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Saving Two Birds with One Stone

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(Article changed on May 22, 2013 at 20:51)


waterpump by Teliesin

You can tell a lot about a society's fears by who the bad guys are in their movies. When I was a kid in the 80's, all the bad guys in our movies were Russians. After the Cold War ended, the bad guys became Middle Eastern terrorists. So the bad guy in a recent James Bond film caught my eye. He was some European looking fellow who was part of a secret international organization trying to take over a poor country's water supply. This may sound like a silly plot theme to some, but it made me think of the tale of American billionaire oil tycoon - T. Boone Pickens.

Pickens made his money in oil, so many were surprised back in the mid 1980's when he started buying land in Roberts County, Texas near one of the largest deposits of fresh water in the world, The Ogallala Aquifer. By doing so, he acquired the "water rights" of the adjacent water. Or, he "owned" the water. The state of Texas has some interesting laws regarding owning water, most notably the "Rule of Capture" which has come to be known as the "Law of the Biggest Pump." While many neighbors may share rights to the same water that crosses under or along their land, the guy with the biggest pump can take it all. Guess who had the biggest pump.

Pickens said that "water is the new oil," and until recently he owned more fresh water than anyone else in America , until he sold most of it in 2011 back to the same area where he got it from, at a nice profit, mind you.

He says in an interview that he had tried to sell it for years to the bigger cities of Dallas and San Antonio, TX , which would have required a pipeline to be built to deliver the water, but they wouldn't meet his price. In the end he said he was glad the water was instead sold to the people of the area, and it would be staying there. Pickens, who was 84 at the time, had built a very large estate on some of the land he had purchased that I imagine he intended his family would inherit. He said he didn't want his relatives to be known forever as the family who sold away all the water when the area did go dry.

By the way, he didn't sell the water connected to his estate, and it's a lot of water.

But, had the big cities of Dallas or San Antonio met his price, that water would have been pumped out of the area, and the people of the area would eventually have to struggle with drought as they watched their water getting pumped to the big cities. Pickens said the big cities laughed at him when he tried to sell them his water, but then when droughts would hit, the big cities would start calling him again and trying to negotiate, until it rained and then the calls would stop. Then another drought would happen and the calls would start back up.

Right now, it is easy for us to ignore this problem. To most of us in the "developed" world, it seems we have plenty of fresh water. We take long showers and baths with it, water our lawns, wash our cars, and even just flush it down our toilets. But back in 2010 The UN Summit on Climate Change predicted that 33% of the world was already facing a fresh water crisis, and by 2050, that number would rise to over 60%. The problem is, much like the people of Dallas and San Antonio , we tend to wait until a situation is out of control before we attempt to fix it, using the old excuse of, "It isn't cost effective." But what about the long range costs of avoiding this problem until it's too late?

T. Boone Pickens says there is plenty of water to be had. He says there are 350 Billion Trillion gallons of water on earth. But, 96% of it is salt water - that made me ask myself,

"Can't we just remove the salt from the water?"

Turns out we can. It is a process called "Desalination."

It isn't a new procedure. Early sailors used a technique to provide themselves with drinking water on long voyages. It happens naturally in nature, the sun evaporates the water, leaving the salts, and then that water eventually becomes fresh water rain. Countries all over the world are already using Desalination plants. The salt water is heated, and as the water turns to steam, the salt is separated. Then the steam condenses, is purified, and then drinkable.

When I read this, I remembered that water is often used in power plants. In much the same process, fresh water is heated and turned to steam, and that steam turns a turbine, creating energy. I found that roughly 75 to 90 percent of the world's energy is produced by steam turbines, depending on the source. And I thought,

"Couldn't we use this steam created by desalination to actually power the process itself?"

It seems to me, and mind you, my college degree is in Acting, not Engineering, if we used an outside energy source to heat the salt water and start the process of turning the salt water to steam, we could then use the resulting steam as a self-sustaining energy source to power the Desalination plant. Once the salt water is heated to steam, that steam could turn a turbine. Then the energy created by turning that turbine could be used to heat more salt water. In my mind we could make fresh water from salt water with almost no extra energy cost, maybe even with some energy left over.

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Tim is a some-time activist living in Ohio who thinks things should be a little bit more fair. He has also worked as a musician and an actor, performing throughout the US, Europe, and Japan.


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And if this is true, Solar Power is about to get a... by Tim Buchholz on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 1:44:34 AM