The Middle East takes its water shortages with anything but a grain of salt. Saudia Arabia plans to spend more than $3 billion on its newest desalination project. The new operation in Jubail Industrial City should be in working order by 2010, a Saudi official recently announced.
Not only is the plant expected to produce 800,000 cubic meters of water per day, it also should generate 2,750 megawatts of electricity. More power plus more water equals a winning combination for the water-scarce nation, but is energy-intensive desalination the answer for a country caught in the shift from oil to water?
In nearby Bahrain, desalination already rules the tap. Salt-stripped ocean water provides the island state with 143 million gallons daily. Residents of Bahrain, however, complain that the environmental price of the desalinated water proves too high.
Despite treatment regulations preventing chemical-laced discharge, some Bahraini scientists warn of future harm to marine ecosystems.
“All desalination plants use chlorine or other biocides – which are hazardous to marine resources – to clean pipes and other equipment and sometimes to pre-treat the feed water,” environmental economist Dr Ali Al-Hesabi explained to the Women’s International Perspective.
“The Environmental Authority in the Kingdom of Bahrain does not permit chlorine or other biocides to be discharged directly into the marine environment. Consequently, these chemicals would have to be neutralized before discharge.”
For many Bahrainis, who once worshiped a God of Fresh Water and built temples to honor their sacred supply, the current dependence on desalination is disconcerting. As countries across the Middle East declare seawater alchemy as the solution to their water crises, Bahrain serves as a ready example of the region’s changing resource politics.