-thirds of such plants are in high-income countries.

The process is becoming more affordable, the paper says, attributable to falling costs due to continued improvements in membrane technologies, energy recovery systems, and the coupling of desalination plants with renewable energy sources.

Brine management can represent up to 33% of a plant’s cost and ranks among the biggest constraints to more widespread development.

Almost half of the global desalination capacity is located in the Middle East and North Africa region (48%), with Saudi Arabia (15.5%), the United Arab Emirates (10.1%) and Kuwait (3.7%) being both the major producers in the region and globally.

East Asia and Pacific and North America regions produce 18.4% and 11.9% of the global desalinated water, primarily due to large capacities in China (7.5%) and the USA (11.2%) respectively.

The widespread use of desalination in Spain (5.7%) accounts for over half of the total desalination in Western Europe (9.2%). The global share in desalination capacity is lower for Southern Asia (3.1%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (2.4%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (1.9%), where desalination is primarily restricted to small facilities for private and industrial applications.

Desalination is an essential technology in the Middle East and for small island nations which typically lack renewable water resources.

Eight countries — the Maldives, Singapore, Qatar, Malta, Antigua and Barbuda, Kuwait, The Bahamas and Bahrain – can meet all of their water needs through desalination. Six others can meet over 50% of their water withdrawals through desalination: Equatorial Guinea, UAE, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Oman and Barbados.

Almost 22 million m3/day of brine is produced at a distance of greater than 50km from the nearest coastline. Despite the large volume of brine produced in these areas, very few economically viable and environmentally sound brine management options exist. Brine produced inland poses an important problem for many countries located in all world regions, with 64 countries producing more than 10,000 m3/day of brine in inland locations.

Inland brine production is a particular issue in China (3.82 million m3/day), USA (2.42 million m3/day) and Spain (1.01 million m3/day).

###

Authors

Edward Jones1,2, Manzoor Qadir1, Michelle T.H. van Vliet2, Vladimir Smakhtin1, Seong-mu Kang1,3

1 UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Canada

2 Water Systems and Global Change, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

3 Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), Republic of Korea

UNU-INWEH

http://bit.ly/1vjfKAS

The UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health is a member of the United Nations University family of organizations. It is the UN Think Tank on Water created by the UNU Governing Council in 1996. Its mission is to help resolve pressing water challenges of concern to the UN, its Member States and their people, through knowledge- based synthesis of existing bodies of scientific discovery; cutting edge targeted research that identifies emerging policy issues; application of on-the-ground scalable solutions based on credible research; and relevant and targeted public outreach.

UNU-INWEH is hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University.


From EurekAlert!

Public Release: 14-Jan-2019

88 thoughts on “UN warns of rising levels of toxic brine as desalination plants meet growing water needs

  1. From the paper:

    The fast-rising number of desalination plants worldwide — now almost 16,000, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa — quench a growing thirst for freshwater but create a salty dilemma as well: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine.

    In a UN-backed paper, experts estimate the freshwater output capacity of desalination plants at 95 million cubic meters per day — equal to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls.

    For every litre of freshwater output, however, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 litres of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity and desalination technology used, and local conditions). Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments).

    142 million cubic metres divided by 16,000 plants gives us about 9.000 cubic metres per day. That’s a cube that is about 20 metres on a side.

    If the desal plant is getting water from the ocean, that will not be a problem. Within a half km of the desal plant there will be on the order of a thousand times that volume of seawater to dilute it … and that’s just the immediate neighborhood.

    In a river or lake, on the other hand, there may be an issue … since it’s usually hot and dry where desal plants are located, I’d suggest putting it into ponds and harvesting salt, but that’s just me.

    w.

    • Willis

      I completely agree with you……..and the same thought on harvesting salts was my preference, where it makes sense. I first read the article on the BBC yesterday and just rolled my eyes, especially since they mention the usual nonsense about “other pollutants” like chlorine being present in the effluent! Reverse osmosis desalination is one of those wonderful processes that is enormously beneficial to mankind particularly in arid regions but, of course, the environmentalists only want to spin the negatives.

