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California’s drought resulting in water-related innovation

Gov. Jerry Brown recently called for $10,000 fines for individuals and establishments that waste large amounts of h20. Similarly, the State Water Resources Control Board informed Californians of mandatory water reduction targets that are as much as 36 percent compared with 2013. Homeowners could also face $500 fines for wasting water outdoors, and with summer fast approaching, many residents could be affected.

Residents and local businesses are adopting various methods to conserve water.

Landscaping companies who specialize in drought-friendly designs are seeing large increases in demand for their services. Often, green grass and flowers are replaced with concrete, rocks, or sand. There’s a statewide initiative to remove 50 million square feet of lawns across California, and more homeowners are altering their landscapes rather than pay water-related fines.

map showing drought area increase 2013-2014

map showing drought area increase 2013-2014
Drought Monitor

While some think recycled wastewater is a better approach, entrepreneurial Californians are finding ways to modify common chores to remove the need for water. John Cox, a chef from Big Sur, figured out that he could use an air compressor to pre-rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He estimates that the waterless rinsing saves his restaurant 250 gallons per day.

Others are using a salt-free water softener to reduce water waste and save money. Such technology softens water to protect plumbing and appliances from damage while improving water quality.

Some municipalities are exploring desalination plants to provide water for its residents. Desalination methods have been used for decades in dry countries such as Israel, where local governments are forced to convert seawater into potable versions. In California, the coastal city of Carlsbad is building a $1 billion desalination plant to provide nearly seven percent of San Diego’s water.

Most Israelis may have fully embraced the technology. But desalination is a sensitive topic for some Californians who worry about the environmental impact of dumping leftover salt and reconstituting the salt composition near the Pacific coastline. Additionally, desalination typically has a big carbon footprint. Thus, it remains to be seen whether the necessities of the state’s severe drought will result in more construction of similar plants.

“There’s a tension there. I think for companies that see desalination as an investment opportunity, there’s a lot of potential, and they see it as a big growth area,” says Daniel Potter, a science reporter for KQED in a recent interview with PBS. “Other parts of — California, obviously, has a very strong environmental culture, and a lot of people are skeptical of it. A lot of say, why turn to desalination? It’s almost an extreme response compared to conservation, compared to reclaimed water.”

Some industry observers think that smart applications can improve water efficiency. For example, more water entities are installing sensors to pipes, filtration, and water wells to better monitor flow and leakage. Aside from sensors, some farms are experimenting with the use of drones to keep tabs on how water is applied to vast areas of agricultural land.

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