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Technological Innovations May be a Solution to California’s Drought Crisis

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Many Californians have been taking shorter showers, collecting rainwater and letting their lawns go brown in order to save water. Despite numerous conservation efforts, California has been facing a severe drought crisis since the year 2000. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, all 58 California counties are under USDA disaster designations and continuing water shortages will only worsen from the effects of climate change. However, new technologies such as desalination, satellites, filtration of stormwater, anti-leak products, cloud seeding drones and micro drip irrigation could hold the key to improving the drought catastrophe in the state. 

UCI urban planning and public policy professor David Feldman, who is also the Director of Water UCI, explained the importance of preserving water in an interview with Aaron Orlowski.

“Though urbanites use less water than do farmers, Southern California city dwellers still need to reduce their consumption because they rely on severely overtaxed sources, such as the Owens Valley, the Bay-Delta and the Colorado River. Cities’ water usage puts ecological resources in these regions at risk,” Feldman said. 

Californians’ sources of water are being overtapped, and a potential solution put forth by Feldman is desalination, which is the process of removing salt from seawater. 

71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and oceans make up 96.5% of that amount. However, desalination requires an immense amount of energy that can exacerbate the climate change crisis and is costly. But it may be necessary in very dry regions, such as the Middle East and Australia where alternatives are limited.

Desalination plants are gaining popularity in California, with the largest one located in North America’s San Diego County named the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant. 

image courtesy of The Conversation

Another potential solution for dealing with droughts are satellites. California farmland uses almost four times more water than its residents. Most of this water comes from aquifers or permeable rock that contains groundwater. 

Prior to 2014, farmers had few restrictions on the use of groundwater, and this quickly led to depleted aquifers. Once limitations were put into place, researchers at Cal Poly University began to use photographs from NASA satellites to monitor the amount of water being used in agriculture and to see if farmers were surpassing their allowed usage.

Filtration of stormwater is another innovative solution to dealing with drought. In Orange County, cities are collecting rainwater through “stormwater capture.” Pipes channel the stormwater to the Santa Ana River collection basins, where it then seeps into the ground. Technologies are in development to filter the stormwater that soaks into the ground, such as biofiltration systems, that would extract any pollutants. 

Anti-leak products can also mitigate the drought crisis. For example, Sweden’s “Strip Drip” product can save water by identifying broken or leaking pipes that can go undiscovered for weeks. The product is put in “hard to reach” places like a sink and will notify the individual of “leaks, freezing pipes or extreme temperatures.” 

On the other side of the spectrum, “cloud seeding,” which has been in practice for years, allows professionals to create rain or snow by the addition of silver iodide to clouds. Though cloud seeding could possibly increase rainfall by 35%, it has negative effects such as chemical deposition on crops, people and water. To counter this problem, the United Arab Emirates is working on a new technology that zaps clouds with electrical charges through the use of drones. The process combines smaller droplets with larger ones to create rainfall — all without the use of chemicals. 

Micro-irrigation, also known as drip irrigation, reduces water waste through more efficient irrigation by delivering water directly to the root of the plant. Though costly, micro-irrigation systems use about 20 to 50% less water than conventional sprinkler systems.

As the drought crisis in California intensifies, these and other technologies present methods to mitigate the problem. Individuals can make efforts to limit water usage by taking actions such as reducing food waste, taking shorter showers and eating less meat. 

“We have to stop taking water for granted. We have to understand that while it can be a renewable resource, it can also be an exhaustible resource,” Feldman said.


Sera Guven is a Contributing Writer for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at guvens@uci.edu.