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Worth its salt? : critical analysis of desalination for drinking water supply on Gotland (Sweden)

Speckhahn, Irina Sophia LU (2017) In Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science MESM02 20171
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
Abstract
Water is an essential resource for humans as well as the environment and water resources globally are under increasing pressure resulting in local conditions of water scarcity. The tension between increasing water demands and the natural limit to freshwater supply challenges authorities to find solutions that fulfil societal demands and economic purposes without compromising environmental integrity. Water production, flow and distribution is shaped by a complex set of political, social, historic, environmental and economic parameter that need to be coordinated in order to facilitate long-term sustainable water supply that acknowledges various interests. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination of seawater has evolved as an... (More)
Water is an essential resource for humans as well as the environment and water resources globally are under increasing pressure resulting in local conditions of water scarcity. The tension between increasing water demands and the natural limit to freshwater supply challenges authorities to find solutions that fulfil societal demands and economic purposes without compromising environmental integrity. Water production, flow and distribution is shaped by a complex set of political, social, historic, environmental and economic parameter that need to be coordinated in order to facilitate long-term sustainable water supply that acknowledges various interests. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination of seawater has evolved as an attractive solution over the last decades and became an option to supply additional amounts of freshwater to human societies. The use of this technology is contested and associated with a variety of social, environmental and economic consequences; yet its application increases continuously around the globe. Drawing on political ecology, and using the case of the Swedish island Gotland where Sweden's first bigger desalination plant has been inaugurated in 2016 as an entry point, the benefits and drawbacks of the technology as well as the decision-making process were examined. By qualitatively analysing public documents and conducting interviews with different stakeholders, information about the application of desalination on Gotland could be obtained in order to provide knowledge about the challenges and potential trade-offs connected to the technology as well as the underlying mechanisms in decision-making. The findings indicate a number of benefits that are in line with broader development goals and therefore receive a high level of attention while drawbacks are considered to be manageable or externalised. Using technology to extend natural limits in order to serve human interests is prioritised over deeper restructuring of societal and economic patterns that would be required to align development to natural water supplies. This is accompanied by a process of depoliticisation facilitated through technocratic tendencies, naturalisation of root-causes and a sense of urgency resulting in a normalisation of desalination as an acceptable solution over time. Consequently, the decision's legitimacy can be challenged and conflicting interests are obscured. In order to invoke a transformation towards long-term sustainability of Gotland's water supply, decision-makers should seek to diversify their knowledge input and envision alternative futures that acknowledge various water needs and limits. Moreover, political debate should be encouraged and conflicting interests embraced in order to revive democratic processes. (Less)
Abstract (Swedish)
Vatten är en livsnödvändig resurs såväl för människor som för miljön. Globalt är vattenresurser under ökad belastning vilket resulterar i vattenbrist lokalt. Skillnaden mellan ökande vattenbehov och den naturliga gränsen för tillgången av sötvatten utmanar myndigheterna att hitta lösningar som uppfyller samhälleliga och ekonomiska intressen utan att äventyra miljöinverkan. Vattenproduktion, flöde och distribution påverkas av ett komplext samspel utav politiska, sociala, historiska, miljömässiga och ekonomiska aspekter. Aspekter som bör samverka för att möjliggöra långsiktig hållbar vattenförsörjning som inkluderar olika intressen. Under de senaste decennierna har avsaltning av havsvatten utvecklats som en lösning för att motverka... (More)
Vatten är en livsnödvändig resurs såväl för människor som för miljön. Globalt är vattenresurser under ökad belastning vilket resulterar i vattenbrist lokalt. Skillnaden mellan ökande vattenbehov och den naturliga gränsen för tillgången av sötvatten utmanar myndigheterna att hitta lösningar som uppfyller samhälleliga och ekonomiska intressen utan att äventyra miljöinverkan. Vattenproduktion, flöde och distribution påverkas av ett komplext samspel utav politiska, sociala, historiska, miljömässiga och ekonomiska aspekter. Aspekter som bör samverka för att möjliggöra långsiktig hållbar vattenförsörjning som inkluderar olika intressen. Under de senaste decennierna har avsaltning av havsvatten utvecklats som en lösning för att motverka vattenunderskott och som en möjlighet att tillhandahålla ytterligare ökad volym av sötvatten till samhällen. Användningen av denna teknik är dock