This week, leaders and influencers from around the world met in Paris to discuss climate change and hopefully work out a pact that will limit carbon emissions from every country and put the brakes on global warming trends across the globe.
Here at home in California we’ve embraced renewable energy to solve an entirely different environmental problem: water. While the fate of our planet is being discussed by diplomats across the world, the effects of climate change can be seen in our own backyards. California is in the midst of the worst drought in the state’s history. October 2015 was the hottest on record in the state and set the 8th global heat record of the year.
The national spotlight is currently on California because of the drought and because of the preventative measures we’ve taken recently in the form of desalination plants along the coast. Seawater desalination plants are a step in the right direction, they represent the innovation the state needs in order to keep the taps flowing. As effective as seawater desalination can be, we’re not unlocking the state’s full water potential with these projects alone.
California’s Central Valley is the state’s number one water consumer and one of the areas hit hardest by the drought. Even so, sustainable water solutions have yet to be implemented here for businesses whose livelihood depends on water. Why not? For one thing, importing water from coastal desalination plants to the Central Valley would require new infrastructure that would take time, governmental permits, and money to implement. But the Central Valley, though a naturally arid climate, isn’t lacking a water source. There are millions of acre-feet of saline groundwater leftover from irrigation projects that could provide a new freshwater source for the Valley. Unfortunately, this excess has gone largely untreated.
Membrane desalination methods like Reverse Osmosis (RO) are only effective for certain types of water, such as seawater, with a limited TDS (total dissolved solids) level. The impaired water in the Central Valley is chock-full of various salts and minerals from the soil and waterways used to transport the water to farms. Most of this water is sitting in tile drains, unused and untreated because of it’s propensity to scale up the membranes used in RO plants and damage equipment. The HydroRevolution plant has found a way around this issue by using a much older method of water purification known as distillation, but with a new twist.
The HydroRevolution plant does not rely on membranes to purify water. Instead, the plant uses solar energy to heat mineral oil which, in turn, heats the source water causing freshwater to evaporate and the salts and minerals to remain behind for further processing. This method relies upon renewable energy to power its processes and removes treatment barriers surrounding different types of water. It has also proven to operate with a high recovery rate (over 90%) with the ability to incorporate other treatment processes to achieve zero liquid discharge. Having the technology onsite allows the system to make use of existing infrastructure for water collection and transport. It also brings a sustainable new source of water to areas of California that need it most.
So what can we do as individuals to show support the climate talks currently going on in Paris? Get involved in sustainable and renewable energy projects that benefit the environment while also alleviating our own water security stress. HydroRevolution is one of these projects.
The HydroRevolution project is a first-of-it’s-kind solution for agricultural drainage water and the underlying technology has already demonstrated success in a pilot program run in 2013 and 2014. If we support new technologies like this that utilize renewable energy and consider the effects of the environment, we would be taking the first steps to mitigating the effects of widespread climate change. Change doesn’t have to come from world leaders, it can start with a movement of individuals.