Water, water everywhere and all we want to drink, shower in, swim in, grow food with, ….

by on March 17, 2009 · 3 comments

in Energy, Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Howdy! My name is Dave Gilbert. I was born and raised right here in San Diego. I’ve seen a lot of changes to America’s Finest City in 5 decades and met some pretty cool folks along the way, so I was thinking it would be nice to interview different people from our town to see what’s on their minds. One of the more interesting people I’ve seen run for Mayor here is O.B’s very own Jim Bell. I thought that interviewing him would make for some enlightened reading so I posed a series of questions to him. Here’s the first one:

DAVE GILBERT: San Diego’s water supply is getting dangerously low, what do we need to do to fix that?

JIM BELL: As it turns out I’ve just completed an article on this subject which I’m just starting to release for general publications.

A Commentary by Jim Bell

Despite all the drought doom and gloom coming out of Sacramento lately, the San Diego/Tijuana Region can easily become renewable water self-sufficient.

Even if we assume the worst case scenario of zero precipitation and the complete cutoff of all imported water, the San Diego/Tijuana Region could completely replace all the freshwater it currently uses by installing PV panels over 4.3% of its roofs and parking lots. In 2050, 2.3% of our region’s roofs and parking in 2050 will be about 12 sq. miles.

The above statement is based on the following assumptions:

1. A yearly average of 5-hr. of sunlight per day,

2. 1,000 sq. feet of roof and parking lot per capita,

3. An average potable water consumption level of 180 gallons per capita per day,

4. A 2050 regional population of 8 million people,

5. That 70 gallons of freshwater can be extracted from seawater per kWh consumed through reverse osmosis (RO)

6. PV panels 15% efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, (commercially available panels are already pushing efficiencies of 20% or better.)

The electricity produced by this system would be used to power large scale reverse osmosis (RO) pumps to convert seawater into freshwater. The pumps push seawater through filters that let freshwater through while excluding salt, other minerals and contaminants in general.

a fresh seawater pump

The issue of sucking marine life into reverse osmosis system can be solved if seawater to be processed into freshwater is extracted from wells close to the ocean above high tide instead of direct ocean extraction. Since seawater coming into such wells would be sand filtered, marine organisms will be eliminated from the process.

Similarly, since “waste water” from the RO process will be twice as salty as seawater, it will have to be diluted by mixing it with seawater, also extracted from the near ocean wells, until the water to be returned to the ocean is no more than 20% saltier than seawater. Once diluted, its release into the ocean would be defused as an additional precaution against negative ecological consequences.

Mining the saltier RO waste water for salt and other minerals opens up other local business and employment opportunities for the Region.

The size of the “worst case scenario” RO system discussed above could be cut in half, if recycled sewage water was filtered and disinfected, then used for irrigation. Using graywater at home would also be a plus. This is because half of the potable water currently used in our region is used for irrigating landscaping and crops.

Water-use efficiency improvements could reduce the role of renewable-energy-powered RO as well.

Combining water recycling and efficient water use with better rainwater runoff collection and storage systems, our region would only need to install 15% efficient PV panels on 2% of its roofs and parking lots to provide equal or superior water use services in the future, compared with what we have today. Plus, if we want more freshwater, we can cover more roofs and parking lots with PV panels to power expanded RO capacity and create all the freshwater we want.

Dave Gilbert can be reached at: < www.myspace.com/davegilbertsongs >

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

doug porter March 17, 2009 at 9:15 pm

good article. i spent most of the last decade living in the Caribbean, where most of the water was supplied by reverse osmosis. it’s totally practical to do this. btw-the taste of the water is excellent.


Wireless Mike March 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Just an interesting sidenote. Back in the early 1960’s, Point Loma had a sea water conversion plant feeding about a million gallons a day into the city water supply. It was located between the Coast Guard lighthouse and the tidepools parking lot on the west side of Cabrillo National Monument. In 1964, the whole plant was disassembled and shipped off to the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Cuban government cut off the water supply to the base.

We had desalinated water 45 years ago, why can’t we do it now? San Diego is growing, but those pipes across the desert aren’t getting any bigger.


Dave Gilbert March 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

This is why I asked Jim this question first. He has sound ideas that aren’t being implemented. Now Mayor Sanders is talking mandatory rationing…


That’s not fixing the problem.


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