National Academy of Sciences

Committee on Advancing Desalination Technology

Federal Funding Survey

February 15, 2007


As water supplies face growing demands, desalination and water reuse continue to evolve as an alternative to expand usable water supplies. Desalination technologies are no longer applied only to seawater source waters. Applications have expanded to convert inland brackish ground- and surface waters in many Western states over the past 5-10 years. A comparison by Reclamation indicates that the cost to convert saline and other impaired sources of water into usable water supplies is now competitive with, or lower than, many of the water rates charged throughout the United States and abroad. This suggests that the long-sought research goal of lowering the cost of desalination technologies so that it is a more cost-competitive water supply alternative may now be achieved or within reach.

Against this backdrop, the commercial sector, nonprofit organizations, academia, international entities, and multiple federal, state, and local agencies have been investing more time and money in implementing, maturing, and advancing desalination technologies. Because of these recent advances, and increased national and international attention, the future directions for advancing and implementing desalination and water purification technologies are at a critical juncture in the United States. Reclamation and the Environmental Protection Agency are currently funding the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study the role of the federal government in advancing desalination technology.

Assessing the current situation also indicates that a strong, international industry presence has emerged around desalination and other water purification technologies. When there is a strong industry presence, market forces have the ability to advance and mature technologies through industry investments. Under these conditions, the need and role for federal research investments should be carefully reassessed. Reclamation has requested definition of the appropriate role for federal research as one of the key tasks for the NAS Committee on Advancing Desalination Technology to address, as described in the Project Scope below.

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