Environmental Impacts of Seawater Desalination: Arabian Gulf Case Study

Mohamed A. Dawoud


Desalination of seawater accounts for a worldwide water production of 5000 million m3/year. A “hot spot” of intense desalination activity has always been the Arabian Gulf, but other regional centers of activity emerge and become more prominent, such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, or the coastal waters of California, China and Australia. The growth gap between supply and demand for water in the GCC countries can be attributed to limited available surface water, high population growth and urbanization development, deficient institutional arrangements, poor management practices, water depletion and deterioration of quality, especially in shallow groundwater aquifers. Increasing demand for water in the domestic sector has shifted attention to the role of desalination in alleviating water shortages. Experience in the Gulf States demonstrates that desalination technology has developed to a level where it can serve as a reliable source of water at a price comparable to water from conventional sources. Desalination remains in GCC countries the most feasible alternative to augment or meet future water supply requirements. It is considered a strategic option for satisfying current and future domestic water supply requirements, in comparison to the development of other water resources. Despite the many benefits the technology has to offer, concerns rise over potential negative impacts on the environment. Key issues are the concentrate and chemical discharges to the marine environment, the emissions of air pollutants and the energy demand of the processes. To safeguard a sustainable use of desali nation technology, the impacts of each major desalination project should be investigated and mitigated by means of a project- and location-specific environmental impact assessment (EIA) study, while the benefits and impacts of different water supply options should be balanced on the scale of regional management plans. In this context, our paper intends to present an overview on present seawater desalination capacities by region, a synopsis of the key environmental concerns of desalination, including ways of mitigating the impacts of desalination on the environment, and of avoiding some of the dangers of the environment to desalination.

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