Can desalination solve water scarcity?

John Lienhard, director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), speaks with TILclimate host Laur Hesse Fisher, about desalination in the context of water scarcity and climate change.

On the episode, John says, "Almost half of humanity lives within 60 miles of the ocean. Which means that for that half of the human race, there is the possibility of using seawater desalination to help meet the needs for water that are driven by a more variable climate and rising population."

John reminds listeners that while desalination is an effective method, it is not our only water management solution. He explains, "Desalination is one tool in the toolbox of integrated water management. You look at conservation before you do anything else. Look at how you're using water. In Las Vegas, Nevada, they are pushing very hard to reduce garden usage of water. They're asking people to tear out lawns to plant things that are better aligned with the local climate. Don't try and reproduce the gardens of South England when you're living in the deserts of Nevada. Or build an aqueduct. In California, for instance, they built aqueducts all over the state because there wasn't enough water for the communities in say LA. Look at wastewater reuse when it's available. Reusing wastewater takes a lot less energy and costs a lot less than seawater desalination. And if all of that still doesn't help you meet your need, then you might start looking at the salty water nearby and saying, can I take the salt out of this so we can meet our need? By the time you're at that point, you have exhausted what you can do with cheaper resources."