    • Wills, or you could be like us cleaver Aussies, we spent millions building Desal plants because Dr. Tim Flim Flam Flannery (The possum Dr.) said our dams will run dry. Now we spend millions maintain them.
      But at least we don’t have a problem with brine because we have never used them!!

      • Surely you could sell purified GBR water in bottles to tourists , you could probably export it to California and claim an exorbitant price to help save the coral from acidification !

        No idea how to exploit a business opportunity, you Assies ;).

    • These plants are rejecting brine because they take in brine: brine in, brine out. Now they want to make “brine” a toxic pollutant like CO2.

      OH, did I say CO2? Wasn’t that supposed be causing “ocean acidification” ? Maybe we need to invent some process which increases the alkalinity of sea water to rectify that .

      The only legitimate concern here is if they are dumping measurable quantities of toxic defouling chemicals as well as “brine”.

      • Surely you’ve heard, “It’s the dose that makes the poison,” or something along those lines?

        The brine is being returned in high concentrations – high enough to be toxic near the discharge areas.

      • Maybe we need to invent some process which increases the alkalinity of sea water to rectify that.

        That’s exactly what you’ve done by producing the brine, it’s increased alkalinity seawater.

      • I read this from National Geographic. Hyped up as another alarmist document by the liberal arts scientists at N.G.

        OMG! Prepare to be alarmed! New regulations to follow. Uninformed incompetent idiots just discovered that removing fresh water from sea water leaves the effluent saltier. Wait till they discover that rain dilutes it. Further, they found out that it takes power to run a desalination plant. They want us to be outraged by this.

        So much adieu about nothing. Someone please tell them the sky is not falling.

    • See my link below… the concentration of discharge in the Arabian Gulf, with its restricted connection to the wider oceans, is proving a problem

      • Since griff says it’s a problem, not to mention… EurekAlert!

        …obviously it’s not a real problem, except possibly in the rarest of badly-designed circumstances that could be easily rectified.

      • It’s a study that claims a future problem. I’m guessing that once again you just googled a title and didn’t bother to read the actual article.

        • The study does not even claim a future problem:

          6. Concluding remarks

          While the modelling in this paper involves drastic simplifications, key physical processes are represented. The predicted exponential dependence of salinity upon river flows, upon desalinated water production rates and upon desalination plant locations, should be given due attention in long-term water planning by countries surrounding the Arabian Gulf. Fortunately, present-day seawater desalination plants (as typified by Al Jubail) are safely in the linear regime.

          (emphasis added)

          Wow, something “should be given due attention in long-term planning” — stop the presses!

    • Hi Willis,
      “…In a river or lake, on the other hand, there may be an issue … since it’s usually hot and dry where desal plants are located, I’d suggest putting it into ponds and harvesting salt, but that’s just me…”

      Which makes an awful lot of sense, but can have unintended consequences; evaporation pans were the preferred method of disposing of agricultural run-off from irrigation in the Murray Darling basin (to prevent said run-off returning to the river with a load of top soil, fertiliser and salt which would lower the river’s water quality for downstream users). Aside from the obvious draw back of transforming the natural depression selected from arable land into a salt pan , the water that percolates into the ground beneath mobilised a shallow saline aquifer, bringing further salt to surface and ruining additional arable land. So the solution while appealing won’t be universally applicable.
      Being as we’re dealing with eco-worriers in this type of discourse, even a positive can be negatively spun; evaporation is the preferred means of disposing of the water cut from a small onshore oil field in SouthWest Queensland, several decades of production, irrigation and evaporation have locally transformed a semi-arid area into a lush tropical oasis (and one can feel the humidity increase long before the forest of trees is visible), now while most of us would say ‘good result’ there are card carrying moonbats who will argue that helping nature is altering nature and therefore bad (e.g. must be taxed or fined).

      You can bet your left gonad, the moonbat preferred option will be geological sequestration (along CCS lines), to be paid for from the UN green slush-fund (because you know how Saudi Arabia and the UAE are poor developing countries) and I don’t doubt there will be some of the usual suspects from eevil big oil lining up for another chance at greenwashing their portfolio.

