In S1E4 of Continuum, we were told by the end that energy was cheap and plentiful, but water was at a premium (referring to the dry cleaning). If energy is cheap, cleaning water should be cheap and easy as well, right?

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    Added the tag for you. And +1 for a good point. Water can easily be obtained given sufficient energy. Feb 8, 2013 at 14:36
  • thanks, wish i had more rep - i haven't had a chance to make a tag on any of the stack exchange sites... Feb 8, 2013 at 14:37
  • It's easy getting rep on SFF. Give it a whirl, you won't be disappointed :) Feb 8, 2013 at 14:40
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    Isn't there a "plot-hole" tag? Feb 8, 2013 at 16:06
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    Maybe all the free energy comes from hydrogen extracted from water?
    – KutuluMike
    Feb 8, 2013 at 18:37

6 Answers 6


Having relatively free energy will not remove the associated difficulties in acquiring water in the future even with desalination as an option. It will take concentrated efforts both at conservation, management and the application of technology to feed the growing demands of industrial societies worldwide. The show's acknowledgement of the fact is a testament to their goal of promoting some level of scientific acumen regarding the problems of Humanity's collective future.

"Water is at a premium. All cleaning is dry-cleaning."

At first I considered it a throw-away line. But I considered the issues of the corporate controlled Continuum universe and water being at a premium isn't that hard to believe because of the following facts:

  • At our current rate of water use, clean water is already a commodity in certain communities on Earth and the number of people is increasing at the same time the amount of fresh water becoming available is diminishing.

  • Underground aquifers are not refilling as cities are preventing rainwater from returning to the Earth and instead is being redirected out to sea, ensuring wells and other freshwater supplies continue to diminish.

  • While the number of storms may be increasing as global warming heats the planet, glaciers, snow and mountainous ice packs are not reforming which will ultimately ensure rivers and mountain-fed water supplies will eventually dry up.

  • Manufacturing and industry are very water intensive and water is as vital for technology as it is for living things. It takes:

    • 62,000 gallons of water to produce a ton of steel. (The USS Nimitz weighs 90,000 tons, do the math)

    • 39,000 gallons of water to produce a car and its four tires.

    • 28,100 gallons of water to turn one ton of sugar cane into processed sugar

    • 27,000 gallons of water to produce your average PC. (Environmental Science & Technology, 2004)

    • 1850 gallons of water to create one barrel of crude oil.

    • 1500 gallons to produce a barrel of beer

    • 55 gallons to produce one pound of synthetic rubber

    • 24 gallons to produce one pound of plastic

    • 13 gallons of water to produce one gallon of paint.

    • 5.4 gallons to produce one board foot of lumber

  • It has been estimated that over 151,000,000 workstations have been produced this year (2009) so far, potentially 4,050,000,000,000, or 4 trillion gallons of water have been spent in the manufacturing process alone!

With energy being easily available, it is possible and likely probable for desalination to become the primary means of acquiring water but there are several issues will become a problem with continued use.

  • Salt water is filled with salt and other chemical runoff from factories. The processes required to heat the water to vaporization and then condensation again for drinking can be both time consuming and energy intensive.

  • The byproducts of the process, salt, minerals and other chemical effluvia will need to be managed and stored. It should not be returned to the ocean for fear of disturbing the saline balance of the area and affecting local wildlife (assuming there is still any remaining).

  • Other processes, such as osmotic pressure or reverse osmosis may get fresh water with less energy but are far less effective and require a great deal of space for the facilities.

Reverse osmosis desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain

Reverse osmosis desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain

  • In addition to getting the water from the oceans comes the matter of moving it to places which are not along the ocean front. It could be assumed such water production will have to have a coordinated series of technologies for its distribution ensuring water loss in transit as well. Current pipeline technologies are known for their inefficiencies and water losses.

The efforts needed to coordinate Earth's water supplies would be considerable and expensive possibly making it one of the most powerful and necessary agencies of 2077. Here is an article with references regarding our current state of water, its issues, its technologies and challenges for the future. No Blood for Water.

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    It's a shame no one has created an invention that can move liquids across great distances cheaply. I'm no science fiction author, but it would have to be a solid tubular mechanism with a hollow core. Unfortunately that's far beyond our current technology to create such a bizarre thing.
    – John O
    Feb 10, 2013 at 21:40
  • The challenge is to make it possible to not lose water between the seams. With tectonic movement, wear, stress, no pipeline can be maintained without significant effort. We have yet to ever make a pipeline that does not leak over time. Feb 10, 2013 at 23:19
  • "Significant effort" translates into "energy".
    – John O
    Feb 11, 2013 at 3:13
  • Effort is not always energy. Sometimes, for example, the challenge of moving water from the desalination plant to the cities that need it may not only require energy but the political, physical and engineering efforts to be gathered before such pipelines can be created. See: Keystone Pipeline. Feb 11, 2013 at 5:17
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    Cheap/premium and priorities are all relative. This answer rightly points out the effort required to get water to communities and the amount of water required for industry. If energy is cheap, but the amount of energy required to get water to communities is significant, why wouldn't a future society decide that dry cleaning is more efficient energy-wise than washing clothes with water? Perhaps energy is so cheap simply because future society has made efficiency choices such as this.
    – ghoppe
    Feb 11, 2013 at 16:17

It wouldn't be expensive.

