Moving Beyond Water Scarcity in California

Solar desalination technology provides a way to remove salt from agricultural drainage water to create a new source of freshwater.

Climate change and new environmental policies regarding water usage have forced many Californians to start making difficult choices: Should we invest in more efficient water-saving devices or risk paying a fine for under-conserving? Drill a new well or fallow land for the next growing season? Continue enjoying the fruits of California’s produce industry or let the land revert to its naturally arid state?

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 2.58.28 PM

No matter where you stand on the debate, it’s clear that something needs to be done about the way we use water in California. The water situation today is clearly different than it has been in the past and therefor requires a different solution. But does one interest group have to prevail over the other?

The HydroRevolutionSM project being built by WaterFX™ offers environmentalists, farmers, and Californians an opportunity to come together over a new approach that will create a long-term, reliable source of freshwater with benefits for everyone. It utilizes a source of water that until now has been unavailable because the technology had not yet been developed. The project also takes advantage of solar energy, the fastest growing source of energy in the world, in order to transform the way we manage water.

We’re talking about treating agriculture drainage water, the water remaining after crops have been irrigated and leave behind a concentrated discharge containing naturally occurring salts and minerals. Previously, this water has been displaced in tile sumps on salt-tolerant cropland or diverted to local rivers, but new ordinances prevent this water from impairing freshwater systems and cropland in the San Joaquin Valley simply can’t hold all of it without resulting in hundreds of thousands of acres of valuable land being permanently retired. Instead of treating it as an unwanted byproduct, we can take this water and turn it into a pure, drinkable source for local water districts and eliminate discharge by creating usable “co-products” with the remaining salt.

How is this possible? Through solar-powered desalination. This technology uses a distillation method to purify water, separating salts and minerals from the freshwater and using the sun as the energy source. The plant reduces fuel costs and the carbon footprint typically associated with energy-intensive desalination plants. Plus, the plant incorporates zero discharge capabilities, meaning not a drop of water is wasted and the salts are packaged into useable products to be sold into the industrial markets.

Nearly 80% of California’s annual water demand comes from the agriculture sector (including environmental allocations). But the state also grows more than 90% of some of the nation’s top produce including walnuts, peaches, almonds, and artichokes and farmers aren’t seeing the usual amount of water they need to plan for their harvest. We now have the opportunity and the means to take all of the water used for irrigation and recycle the excess into a reliable new source of freshwater that is also helping to clean up the drainage problem.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 9.46.41 AM

In order to preserve the livelihood and production of the Central Valley, we need a truly sustainable solution, a solution that will enable the economy to grow and prosper without sacrificing or diminishing our natural resources. The HydroRevolutionSM project is a step in that direction and offers an opportunity for Californians to directly change the way we use water and be part of the solution. We can’t continue to think just for the short term and must begin now to lay the groundwork for our water future.