    • Isn’t sea water “Brine” by definition?? I’d be more convinced if they’d chuck in a salinity spec that distinguishes good(input) brine from bad (output) brine. Within pumping distance of the sea we just need a disffusive system that avoids killer hotspots. Inland, as you say, build a salt-pan and sell the output.

      • Brine is the common term for waste discharge from reverse osmosis and distillation desalination plants.

        Salinity (as mentioned) is a.product of freshwater input. 3-1 feed to .002 ppm potable are common.

        At any rate, (as noted) the problem is mostly peculiar to smaller bodies of water. The paper also fail to mention that waste water plants return most of the fresh water back to the feed source.

    • There’s also the little point that all that desalinated water pretty quickly ends up back in the ocean.

    • “World’s ~16,000 desalination plants discharge 142 million cubic meters of brine daily — 50 percent more than previously estimated; Enough in a year to cover Florida under a foot (30.5 cm) of brine/”

      How much water is that in units of Olympic swimming pools? Football stadiums?

      Clearly there is a need for standardization of volumetric units when making green alarmist claims. Metric is so 1800’s. I propose hogsheads, especially suitable for green rhetoric.

      • Seems like every study any more has a line like this “50 percent more than previously estimated.”

        Is there a class on underestimating – so that later studies can rectify the underestimation? Is this a good idea to get extra funding, underestimate, then present the scare?

      • The Acre-foot is commonly used measuring water for irrigation….one acre of area, one foot deep. So we just need the area of Florida in acres (640 acres = one square mile).

    • In a river or lake, on the other hand, there may be an issue …

      But, but, but …… desalinated water is “green” water because it is returned back to the ocean/rivers to be desalinated again n’ again.

      Anyway, rhe volume of salt in the body of water from which the desalinated water was removed remains fairly constant.

      Quoting article: “In a UN-backed paper, experts estimate the freshwater output capacity of desalination plants at 95 million cubic meters per day — equal to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls.

      “HA”, I wonder what the experts estimate is for Mother Nature’s “solar powered” daily freshwater output capacity is?

      Quoting article: “ Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments). That’s enough in a year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Florida under 30.5 cm (1 foot) of brine

      No problem there because Florida’s average yearly rainfall of 150.4 cm (59.21 in) (4.9 ft) will flush that measly 30.5 cm of brine right back into the ocean. 😊 😊

      • And ps: I believe there is a much, much greater “desalination” problem for the resident marine life …… with the influx of horrendous amounts of rainwater (freshwater) from hurricanes, cyclones, etc., that technical “desalinates” saltwater environments (such as tidal zones, Chesapeake Bay, etc.)

    • As hyperbolic as the article is – liquids of different density do not mix all that easily, it takes energy to mix them. It is likely that a “river” slightly heavier “brine” will flow to bottom valleys in the ocean. Yeah it will eventually dissipate, but it isn’t like it would happen instantly.

    • Correct. The Louisiana Petroleum Reserve, pumped out lots of salt from the inland domes, and there is quite a lot of information available. While there could be problems in contained areas, this is again a matter of scale, or rather, lack of understanding of scale. Three points.

      (1) The Gulf of Mexico, despite receiving the outfall of the Mississippi River is an evaporite basin, and the river, despite its importance on the continental shelf was likened to “… small relative to the entire Gulf …, ocean currents off its mouth can be compared with currents in a large tank off a very small rubber hose.” Scruton, P. C. 1956. Oceanography of Mississippi delta sedimentary environments. Bulletin American Association Petroleum Geologists. 40(12):2864-2952.

      (2) This reminds me of regulations decades ago requiring sewerage treatment plants on offshore platforms, not only difficult to detect in the water, but some fish even like the stuff.

      (3) If they don’t know the difference between carbon dioxide and water vapor coming out of stacks, don’t expect any understanding here. They act like they want distilled water.

      New requirement for all published papers should be to read journals published before 1990.

    • “In a river or lake”…. ? With fresh river or lake water available why would they need to desalinate ocean water?

