I have a story taking place in a vast desert. There are however a few large and highly advanced cities within this desert with running water and electricity and I was wondering if this would be possible given the environment. What sources of water and where would they be (ex. underground). I have no idea about sources of electricity.

They would need to be able to produce their own food since it is difficult for them to import from elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ What technology level do the cities have? Would current day solar panels be an option for electricity? If not, what are the winds like in your desert? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Does the reason these cities exist in an inhospitable place have any relation to water? For example, cities built upon a mining industry require rather a lot of water for cleaning and processing and slurry...but some of those processes also tend to poison the groundwater without elaborate precautions. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ The Aswan High Dam powers a 2.1 GW hydroelectric plant and provides 55 cubic kilometers of water for irrigation per year, enabling the cultivation of 33,600 sq. km (13,000 sq. miles) of land, producing on the average 1.8 crops per year. And it's located in one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:37

2 Answers 2


Water: A desert is really just a lake with the lake bed on top. A desert still has underground aquifers along the water table, just like any non-desert areas. The only reason a desert is dry is because it doesn't rain, meaning that the water table is lower and the area above the water table is rarely saturated with water. So, to get water all the cities need to do is settle in an area where the water table is relatively close to the surface, such as near an oasis or river, and/or dig a lot of wells deep enough to reach the water table.

Electricity: Also surprisingly easy in a desert. If these cities are advanced enough, then they can put the scorching sun to good use with solar panels. Since there are no pesky trees in the way, wind is also plentiful in deserts. Windmills have been used since at least the ancient Greeks to perform work, and could be a reliable source of electricity. If the cities happen to be near a large, Nile-like river, hydroelectric dams could be yet another option. And, as always, there's oil.

  • $\begingroup$ Or coal, or oil, or nuclear, or pretty much any energy source available elsewhere in the world other than burning wood. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ This is basically how the Australian Northern Territories get water: ground water. Like them, over time the water table will be depleted. How fast depends on how much water is used, how much is returned to the environment, how large the aquifer is, and how much rainfall makes it back into the aquifer (as opposed to runs off or dries up). $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:55

For electricity, sources are plentiful. There may be large deposits of fossil fuels, like oil and gas, sunshine is likely plentiful, allowing for cheap solar energy, and winds can be strong, at least at times.

For water, situation is more difficult. If the location has strong and replenishing underground source, then your cities can use it without problem. If that source is not replenishing, desert city will run into trouble after a while. A city can stand on a seashore and use desalination. Or you can build pipelines and aqueducts to supply water from other regions. Finally, there is condensation. Particularly if your source of energy is natural gas, you can capture water vapor and use it as water. However, as a main source of water condensation is pretty weak. In a dry area, you can not provide a sizable city with water using condensation alone.

  • $\begingroup$ Desalinization is incredibly energy intensive, if thats the option they are using then you will also have to assume they have a fairly large energy surplus to expend on it. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 It used to be but lots of effort has been made to make it more efficient so while its still a premium over having fresh water available, it no longer seems to be an obstacle if fresh water is not available. I guess the cost of infrastructure is the bigger issue? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 20:18

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