Florida Counties Consider Test Of Murphy's Law With $200 Million Dollar Offshore Desalination Plant


Drought in northern parts of the US State of Florida is getting serious - leading to a proposal for an offshore, floating dealination plant.

Mandatory water restrictions for all water-use categories including residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural will become effective April 7 throughout the Suwannee River Water Management District.

This action was taken due to extremely low groundwater levels throughout the 15 county region during the current drought and the predictions that the drought will only get worse during the next several months.

Cumulative water consumption is still increasing with Florida's booming population (even with progress on the per capita front). When you might run out of fresh water in a place where the economy is predicated on growth....well you just run out of traditional options. Even so, we just can't make up stuff like this.

Several fast-growing northeast Florida communities could tap into the Atlantic Ocean for drinking water by anchoring a desalination ship 2 [&] 1/2 miles off the coast.

The idea is to retrofit an oil tanker with filters and powerful pumps that would make up to 25 million gallons of drinking water a day, enough for more than 150,000 people.

What's wrong with this picture?
... Water Standard Co., a Houston company that has not yet launched a ship-based desalination plant...is marketing the idea worldwide. Their concept is based on many proven technologies used by the offshore-oil industry.

Even so, many details remain to be worked out, including how to dispose of the salt removed from the seawater without harming the environment, protect the 560-foot ship from hurricanes and other storms, pipe the water to shore and provide the enormous amount of electricity needed for the process.

Put that ship out there and you're tempting Hurricane Murphy. Add to these, the fact that Florida gets most of it's electricity from a combination of oil and coal burning plants - both of high carbon footprint - which would make the electricity inputs a driver of climate change, hence drought.

The biggest question of all seems to have been begged by local media coverage: why offshore versus on-land for a desalination plant?

Given that GE's combustion turbine division is listed as a 'partner' of Water Standard, we might well assume that the design includes generating electricity aboard ship, with fuel oil or kerosene as fuel. Refueling could occur directly from another tanker. Especially if that fuel is of sulfur-laden Venezuelan origin, we might deduce further advantage from being 2.5 miles offshore: exemption from compliance with State air quality limitations.

A further offshore advantage would be leaving expensive coastal properties for real-estate development instead of power generation. Or, maybe just fewer neighbors to offend.

And a final offshore advantage would be not having to build a slurry discharge line back out to sea for mixing desalination plant brine residues with seawater, putting the mixing zone far beyond coastal estuaries. (A land based plant would need double pipeline: a deep water intake and separate down-current deep water discharge for residues. Whereas, an offshore plant needs only to pipe potable water to the shore.)

Here are the nutty-sounding parts of the offshore proposal, also not mentioned in the local media coverage.

Suppose a hurricane warning is posted, with possible landfall within 36 hours. Reasonable people might assume that the "Tanker" would have to disconnect the pipelines and haul out of there immediately, so as to avoid creating an oil spill on the beach. So, for a day and half before landfall, and perhaps a week afterward, no drinking water for 150,000 people? Must be missing something here. Like an expensive, hurricane-vulnerable, inland water tank that would not be needed if the plant were built inland in the first place.

To make an analogy, the Cape Wind offshore wind farm project proposed for New England, far to the north, has been strongly opposed mainly on the basis of perceived property value and aesthetic impacts on wealthy riparian owners. Yet, the sponsors of this Florida desalination project seemingly think that a tanker parked offshore and belching clouds of smoke to the sky would be acceptable? More to be learned.

Via::Suwannee Democrat, "First-ever water shortage order" AND Orlando Sentinel, "Floating desalination factory possible solution to water woes"