    • since it’s usually hot and dry where desal plants are located, I’d suggest putting it into ponds and harvesting salt, – by evaporation in desert lands

      Yes, but the crux is that the harvested salt is heavy polluted to even toxic.

    • “…If the desal plant is getting water from the ocean, that will not be a problem. Within a half km of the desal plant there will be on the order of a thousand times that volume of seawater to dilute it … and that’s just the immediate neighborhood…”

      Yes, but that immediate neighborhood is often a sensitive and ecologically-important area. “Dilution is the solution to pollution” went away long, long ago.

      But it’s not hard to plan things out properly. There is a desal plant on Tampa Bay which is co-located with a power plant. The brine waste is blended with power plant cooling water. The finished product is only 1-1.5% higher in salt than the bay. It travels down a canal and mixes with more water and is basically at “normal” levels by the time it hits the bay.

    • On a global scale, the 95 million cubic meters of water desalinated daily is about 1/40 cubic KM. Considering that all the oceans hold about 1.35 billion cubic kilometers, then in 100 years the ocean concentration of brine would increase about 0.00007%. And, that’s not counting the extra runoff from desalinated water returning to the oceans.

      Also, the report says, “a large number of metals and salts in desalination plant effluent could be mined. These include sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, boron, strontium, lithium, rubidium and uranium, all used by industry, in products, and in agriculture. The needed technologies are immature, however; recovery of these resources is economically uncompetitive today” is a straw man. Using technology available today, 5 brine components may be recovered economically: Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, and Lithium. Saying that recovery of all listed is not competitive is misleading at best, and dishonest at worst.

  2. “The paper says brine disposal methods are largely dictated by geography but traditionally include direct discharge into oceans, surface water or sewers, deep well injection and brine evaporation ponds.

    Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.”

    Okay, let look at Perth Australia.
    “The water produced undergoes remineralisation to meet stringent drinking water quality standards.
    To keep its footprint light and protect the local marine ecosystem, the PSDP employs advanced brine dispersion technology to disperse and dilute discharge. Innovative energy-saving measures, such as pressure exchangers to harness residual pressure from discharge and divert it back into the system, deliver a reduction of around 20 per cent.”
    source:
    https://www.suez.com.au/en-AU/our-offering/Success-stories/Water/Safeguarding-the-Future-of-Perth-s-Drinking-Water-Perth-Seawater-Desalination-Plant

    So, dispersion. That means sending it back to dilute the high salinity.

    And in non-coastal areas, that mean deep well injection of the brine.
    For example:
    https://www.lenntech.com/processes/brine-deep-well-injection.htm

    Any more chicken-little alarmism on de-sal?
    The biggest problem the Greenie-weenies have with de-sal is the use of fossil fuels to run it.

    I mean seriously! In 100 years when fusion power is up and running and Deuterium is being extracting from seawater, the Greenie-Weenies of the 22nd century will be complaining about the discharge of Deuterium-depleted seawater back to the oceans.
    It is just what Socialist whiners do.

    • Sorry, but in 100 years economical Fusion Power will be 50 years away… It’s 50 years away from now, and in 50 years will be 50 years away, and so on… (As you can probably tell, I have just given up on us ever solving how to economically produce and usefully transform any energy-surplus from fusion…)

      But they can just keep picking on Nuclear Power. Maybe in 50 years they can cut away the red tape so we can build some!

      • Sorry, but in 100 years economical Fusion Power will be 50 years away… It’s 50 years away from now, and in 50 years will be 50 years away, and so on…

        It used to be 10 years away…

        (As you can probably tell, I have just given up on us ever solving how to economically produce and usefully transform any energy-surplus from fusion…)

        Who knows. It doesn’t look like a dead end, but certainly not a straight road either.
        Micro-implosion isn’t hopeless, but inherently inconvenient (unless the goal is Orion drive) and probably can’t be streamlined much.
        Quasi-continuous… the only result of straightforward approaches was proverb “plasma will always find the way”. So IMHO not until understanding of plasma waves will be sufficient to use them, rather than wrestle them.

