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Could desalination technology help California farmers?

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California pushes twin tunnel plan to move sea water to desalination plants

Recent media coverage of a twin tunnel plan in California suggests that desalination technology is nearing a cost-effective state.

One story points to water-starved farming operations in California’s San Joaquin Valley as the major benefactor of a plan to pump sea water under the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta to desalination facilities. A separate newspaper article suggests the process could be up and running by 2038.

How such a move would bode for California agriculture, which currently competes with urban and environmental interests for fresh water, remains to be seen. Given that much of California’s fresh-water runoff flows out to sea, the ability to desalinate water and use it to grow more food sounds promising.

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory apparently developed new desalination technology and in 2009 licensed it to a private Bay Area firm now working on the desalination project.

As with any new technology, there are hurdles to overcome and challenges to be met. Not the least of which will be the financial backing to develop the technology and fight the many lawsuits that will come from a host of different directions.

Given that California’s water infrastructure is insufficient to handle the nearly 40 million people in the state now; ideas like this cannot come fast enough.

If there is truth to the report that valley farmers are willing to pony up some of the money necessary to build such a project, they need to be reminded of previous generation’s efforts to fund other water projects in California and how changes in the political climate hung them out to dry.

Still, this is one good idea that California agriculture will want to become fully engaged in as the ample supply of water for urban, environmental and agricultural interests will always be a pressing issue in the Golden State.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Vincent M. (not verified)
on Aug 8, 2013

For years the desalination industry says "new technology" allows them the delivery water affordably. After local officials are sucked in, they see the real result...poor quality water, priced beyond expensive, and a major energy user. California farmers are smarter than this. Google Tampa Desalination

Croploss (not verified)
on Aug 12, 2013

Try asking the folks in Monterey CA how economical and politically feasible desal is.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 12, 2013

Tampa was a mess because the government got involved.

Richard Robert (not verified)
on Aug 27, 2013

In its current version, this technology is better adapted to specific uses and places - and I'm not sure agriculture in California is the best match. Cf. the quite balanced point of view in this article: http://www.paristechreview.com/2013/07/24/desalination-hope/

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