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Thirsty? New water documentary serves it up straight

June 14, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • Lake Powell in Arizona; photo shows waterline drop to lowest levels ever recorded.
Lake Powell in Arizona; photo shows waterline drop to lowest levels ever… (David McNew / Getty Images )

Especially here in California, we hear the tocsin sounding about "drought, drought, drought," and yet we look out and there is the wet, azure Pacific Ocean. How is that for cognitive dissonance? The taunting paradox drove sailors mad; in Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the seamen bemoaned, "Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink."

The desalination of seawater into freshwater has been almost as alluring as the Philosopher’s Stone, which promised to turn lead into gold. Yet there are processes to do just that; the question is, is it the wise thing to do, to stick a straw into the oceans because humans cannot control their landlocked thirsts, and thus perhaps to change the very nature of the world's vital oceans?

When I  talked for my "Patt Morrison Asks" column with Jessica Yu, the Oscar-winning L.A. filmmaker whose new film,"Last Call at the Oasis" -- about our magical thinking when it comes to water and its properties and quantities -- I brought up the desalination matter and how people regard it as a panacea.

"Working on this film, there were two questions everyone would ask: What should I be drinking, and isn't desalination the solution?" she told me. "At the end of the film [we find] it's really not a good idea. Half the carbon emissions in Saudi Arabia are from desalination plants. That's pretty shocking. You've got this big carbon footprint, you've got the [residual] brine, it's too expensive, so I don't think desalination's going anywhere.

"The idea that this is the way to go is a false fix. Everyone wants that silver bullet [to water problems]. Someone said, We shouldn't be thinking silver bullet; we should be thinking silver buckshot."

Bang, gulp, gulp.


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