        • Tut Tut.
          There are any number of YouTube videos which assure the viewer that interstellar drives and massive energy sources are already at work in super- secret government ops.

          It isn’t only greed which keep such wonders out of the hands of peons, since Planet X is going to wipe most of us out, (except for the elites in their bunkers,) so why cave in to pressures which will surely work in favor of the master plan to reduce human populations?

          The benevolent- appearing space aliens which gave mankind these wonderful gifts (to enlist us as soldiers in their space wars,) can’t really do much more than apply bandages to alleviate some of the planetary disasters, when Nibiru comes calling. They could, but politics and the evil oil companies…

    • Roughly 16,000 desal plants, and you have one example where there is a vague “advanced brine dispersion technology to disperse and dilute discharge” mention with no statistics or supporting data…therefore there is no issue there or anywhere else.

      Deep-well injection is not an appropriate solution everywhere. Even your link mentions that it has potential issues.

      These are among the issues that the water industry has grappled with ever since the advent of membrane technologies to treat drinking water. This isn’t some new invention of the UN. And it isn’t a “chicken-little” scenario.

  3. In the case of the oceans, desalination taking all this freshwater out could potentially balance the melting glaciers putting freshwater in.

    Bingo, no sea level rise.

    Bring it on.

    • Nice idea but where do you think the desal water ends up once it has been drunk or thrown on land for irrigation? Some of it may make it to the top of a mountain but not much.

      • How’s this for a wild idea? Just maybe, the used desalinated water might evaporate into the atmosphere. Later, when enough evaporation has happened, maybe it might turn into rain or snow and fall into the ocean? I know it sounds crazy but…

  4. I suspect that desalinization plants do not remove a tiny fraction of the amount of sweet water from a given area of ocean than the sun lifts in a couple of hours. This EurekaPropaganda is aimed at foreclosing the use of desalinization by people all over the world.

    Like most eco-catastrophes it is a phony crisis aimed at allowing warmunists to make our lives more miserable.

  5. The water removed eventually makes its way back to the sea, desalination plants do not create salt – therefore the amount of salt and water in the oceans will remain unchanged.

    Apart from a small increase in salinity near the discharge (which can be pre-diluted with vast quantities of sea water) there will be no change.

    Absolute manure – the anti-humanist alarmists simply don’t want solutions. They want mankind to go extinct.

    • Ken Irwin

      Ah, now……..this takes a little creative thinking.

      Being that an adult male is composed of roughly 60% water, the population growing from it’s current 9Bn to 13Bn should store an extra 336,000,000,000 lbs of water (assuming an average adult weight of 140lbs).

      That will of course address some sea level rise, although the extra weight will of course cause dry land to sink.

  6. Just take the water produced by the plant and mix it with the brine before pumping it back into the ….oh..wait

  7. At least they didnt try to explain that the problem of increased desalination plants was due to more droughts caused by CO2.

    • griff

      Of course it is.

      Where would you be without Google to find something catastrophic to post every time a subject is raised.

    • ” If additional desalination plants were to operate along its coast”

      So it’s a projection based on models that assume only a single change. Given the description of the Gulf’s water flow, it strikes me that pumping in more brine wouldn’t actually cause that much of a problem. The current through the strait of hormuz is driven as much by water density as tides, so adding more, denser water in the form of brine could boost that current flow. They don’t appear to address that thought at all.

      • If the desalination boosts the natural high evaporation rate it must inevitably increase the inflow of less saline surface water.

        However since there is river inflow at the head of the gulf it is very unlikely that desalination could ever have as much effect as the ice-ages had on the Red Sea where the reduced inflow due to low sea-level increased salinity of the sea to a point where many foraminifera became locally extinct.

    • Nor do they consider the fact that a proportion, and probably a rather large one, of the desalinated water will ultimately return to the Gulf as sewage.

    • Griff:

      The referenced paper uses a mathematical model — it is 100% measurement-free. And the authors even admit it’s a “drastically simplified” one.

