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"It was a splendid population - for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home - you never find that sort of people among pioneers - you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day - and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, "Well, that is California all over."

- - - - Mark Twain (Roughing It)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Solar desalination plant may solve California's water problems

Aaron Mandell, Co-founder and Chairman of WaterFX at the WaterFX desalination plant pilot project in Fresno County near the Panoche Water and Drainage District headquarters in Firebaugh, Calif. The demonstration plant uses solar troughs and Concentrated Solar Still technology to desalinate waste water provided by the Panoche Water and Drainage District. Mandell hopes to eventually build a plant that can process 2 million gallons of water a day, water that is sorely needed in the valley.
      Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle               

Business Acts While Politicians Fail
Clueless California politicians fumble and bumble while a private business looks to solve our water problems.

(Firebaugh, Fresno County)  -  Quietly whirring away in a dusty field in the Central Valley is a shiny solar energy machine that may someday solve many of California's water problems.

It's called the WaterFX solar thermal desalination plant, and it has been turning salty, contaminated irrigation runoff into ultra-pure liquid for nearly a year for the Panoche Water and Drainage District. It's the only solar-driven desalination plant of its kind in the country.

Right now its efforts produce just 14,000 gallons a day. But within a year, WaterFX intends to begin expanding that one small startup plant into a sprawling collection of 36 machines that together can pump out 2 million gallons of purified water daily.

Within about five years, WaterFX company co-founder Aaron Mandell hopes to be processing 10 times that amount throughout the San Joaquin Valley. And here's the part that gets the farmers who buy his water most excited: His solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot.

An acre-foot is equivalent to an acre covered by water 1 foot deep, enough to supply two families of four for a year.

Consultant Bruce Marlow demonstrates a feature at the solar-powered
WaterFX desalination plant in Fresno County.
      Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

Competitive Price

That brings Mandell's water cost close to what farmers are paying, in wet years, for water from the Panoche and other valley districts - about $300 an acre-foot. And that makes it a more economically attractive option than any of the 17 conventional desalination plants planned throughout California.

If Mandell can pull it off, the tiny farming town where he is starting his enterprise could be known as ground zero for one of the most revolutionary water innovations in the state's history.

"Eventually, if this all goes where I think it can, California could wind up with so much water it's able to export it instead of having to deal with shortages," Mandell said, standing alongside the 525-foot-long solar reflector that is the heart of his machine. "What we are doing here is sustainable, scalable and affordable."

Dennis Falaschi, manager of the Panoche district, and many of the 60 farmers that constitute his customer base say the sooner WaterFX expands, the better.

Panoche expects to deliver about 45,000 acre-feet of water this year to its growers. That total is half of what the growers get in wetter years - but because drought and environmentally driven water mandates are not unique to 2014, the district's farmers are already ahead of the curve on water preservation techniques.

Read More . . . .


Anonymous said...

People seem to forget that farmers have the power of the pump .Rather than pay 2,000 or even 300 bucks an acre foot is you just have to pay 50 bucks for electricity to pump out an acre foot .The smart farmers have already upgraded there wells, drilled new ones and hit water locations that were not possible a long time ago due to new technology .One farmer told me and He said : I feel sorry for you city folks, they made you have water meters on your homes but we don't have to and no political party local or state wants to go against us .You wont hear my mayor or city council or state representatives tell me that they are putting water meters on my wells , it just wont happen ! Meanwhile in my central valley town south east of Fresno my wells are deep and i can be pumping water for the next 10 years with no problems of water issues .He also said i feel sorry for my fellow farmers around me because in 5 years from now, most will no longer be farming but money rules the day and the bigger your farm is the longer you will survive .

Gary said...

I am happy that you have water and that your family farm is secure. I lived for 5 years in Kern County and I know how dry it is in our Valley.

But the Central Valley is sinking from massive over use of water that has taken thousands of years of rain storms to collect. In time it will be gone.

We have to find ways to replace that water or there will be no future.

California was indeed a Golden State of beauty when my family came here in 1850. But now with 40 million people we are sucking our state dry.

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Gary , Im not the farmer ,I am a friend to the farmer that lives in the city as we have known each other for decades .I talked to a geologist from fresno state univercity and he said it takes about 28 years for water to come from the mountains and into the valley floor aquifer . The trend is water conservation and it started with city residences but the fact is agriculture and business use water at a rate of 6 to 1 ratio in the valley and that ratio of 1 being citizens that live in homes or apartments.The farmer told me that the big farms contribute vast amount of money to there local city and in many cases control anything ag related . If the members of that city council or mayor or manager doesn't want to play ball they withhold there millions and get another person in office that will play ball with them . Ag is big business in the valley and were talking hundred of millions of dollars. When i talked to the farmer and he came to my home a while back ( i worked for him when i was way younger) he saw my torn up front yard were they putting in the water meter . He said is that the water meters and i said yes it is . He just smiles and said you will be paying for everybody's water because they are forcing that TAX on you folks .Farmers show there loyalty with there money and when a city has a barbeque or a fund raiser the big boys as i call them contribute substancial amounts of money .Publicaly its a 5 grand donation to this or that with local business providing the food and drinks and a local media tv crew showing up for a 30 second clip but at meeting a few days later at the local coffee shop deals are being made .The corruption is so vast its everywere in california now .City officals can be kept in power for decades due to the money supply and in turn the famers get what they need and that is politicons getting them there fair share of ground water . Mutual benefit here ! But in closeing this farmer is a good man but as he said himself farming has changed and if you don't play ball with them and open up your wallet then you just wont be in the game period! Farming has made this man a millionair but you wouldn't know it , he dresses in a plaid colored shirt, levi pants and drives an old truck .But as he once said, our money protects us and we get what we need at a cost. When they try to regulate our water by putting meters on our wells, we have the ability to put some serious hurt on the local communities and people .It can occur by mass layoffs causing high unemployment putting a hugh drain on city resources, we can raise prices on our products which makes it unaffordable locally but we get our money on export , we don't contribute to our communities, we close the check book , we can take people out of office and we can have a united front useing lobbyiest firms and lawyers . He said its not in there best interest to bite the hand that feeds them as he said and they know there limitations .He said sure we give up a few little things here and there but its more symbolic than anything else .I asked how so ? He said we longer water during the day but at night so people don't see it . Anyways, its my own opinion that you cant have selected water conservation on a few people that use 1/6 of the water and meanwhile the other 5/6 have no water conservation imposed on them in ANY REAL MEANS !