Severe droughts are stoking renewed interest in tapping the seas. But turning their bounty into freshwater comes at great cost
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The early 1960s were a time when there seemed to be no problem so big that American technology couldn’t conquer it, including the eternal threat of drought. The solution seemed simple: build industrial plants capable of generating fresh drinking water from a limitless source–the sea. So on June 21, 1961, President John F. Kennedy inaugurated one of the first demonstration desalination plants in the U.S.–built in Freeport, Texas–with a speech that looked forward to a world where water scarcity would be a thing of the past. Kennedy argued that no water-resources program was of greater long-range importance; he dubbed the ocean the world’s greatest and cheapest natural resource.