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Malta is an archipelago of three islands situated in the Mediterranean Sea, around fifty miles south of Sicily. There are no rivers of any significance on the islands, and the sparse annual rainfall is only about 500 mm. There is a water deficit in Malta. It occurs especially in summer when there is a great demand from the farmers for their irrigation and from the tourism sector.

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Desalination is the process of removing salt and other minerals from saline water. In regions of the world where water is scarce, such as Saudi Arabia, desalination is seen as a viable alternative to more traditional potable water treatment. Desalination has also been used to produce a reliable water supply in tourist destinations such as Aruba. Desalination has also been gaining traction in areas of rapid population growth such as Singapore and Beijing.

Traditionally, desalination plants have been expensive in comparison to traditional drinking water plants due to the upfront financing costs, treated water transportation costs and ongoing energy and concentrate disposal costs. However, as technical innovation brings the energy cost of desalination down and populations continue to migrate to warm, arid climates such as Phoenix, AZ, desalination is starting to catch on as a viable alternative.

All desalination processes involve three liquid streams. The first stream is the saline feed water which is also called brackish water or seawater. The second stream is the low-salinity product or finished, treated water. The third stream is the byproduct of the desalination process, the very saline concentrate brine or reject water.

The primary desalination process being used commercially for drinking water treatment is reverse osmosis, where a semi-permeable membrane is used to separate the salt and other minerals from the pure water. A reverse osmosis desalination system consists of four major processes. During the pretreatment phase, the incoming brackish or seawater is pretreated to adjust its pH, remove suspended solids, and control scaling to avoid fouling the membranes.

During the second phase, pumps raise the pressure of the pretreated feed water to create the correct pressure differential between the pressurized feed water and the product water to move the permeate through the membrane. The pressurization phase is followed by the separation phase, creating a freshwater product stream and a concentrated brine reject stream. Two of the most popular reverse osmosis membranes used during this phase are the spiral wound and hollow fine fiber membranes.

The final phase of the desalination process is the stabilization phase that often requires a pH adjustment and degasification before being transferred into the drinking water distribution system.