      But even the authors do not say brine discharge is even a virtual problem in their model — let alone an actual real problem:

      While the modelling in this paper involves drastic simplifications, key physical processes are represented. The predicted exponential dependence of salinity upon river flows, upon desalinated water production rates and upon desalination plant locations, should be given due attention in long-term water planning by countries surrounding the Arabian Gulf. Fortunately, present-day seawater desalination plants (as typified by Al Jubail) are safely in the linear regime.

      Large scale brine discharge into the largely closed water system of the Persian Gulf may indeed cause problems at some point, but the countries responsible are all wealthy and easily capable of bearing the cost to fix whatever problems they create.

      Israel and Jordan could just dump their brine into the Dead Sea — how much deader can it get anyway? Oh wait, the Dead Sea is already over 9 times saltier than the oceans, so dumping desalination brine there would actually reduce its salinity. No doubt some disaster or another would result.

      Actually, it looks like Jordan is already doing it.

      • Alan states: “the Dead Sea is already over 9 times saltier than the oceans, so dumping desalination brine there would actually reduce its salinity. No doubt some disaster or another would result.”

        The Dead Sea is a tourist attraction because of the high salinity, which makes it possible for people who can’t swim in fresh water to be able to float quite happily in the high density brine. Adding low density (desalination) brine to the Dead Sea will lower the density of the Sea thus meaning that people cannot float, and they will have to actually exert themselves and swim. Result: end of Tourist Trap! Disaster! (sarc, just in case you haven’t guessed!)

    • The money quote:
      “The implied increase to peak salinity associated with the Al Jubail desalination plant is about 0.1 ppt.”

      So one of the largest desalination plants in the world manages to change the salinity of the waters by… practically nothing.

    • 1) It’s a study, not actual data.
      2) There’s already a natural circulation, evaporation creates water with higher salt content. This water sinks then flows back to the rest of the ocean, which draws fresh sea water into the gulf.
      Desalination would just accelerate this process.

  8. Quick, quick, we must tell the king.

    Where will all that ‘fresh’ water end up after it’s been used? In the sea, perhaps?

    • Stop stating the obvious! You’ll blow the fuses in CAGW indoctrinated Warmists’ brain implants!

      The researchers would at least gain some credibility if they published the volumes of the toxic chemicals being dumped with the concentrated brine, which are dosed within the Plant system for pH correction, anti-foulants for the Reverse Osmosis membranes etc. etc. It would help also if they had also separated out the volumes of the discharges from the 2 major de-salination systems used, namely Reverse Osmosis and Flash Distillation which have some significantly proportions of chemical dosing.

    • Part of the water will evaporate, particularly if it is used for irrigation. Of course that will ultimately also come back to the sea, but that might happen outside the catchment area of the gulf.

  9. I think it is about time that the UN orders Antarctica to stop polluting the deep ocean by dumping the Antarctic Deep Water there. This is hypersaline and is caused by desalinating sea-water to produce ice and the rejected brine is then dumped untreated into the sea, where it sinks and spreads to pollute the entire deep ocean.

    It is a scandal that this has been allowed to go on for 35 million years, and to create extreme ecological damage like large ice-sheets in North America and Eurasia.

  10. toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major concern).

    Surely copper is everywhere, not least in water pipes/plumbing in most folk’s homes. But in alkaline conditions (e.g. The Sea) it is immobilised/ locked up.
    But as folks who, as I did, live in areas with ‘Soft Water’ will find, the soft (Read= acidic) water dissolves your plumbing.
    Especially hot-water cylinders – if you get 30 years life out of a copper hot water cylinder in Cumbria, You Are Doing Really Well.
    Where is all that copper finishing up?

    Chlorine = Household bleach. Pour some into a saucer and inside 4 hours the free chlorine has evaporated.
    OK OK, its gone to the Stratotasicifere to trash the ozone. I know I know.

