Desalination in Northeastern U.S.: Lessons from Four Case Studies

Desalination, 297:104-110, 2012

24 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2012 Last revised: 5 Oct 2012

See all articles by Sridhar Vedachalam

Sridhar Vedachalam

Environmental Policy Innovation Center

Susan Riha

Cornell University

Date Written: March 7, 2012


While much of the desalination activity in the U.S is concentrated in southern and western states, the last decade has seen an unlikely location emerge for desalination – the Northeast. With precipitation often exceeding evapotranspiration, the Northeast generally maintains abundant surface and ground water resources that are readily available for human and ecological use. However, shortfalls in water supplies are leading some communities in the Northeast to consider desalination as an alternative water source. Presently, three desalination projects are in operation, while a fourth one is planned for construction. We review the conditions which led these locations to implement desalination projects including average and peak water demands, status of traditional water supply sources, topographical challenges and demographic changes. We identify financing, regulatory challenges and public support as factors critical to the initiation and success of desalination projects. Using information from the four projects, we propose a set of questions communities should consider to determine the viability of desalination projects vis-à-vis alternatives such as leak detection and infrastructure upgrades, conservation through water-efficient fixtures, and development of new surface and groundwater sources. An informed decision can help communities guarantee long-term supplies at optimal cost and minimal harm to the environment.

Keywords: desalination, Northeast, financing, regulatory challenges, public support

JEL Classification: O22, Q25

Suggested Citation

Vedachalam, Sridhar and Riha, Susan, Desalination in Northeastern U.S.: Lessons from Four Case Studies (March 7, 2012). Desalination, 297:104-110, 2012, Available at SSRN: or

Sridhar Vedachalam (Contact Author)

Environmental Policy Innovation Center

777 6th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

Susan Riha

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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