International Desalination Association Issues Blue Paper on Desalination and the Environment of the Gulf

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The International Desalination Association has released a "blue paper" outlining strategies to minimize potential effects from desalination on the Gulf. The paper is based on 12 months of work done by members of IDA's global Environmental Task Force and discussions among regulators, scientists, engineers, water producers, environmentalists, members of the desalination industry and academics who attended the landmark Environmental Symposium on Desalination and the Gulf held in Bahrain.

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It is impossible to overstate the importance of a healthy Gulf to the region’s growing populations and economies.

The International Desalination Association (IDA) has released a “Blue Paper” with findings from its Environmental Symposium and recommendations to minimize potential environmental effects from desalination on the Gulf.

The Blue Paper is the result of 12 months of work done by IDA’s global Environmental Task Force (ETF). It also reflects dialogue among approximately 200 regulators, scientists and engineers, water producers, members of the desalination industry, environmentalists and academics who attended IDA’s Symposium, “Desalination and the Gulf: The Relationship between the Environment and Meeting the Region's Water Needs”.

Held in Bahrain, IDA's Environmental Symposium focused on engaging stakeholders involved either directly or indirectly with the region’s desalination plants to explore both potential issues and prospective mitigation measures regarding effects of desalination on the Gulf.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of a healthy sea to the region’s growing populations and economies that rely on it for the majority of their water resources. It is our fervent hope that all governments and stakeholders in the region will work together in an inclusive process, and that this Blue Paper helps shape a platform for action to safeguard the environmental well-being of the Gulf for future generations,” said Lisa Henthorne, IDA Director and Co-chairperson of the Environmental Task Force.

Key Findings

  •     There needs to be an accurate and up-to-date baseline of scientific data that addresses the effects from desalination that can impact the Gulf’s environmental condition. This data needs to be transparent and readily accessible to stakeholders in all the Gulf States. It was suggested that the ETF explore ways in which IDA could initiate the funding of a scientific database, working with the desalination and industry and financial institutions to provide the necessary support. As an alternative, IDA could act as the clearinghouse for information, with a third-party technical assessor and systems auditor having responsibilities to the wider sector.
  •     The Gulf must be viewed as a shared resource, and there must be a mechanism in place to ensure cooperation among all Gulf countries in order for mitigation efforts to have a widespread positive effect. One of the recommended next steps is to explore the opportunity to work with ROPME (Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment) to create a framework for cooperation and the setting of standards.
  •     There must be ongoing environmental monitoring and assessment programs in order for the industry and its stakeholders to judge the success of any mitigation efforts.
  •     Mandatory Environment and Social Impact Assessments should be included in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for any projects that may affect marine habitats.
  •     Implementation of increased environmental measures will have an impact on cost of constructing new “greenfield” plants and retrofitting “brownfield” plants currently in operation. While implementation of recommended environmental measures comes at some initial cost, these expense should be evaluated with respect to the long-term costs associated with doing nothing.
  •     Education is essential, not only for industry stakeholders, but also for consumers. It was recommended that such an educational effort address the role of desalination in the region and the quality of water produced, and also the need for conservation and demand management.
  •     Sensitivity towards the environment must be balanced with sensibility about desalination. Desalination is critical to providing the region with fresh water. However, as with any industrial process, there will be some effect on the environment. While appropriate measures can be taken to mitigate effects, it is impossible to eliminate every potential impact.
  •     Leverage the desalination industry’s efforts to encourage other users of the Gulf to assume a similar focus on mitigation strategies and commitment to the environmental health of the Gulf.
  •     It was also recommended that IDA organize a follow up conference to the inaugural Environmental Symposium. A date has not yet been set.

“Desalination is only one part of a much larger picture regarding the environmental well-being of the Gulf. All of the Gulf’s users must be stewards of its waters. Just as the desalination industry has stepped forward to address environmental concerns, it is up to all other industries that use the Gulf to share in the responsibility for its well-being,” said Henthorne, who indicated that these industries include oil and gas, power generation and shipping, among others.

The full Blue Paper is available for download on IDA’s website, http://www.idadesal.org.

About IDA
The International Desalination Association (http://www.idadesal.org) is a non-profit association that serves more than 2,400 core members in 60 countries and reaches an additional 4,000 affiliate members. Its membership comprises scientists, end-users, engineers, consultants and researchers from governments, corporations and academia. IDA is associated with the United Nations as part of a growing international network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

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