4 ways to create clean drinking water
Climate change will likely change many aspects of life on Earth, including making access to clean water a big problem. From drought to sea-level rise, climate change is threatening to leave us all thirsty.
For the drought-stricken residents of San Diego County, California, relief may soon be in sight: Construction is under way on a new seawater desalination plant — a plant that removes the salt from seawater — which will produce 50 million gallons of drinkable water every day. According to the MIT Technology Review, it’s the largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere.
The plant, which is being built in the city of Carlsbad, is the newest effort to address the region’s pressing water needs. California just entered its fourth year of drought, and 40% of the state is listed as suffering from “exceptional drought,” the most severe classification on the US Drought Monitor.
Drought is expected to become an even fiercer challenge in the future as climate change drives temperatures higher — not just in California, but around the world. Climate change has the potential to seriously affect some regions’ water resources, and drought is just one way that can happen.
Sea-level rise is also threatening coastal water supplies, which often draw their freshwater from underground aquifers. As the ocean creeps further inland, it can invade these aquifers and contaminate the groundwater.
With these threats to freshwater sources, finding new and better ways to produce drinkable water is a growing concern. The ocean is the biggest source of water on the planet, but undrinkable because of its high salt content. Luckily scientists have come up with a handful of ways to get the salt out of water and make it safe for drinking, and they’re working on developing more.
Unfortunately, desalination by any method is expensive and, for the time being, not practical for every water-scarce community. The Carlsbad plant, for instance, is costing $1 billion to build, according to the MIT Technology Review. But scientists are working on improving existing techniques to make them more efficient and less costly.
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Distilling water is the oldest and most common method used to remove salt. In simple terms, distillation involves evaporating the water, and then condensing it back into a liquid. The salt will stay behind when the water boils into the air, and the clean water can then be collected in a separate container.
You can actually conduct a simplistic version of this process in your own home by constructing a “solar still.” You stretch a sheet of clear plastic over the bowl or hole that contains the contaminated water.
The sun will shine through the plastic, warming the water below and causing it to slowly vaporize, leaving salt and other contaminants behind. The evaporated water will condense on the underside of the plastic sheet, where you can then collect it in a separate container.
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