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Easier way to extract fresh water proposed

The answer to a dwindling supply of drinking water in Florida may be as close as the shoreline, a water manager said Wednesday at a conference of scientists.

Desalinating seawater historically has been a costly process that consumes a large amount of energy, and finding an environmentally suitable way to get rid of the extracted brine has been a key stumbling block.

The Electric Power Research Institute took a look at the problems in a wide-ranging national study, said Mark Farrell, assistant executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud.

Reverse osmosis was the least expensive and most efficient way to turn salt water into fresh water, and putting a desalination plant near a power plant, especially in coastal areas, would save money.

Reverse osmosis involves pushing saltwater through a series of membranes that extract salt and let water pass through.

The brine byproduct could be mixed with the millions of gallons of plant cooling water for ultimate return to the sea.

Another option, disposing of salt in landfills, could cost more and require a lot of land. Deep-well injection isn't foolproof, a scientist said, because the salt may migrate back to the surface.

The three-day 19th annual Conference on Water Management, which ends today, brought together 330 engineers, managers and scientists from local water systems and the state's five regional water districts to look at data, discuss problems, solutions and ideas.