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Miami Herald: Desalination could solve our water problems

Monday, July 08, 2013

BY Julio Fuentes

Viable water sources are essential for our economy and environment to flourish. Florida is surrounded by seawater, but we have an extremely limited supply of drinkable groundwater, which is being utilized at an unsustainable rate. Local officials and city managers across the state are beginning to consider and plan for alternative “drought-proof” options to supply Florida’s growing demand for freshwater.

As an organization that champions economic development and the vast network of Hispanic-owned businesses in our state, the Florida Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce supports finding solutions to Florida’s water issues that will benefit our state as a whole. Seawater desalination should be part of an efficient and economically beneficial solution to our water woes.

Seawater desalination is a stable, drought-proof, clean and safe water supply source. The removal of salt from seawater, in addition to the process of reverse osmosis, purifies water from the vast majority of chemical and biological compounds. The result is high-quality filtered water that is fit for drinking.

The numbers speak for themselves: A single seawater desalination plant in Florida is capable of producing large quantities of fresh water per day, depending on demand. A typical seawater desalination plant can provide 25 million gallons of fresh water per day — enough for 150,000 people. This could provide businesses and communities the ability to develop long-term plans for their water supply needs and usage — an attractive consideration for a wide variety of businesses that rely heavily on water availability.

Established business will also benefit from the inclusion of seawater desalination in their water use plans. Thanks to legislation passed this session, incorporating seawater desalination into water planning will not limit existing water permits.

The creation of seawater desalination facilities will not only provide a valuable incentive when enticing new businesses to come to our state and community, but would also bring an economic boost by creating an influx of new jobs during construction and operation. Affordability is another benefit of seawater desalination.

Over the last decade, innovative technological improvements have been made to reverse osmosis plants, dramatically reducing their energy consumption and creating a cost-efficient source of clean, safe water. Specific improvements include advances in reverse osmosis membranes to yield higher productivity, as well as the use of larger and higher-efficiency pumps and motors.

As seawater desalination emerges as a responsible move for Florida, becoming a part of our larger comprehensive plan for Florida’s water future, its environmental benefits are becoming a focal point. Florida is quickly over-pumping our finite surface and groundwater aquifers. As these sources become depleted, it will be imperative that Florida find alternative sources of water. We’ve already begun to experience a myriad of unintended consequences from over-pumping our aquifers that affect our families, economy and environment.

Sinkholes, for instance, are created when empty areas underground that were once full of water implode, sometimes causing excessive damages to homes, businesses and infrastructure. Additionally, due to Florida’s lack of elevation, when groundwater is over-pumped, seawater can mix with the once fresh water supply, increasing the cost of our groundwater as additional filtration becomes necessary to remove the added seawater.

In addition, our freshwater is becoming ever more contaminated as the prevalent usage of septic tanks and dated drainage systems in older buildings pose chemical and biological hazards. Filtering our seawater offers a clean alternative to the dangerous consequences of our current systems.

Through thoughtful planning and consideration of all of our options, we can work together to make the best, most informed decisions to ensure access to freshwater for all present and future Floridians. The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce represents a myriad of community businesses that have a stake in Florida’s water future, including more than 150 local chambers, a network of over 300,000 small business owners and millions of employees.

Seawater desalination is an economically responsible and environmentally friendly water source. When used in tandem with other strategies, like water conservation and restoration plans for existing natural resources, seawater desalination will benefit our families, businesses, and ultimately our state economy.



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