omstridd och kopplad till en rad av sociala, miljömässiga och ekonomiska konsekvenser. Ändå ökar dess tillämpning kontinuerligt runt om i världen. Denna uppsats syftar till att undersöka fördelar och nackdelar med avsaltning, samt beslutsprocessen för användningen av den. Uppsatsen grundar sig i politisk ekologi och i en fallstudie av den svenska ön Gotland, där Sveriges första större avsaltningsanläggning invigdes 2016. Genom en kvalitativ analys av offentliga dokument och intervjuer med olika aktörer erhölls information om implementeringen av avsaltning på Gotland. Information som gav kunskap om de utmaningar och potentiella problem som är kopplade till tekniken och de bakomliggande mekanismerna i beslutsfattandet. Resultatet visar några möjligheter som överensstämmer med öns bredare utvecklingsmål och därför får hög uppmärksamhet medan nackdelarna anses vara hanterbara eller externaliseras. Att använda teknologi för att utvidga naturliga gränser för att uppfylla mänskliga intressen prioriteras över en djupare omstrukturering av samhälleliga och ekonomiska mönster som skulle behövas för att anpassa öns utveckling till naturlig vattenförsörjning. Detta åtföljs av en depolitisering som underlättas genom teknokratiska tendenser, naturalisering av grundorsaker och problemens brådskande karaktär som i kombination resulterar i en normalisering av avsaltning som en acceptabel lösning över tiden. Beslutets legitimitet kan följaktligen ifrågasättas medan motstridiga intressen mörkas. För att åstadkomma en omvandling mot långsiktig hållbarhet av Gotlands vattenförsörjning bör beslutsfattare sträva efter att bredda sin kunskapsinhämtning och utveckla alternativa framtida scenario som erkänner olika vattenbehov och gränser. Dessutom bör en politisk debatt uppmuntras och motstridiga intressen accepteras för att återinföra den demokratiska beslutsprocessen. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Speckhahn, Irina Sophia LU
supervisor
organization
course
MESM02 20171
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
sustainability science, water scarcity, political ecology, technoocracy, sustainable development
publication/series
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science
report number
2017:039
language
English
id
8916877
date added to LUP
2017-06-21 16:08:06
date last changed
2017-06-21 16:08:06
@misc{8916877,
  abstract     = {Water is an essential resource for humans as well as the environment and water resources globally are under increasing pressure resulting in local conditions of water scarcity. The tension between increasing water demands and the natural limit to freshwater supply challenges authorities to find solutions that fulfil societal demands and economic purposes without compromising environmental integrity. Water production, flow and distribution is shaped by a complex set of political, social, historic, environmental and economic parameter that need to be coordinated in order to facilitate long-term sustainable water supply that acknowledges various interests. As one way to counteract water deficits, desalination of seawater has evolved as an attractive solution over the last decades and became an option to supply additional amounts of freshwater to human societies. The use of this technology is contested and associated with a variety of social, environmental and economic consequences; yet its application increases continuously around the globe. Drawing on political ecology, and using the case of the Swedish island Gotland where Sweden's first bigger desalination plant has been inaugurated in 2016 as an entry point, the benefits and drawbacks of the technology as well as the decision-making process were examined. By qualitatively analysing public documents and conducting interviews with different stakeholders, information about the application of desalination on Gotland could be obtained in order to provide knowledge about the challenges and potential trade-offs connected to the technology as well as the underlying mechanisms in decision-making. The findings indicate a number of benefits that are in line with broader development goals and therefore receive a high level of attention while drawbacks are considered to be manageable or externalised. Using technology to extend natural limits in order to serve human interests is prioritised over deeper restructuring of societal and economic patterns that would be required to align development to natural water supplies. This is accompanied by a process of depoliticisation facilitated through technocratic tendencies, naturalisation of root-causes and a sense of urgency resulting in a normalisation of desalination as an acceptable solution over time. Consequently, the decision's legitimacy can be challenged and conflicting interests are obscured. In order to invoke a transformation towards long-term sustainability of Gotland's water supply, decision-makers should seek to diversify their knowledge input and envision alternative futures that acknowledge various water needs and limits. Moreover, political debate should be encouraged and conflicting interests embraced in order to revive democratic processes.},
  author       = {Speckhahn, Irina Sophia},
  keyword      = {sustainability science,water scarcity,political ecology,technoocracy,sustainable development},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science},
  title        = {Worth its salt? : critical analysis of desalination for drinking water supply on Gotland (Sweden)},
  year         = {2017},
}