, Salem, MA


April 17, 2013

Topsfield organization serves global industry that desalts water

TOPSFIELD — This town may be famous for its popular agricultural fair, but what many don’t know is that for almost half a century, it has also been home to a global organization addressing international water scarcity issues.

The International Desalination Association is the global hub of information on desalination, a process of “desalting” water to make it usable.

For people living on the North Shore, where water is readily accessible, topics like desalination might not come up very often. But 300 million people worldwide rely on desalination for their daily water needs, and that number is increasing as population growth, pollution, leaks and climate change compromise freshwater supplies, according to IDA.

The nonprofit, professional organization provides expertise, news and information, and professional development for the worldwide desalination industry, according to its literature. It organizes an international conference for professionals every year, a newsletter, educational materials and other services. Members include scientists, engineers and consultants from businesses, governments and academia.

So why Topsfield?

“Many people do ask,” said Secretary General Patricia Burke, who has been with the organization since before it was the International Desalination Association. “It’s because this is where I am.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, IDA has been in Topsfield since its beginning. Burke worked out of her home in Topsfield before IDA found offices, and IDA’s seven team members now are all from the area. But their work takes them all over the world.

This year’s IDA World Congress, for instance, will take place in Tianjin, China, where more than a thousand experts in the desalination industry will gather for six days in October to exchange knowledge and experience.

During April and May alone, IDA lists events in Spain, United Arab Emirates, Western Australia and Canada.

“Desalination is part of the water strategy for the 21st century, and it has become essential in many places,” said Ann Seamonds, a spokeswoman for IDA. Currently, there are 16,000 desalination plants around the world. The market for desalination is primarily municipal and industrial users but includes power stations, agriculture and the military.

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