Without a pinch of salt

Is desalination the answer to India's water woes?

Published 5 years ago on Jun 28, 2019 1 minute Read

Chennai got its third desalination plant after a six-year delay just as the city suffers from its worst drought in decades. As Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami laid down the foundation for the Rs.12.59 billion project, questions around its efficacy were raised. Fuelled by government support, a large water-stressed population and technological advancements, the desalination industry in India is booming. According to a TechSci Research report, this market is expected to reach $1.38 billion by 2023 in the country. India's good relations with low-cost technology pioneer, Israel, have also helped. The middle-eastern nation has successfully transformed its arid region to become a heavy agricultural exporter, with close to 55% of its domestic water coming from such plants. But, India is not weighed down by vast regions of parched land or extremely scant rainfall. India receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of rain, which is enough for the country's needs. One might argue that climate change is affecting the regularity of monsoon, but the bigger problem lies in capturing rainwater. For the coastal city of Chennai, which experienced floods in 2015, systematic water harvesting could solve the problem. Desalination, after all, is an expensive, energy-guzzling and a waste-producing process. To produce 100 MLD (million litres per day) of water, 237 MLD of seawater are required. The by-product is briny, highly concentrated saltwater that is denser than normal seawater, and it erodes the coastline and destroys marine habitat. So, does India really need desalination?