    Meanwhile, in the special care unit of the hospital where my twin girls were born (prematurely) – they kept any/all baby feeding equipment (bottles/teats/dummies/cutlery) in containers filled with a water based solution of hypo-chlorite and salt. Very strong solution yet would go on to use this equipment without rinsing it first
    They were putting strong bleach/salt solution straight into the mouths of tiny, newborn, extremely ill and premature babies. (I was horrified at first)

    ty and reduced dissolved oxygen levels can have profound

    I don’t buy this, what is reducing the oxygen OR, where is it being reduced?
    Maybe the de-sal process does chase the oxygen out but what’s wrong with pumping some air into the discharge pipe as it leaves the premises?
    I do hope its not organic life in the oceanic water feeding off the now concentrated nutrition coming off the de-sal plant.
    Just like nutrient rich – up-welling ocean currents anyone? Those places are NOT fish, bird and wildlife magnets because the critters ‘like the cold’ – they go there for the munchies.

    including magnesium, gypsum, sodium chloride, calcium, potassium, chlorine, bromine and lithium.

    Wow. And they miss the point by parsecs
    What A Fantastic Chance to reverse soil erosion. Those are many of the things that are removed from soils & dirt by natural weathering processes and MUCH accelerated by a process we all know and love called: ‘Agriculture’
    Sometimes = Farming

    Magnesium – at the centre of every molecule of chlorophyll.
    (see the problem with (say for example) The Sahara – a place well known for its magnesium mines

    Gypsum- maybe not in Europe so much. Yes used in house building but is now in the same league as asbestos. If is gets into landfill sites it supposedly produces Hydrogen Sulphide and, as per the GHGE, Everybody Dies.
    Anyway, massive oversupply comes from the scrubbing of coal fired power stations.

    Calcium. Yes yes yes. Add it to water supplies and stop your copper plumbing from melting, mixed with phosphate it creates teeth, bones and skellingtons but especially, it counter balances the acidifying effect of throwing nitrate fertilisers at farmland – again slowing soil erosion.

    Potassium. Used by critters in large amounts, similar chemistry to sodium. Why everyone eats so many bananas and goes on to glow in the dark because of all the radiation in them. ha ha

    What is spectacularly missing from their list is iodine.
    Its generally reckoned that one-in-eight people in this world are short of iodine – it is GOBSMACKINGLY important for brain health, physical health and not in the very least in reproduction. The thyroid is the first recognisable organ in any mammalian foetus and if the iodine is not there – the foetus is re-absorbed and the mother never even knows she was pregnant. (Falling birth rate anyone and why so much IVF treatment nowadays?)

    Salt. Fantastic stuff for ruminant critters being fed on fermented forage – we call it “silage” here in the UK
    They go mad for salt because they use it to make Sodium Bicarb in their saliva – to neutralize the acidity of the fermented food – up to 1.5 kilograms of the stuff daily! That’s why they have such wet noses and big tongues 😀
    Otherwise their stomachs go acid, gives them epic belly-ache = poor food utilisation, poor general health and creates such lovelies as E. Coli 0157
    All those thing apply to ruminants given large amounts of grain their diet

    To sum up in one word: Junk

    • The bit about chlorine is especially odd considering that about 2% of seawater by weight is chlorine.

      Admittedly elemental chlorine is toxic, but the toxicity is due to its extreme chemical reactivity, which means that it will very quickly turn into chloride ions.

      If they use the flash-distillation process the brine will indeed be largely deoxygenated.

      And the brine won’t really be nutrient-rich. Ordinary sea salts aren’t nutrients, though some of the ions are when mixed into soil. The critical nutrients that make upwelling areas so biologically rich are phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, silica and – wait for it – carbon dioxide.

  11. The oceans contain 1,344,420,000 cubic kilometers of water.

    ‘World’s ~16,000 desalination plants discharge 142 million cubic meters of brine daily’

    And?

    • Not that hard. It’s not being discharged uniformly across 1,344,420,000 cubic kilometers of water. It’s being discharged in high concentrations at limited locations, and those locations are where there is a problem. Desal plants in the Middle East are not affecting the US coast. But they are affecting their local areas.

      • So they are not covering Florida under a foot (30.5 cm) of brine?

        Of course you are right. But the Florida schtick marks the paper as junk.

        The answer is rather obvious. Dump the enriched brine further out in the ocean. Some countries my choose to save a buck and pollute locally. There is no rocket science required here.