From Wikipedia:

Salt water is desalinated to produce fresh water suitable for human consumption or irrigation. One potential byproduct of desalination is salt. Desalination is used on many seagoing ships and submarines. Most of the modern interest in desalination is focused on developing cost-effective ways of providing fresh water for human use. Along with recycled wastewater, this is one of the few rainfall-independent water sources. Large-scale desalination typically uses large amounts of energy and specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it more expensive than fresh water from conventional sources, such as rivers or groundwater.

Basically all it costs is energy (even the infrastructure is little more than an energy problem to smelt iron and cement klinker and such).

Not just cleaning the water becomes cheap, but as something that's liquid at normal temperatures, you can pipe it nearly everywhere except the most extreme arctic environments.

And considering that non-potable (not for drinking, not for irrigation) water requires even less processing... (never mind that dry cleaning is "dry" because it doesn't use water)

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    The question is 'why would water be at a premium if energy is free'. Unclear to me how your response answers the question. The essence of what you say is that 'desalinization costs nothing but energy'. But that doesn't really answer the question. If energy is cheap and desalinization is extremely inexpensive, than why would water still be at a premium. Can you elaborate ?
    – Stan
    Feb 8, 2013 at 16:22
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    The answer to that is "it wouldn't".
    – John O
    Feb 8, 2013 at 16:29
  • So the answer you're providing to the question is 'it shouldn't be at a premium/ ? Just want to be clear.
    – Stan
    Feb 8, 2013 at 17:10
  • "Cheap" and "premium" are relative. Cheap doesn't imply free, and premium doesn't imply non-existant or even rare. Even if cheap energy makes the infrastructure to desalinate water more inexpensive than recycling and using conventional fresh water, that doesn't imply that the process is free and water is as valuable as energy. Perhaps energy is so cheap because society made (will make) efficiency choices like "dry cleaning is far more efficient than water-based cleaning."
    – ghoppe
    Feb 11, 2013 at 16:41

I pointed it out in a comment, but I think it deserves its own answer.

I think cause and effect are reversed in the question. "Cheap" and "expensive" are relative. Perhaps energy in the 2077 world is so cheap because society will make efficiency choices like this.

If water is at a premium, and processing water for necessities and industry is quite expensive, energy-wise, and dry cleaning is more efficient, energy-wise, than washing clothes with water, then it makes sense to dry-clean clothes rather than wash them with water. Thus energy is kept more plentiful (and cheap) and water, a more valuable commodity, isn't wasted on some process that can happen without using it.


because there are corporations in charge of the future government of 2077. And as we all know there are a number of bottled water companies and agents in the world. Namely a big company we can all identify with Soda. If the corporations have control of the government(s) then I can bet they have the interest of the Holy Dollar in mind.

Also, with the rate the populations are growing, it would be easy to say there is polution that is being swept under the rug. While certain things are great like the things we currently in the 21st century have to pay a lot for being free by the 22ns century.....it wouldn't be too inane to believe that things we currently get for free or cheaply would be costly in the future.

Though, I really want to blame to soda corporations becaus eof their bottle water franchises. That's just my stupid humor peeking out.


Clean water is at a premium because the people will be forced to buy bottled water or the premium water for their survival. As corporations rule everything, there is no government left to force corporations to sell items for a fair price. You can see it with Piron Corp. who have been stockpiling food rations to make a bigger profit and the fact that everyone eats artificial foods instead of fresh vegetables and meats. The whole show is based around the fact that true laisse fair economics are the death of us all...

  • Follac, the idea is to answer the question, not to use them as a pulpit for anti-capitalist rhetoric. You might want to read the FAQ; scifi.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Valorum
    Mar 25, 2014 at 0:40
  • The fact that it is a rant, IMO, makes it flag worthy. At the very least, it falls into "very low quality", as what little relevant information is here is nothing that is not explained in much greater detail in multiple other answers and the fact that its purpose is a rant
    – The Fallen
    Mar 25, 2014 at 1:44
  • This answer does however provide a potential in-universe explanation, which is another perfectly valid way of answering the question in my opinion. If the answer were to be edited to remove the final sentence "The whole show is based around the fact that true laisse fair economics are the death of us all..." (which is actually the only part of this answer that is political) and emphasise that it is a possibility that water availability is restricted in the same way that Piron has been shown to have restricted food supplies, it would be a potential answer to the question. Apr 27, 2014 at 9:26
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    How is this a "rant" or "rhetoric" or "diatribe"? Everything in the answer is straight from the show. The economics "fact" in answer's last sentence is not necessarily a fact in RL, but it is presented as fact on the show. People are blasting this answer because the answerer -- who is a brand-new member -- said "fact" instead of "premise." Sheesh, lighten up!!
    – dmm
    Aug 27, 2014 at 16:17

I'll probably get down voted for this, since I haven't seen the show. The first thing that I can think of that would make water a premium item is that there isn't much water to be had. Yes, in our real world, 2/3 of the surface is covered with water that can easily be made potable with enough energy. But in the world of "Continuum", is the water even there to begin with?

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    the world of Continuum is Vancouver, now and a few decades in the future. Same planet. Feb 10, 2013 at 22:53

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