The current drought in California has forced Governor Jerry Brown to enact emergency conservation regulations as recently as this past January with additional new restrictions being implemented seemingly every other month. As of March 2015, the water use outlines of 2014 that prohibit the hosing down of sidewalks and driveways or washing motor vehicles without a shut-off nozzle, operating fountains without recirculating systems, or watering your lawn and landscaping outside of the three days assigned to odd and even numbered addresses, among others, were beefed up. Now they include a mandate that restaurants and food service establishments could only serve patrons water by request and hotels and motels offer guests the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. In other words, what was already a bad situation is only getting worse.
The state of Israel was in the throes of its own drought much like the one with which California is struggling. Intermittent and increased water shortages since 2009 prompted action in the form of desalination plants, which are designed and built to take water from the ocean or, in Israel’s case, the Mediterranean Sea and desalinate it for human consumption. Now 40% of Israel’s drinking water comes from this process and that could rise to 75% by 2050. Along with conservation, quotas, recycling, and spreading the word that water was a commodity, the desalination plan has worked and Israel is no longer in a drought.
That could be the right strategy for California. A plant is already being built in Carlsbad, just outside of San Diego, and it would be the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Targeted for a 2016 operational date, the plant would take water from the Pacific Ocean and churn out 50 million gallons of potable water a day for San Diego County. There are plans for fifteen others from Los Angeles to San Francisco, even Santa Barbara is turning existing plants that have been dormant for years, back online.
The Sorek plant design that helped Israel out of their crippling situation has been proposed for use in Los Angeles. The cost and use benefits are evident and with the Pacific Ocean as a vast source that would sustain for the foreseeable future it’s an idea whose time has come. That idea does come with some possible problems but they are not insurmountable. The biggest concern with the desalination of water from the Pacific is the environmental impact it would have on the health and well-being of the ocean itself and the ecosystems within, not to mention the impact on freshwater resources. There are two processes that are involved in the desalination of sea water, vacuum distillation which turns the saltwater into vapor to extract the salt out and reverse osmosis which uses a filter for the same effect. But both pose energy consumption issues that could contribute to current global warming concerns, though reverse osmosis is more energy efficient than the distillation. The even bigger issue at hand is the threat to marine life, with intake pipes sweeping up millions of marine organisms while there’s also the question of what to do with the outflow of the resulting salt brine concentrate after its been removed from the water. The salt has to go somewhere and sending it back into the ocean poses significant health risks to ocean life. The brine is often contaminated with chemicals and, because it’s heavier than seawater, it could also sink to the ocean floor en masse and destroy underwater habitats. These are not insurmountable challenges, with proposals as to how to avoid these obstacles already on the table.
Using water softeners can also be part of the solution. But you need to think about the type of water softener you want to use. Residents with hard water often turn to softeners that use salt as part of the softening process. There are drawbacks to these units for many of the same reasons that desalination can be harmful to the environment. You may also end up using more water than you normally would with a softener because you need to increase water consumption to dilute the salts that are found in softer water. To minimize this consumption, it’s recommended that you only hook your softener to your hot water line and leave the cold alone. This is because the cold water is used more frequently while getting the benefits of softening with the water temperature where it makes the most impact. Softening is used for water that washes clothes and dishes. You don’t normally water plants or drink softened water and you don’t usually use hot for these tasks.
There are softeners that don’t rely on salt but use potassium chloride, reverse-osmosis, electronics and magnetic water softeners that remove minerals through magnetism. Some cities have laws regarding the use of softeners so check your local regulations first then visit www.watersoftenersnow.org to learn the differences between the various methods of water softening and how they work. This site also offers reviews on the most popular and best selling water softeners on the market. You will see a buying guide and useful articles that explain the softening process and how to get the most benefit from your water softener.
Water is an essential element of life, protecting it is one of the most important things we can do for the Earth and in places like California conservation is more vital than ever. Making sure you have the proper water softener can play a major role in those efforts.