  12. A number of societies have employed professional mourners at funerals.
    Often in processions.
    Think of Oliver in the wonderful stage and movie production of “Oliver”.
    Nowadays the world has professional worriers.
    Don’t the CBW (Catastrophic Brine Worriers) know about the water cycle?

  13. Stepping back, is this the same perceived temporary imbalance problem that is CO2? Humans take something from nature that gets recycled back to nature with the lag measured at the size of the human activity. Only where the location of the human deposit may matter a little more. The answer to the question is a Malthusian yes.

  14. Several years ago before retirement I researched alternatives to traditional reverse osmosis systems. This uncovered a relatively new technology from Europe using considerable less energy than RO systems while also producing more clean water and highly concentrated brines as outputs.

    In some cases the brine was concentrated enough to allow rapid evaporation of the water content resulting in dry salts.

    For this interested check out the website at http://www.salttech.com

    • Brad:

      I couldn’t see from your link what the actual technology behind this was. Can you elaborate?

      Thanks.

      • The Salt Tech process combines a near vacuum to evaporate water feeding into the system with desiccants to absorb the water vapor, then desiccant is rotated into an atmospheric pressure chamber with cooling tower water running through it to condense the water vapor from the dissident.
        System uses very little electricity to accomplish the same effects as an RO.

        System was presented at World Energy Congress years ago. You can probably access the presentation by contacting aeecenter.org.

  15. Every drop of fresh water produced by these de-sal plants will find it’s way back to the oceans in a matter of weeks to months.

      • As markl noted, that water could end up as treated wastewater going to a recharge well (aquifer replenishment), aquifer storage and recovery well (can be later withdrawn and treated again as source water), or a deep-injection well (pumped into an aquifer of such low water quality that it would never be used as a drinking water source).

        Also, some of these arid locations are fond of irrigation with that desalinated water. That will make it into the water cycle but not back immediately at the source.

        The issue is the concentration of brine being discharged. It is a very localized problem.

  16. There are some microbes that grow best in brine. Maybe worth some biotechnologists asking if they could find profitable uses for the emerging by-product?

  17. Unfortunately desalination plants have become cash cows for investors on the West coast of the US where more fresh water is allowed to return to the Pacific Ocean than is being used by people. Instead of water conservation they want to rely on desalination. Heavy energy use doesn’t seem to bother the California eco loonies despite the meager returns. It takes $millions to build and then $millions more to maintain these plants and the product is very expensive. In cases of cyclical droughts it takes years and $millions to bring an idled desalination plant back on line and history ….. as in Santa Barbara ….. proves that before the plant is operational again nature makes them useless. Desalination should only be used where there is no source of fresh water.

    • LA steals its water from Owens. We’d like our water back, thanks. shutting down the desalination plants every time there’s a rain year is about as idiotic as refusing to build or renovate dams during dry years (oroville dam being a perfect example).

  18. but weren’t the global alarmists asserting the melting of arctic and antarctic ice would bring too much fresh water into the ocean? As a person who sees their water stolen for the use of the (larger population) city, I’d be fine with them being required to desalinate their water rather than stealing it from others.

  19. Oceanside desalination plants pull in water that is about 3.5% salt. If the article is correct that for each liter of fresh (negligible salt) water produced, 1.5 liters of brine is created. Doing the math, the brine would be about 6% salt.

    The inland desal plants are overwhelmingly dealing with slightly brackish water — too salty to drink, but will below the ocean’s 3.5% salinity. (This is the case for the majority of desal in the US, for example.)

    I’d be very curious to know the typical salinity of the brine from these plants. Given that the likely locations for most plants of this type are estuaries where rivers empty into the ocean, the resulting effect of returning brine to the estuary water would be to create a change in the salinity gradient of the estuary. Whether this is, or could be significant, I cannot say.

  20. The world is under laid with huge salt water formations thousands of feet below the surface and geologically isolated from any fresh water formations. These formations have zero economic or environmental value. Deep well injection of brine into these formations closely matches the existing salinity and is cost-effective and harmless.

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