New water technology is making its way across the US to combat drought

If you’re having a salad for lunch today, chances are it comes from the “Salad Bowl of the World,” the farmland that stretches for some 90 miles across California’s Salinas Valley, but none of it would be possible without water, and that is the problem. The Salinas Valley is at the epicenter of a multi-year drought that is as bad as it has ever been. Of course, it is not just Salinas Valley suffering under the drought; farmers everywhere are feeling the pinch as water dries up.

What can be done? In the absence of rain and more snow in the mountains, technology is helping. Massive water sprayers are no longer the go-to method, “drip irrigation” systems are the preferred way of irrigating, as they reduce evaporation by delivering water straight to a plants’ roots. For some crops, hydroponics may be the answer. 

Other ways of saving water
Since the “turf reduction program” went into effect in the late 1990s (the fee back then was about 50 cents per square foot), nearly 200 million square feet of grass has been removed, enough to circle the equator with an 18-inch piece of sod, he adds. Every year, that is 200 million square feet of grass that is not gobbling up 73 gallons of water. 

That is not all. The “stick” incentives are fines for people caught violating strict watering rules: people are allowed to water only one day per week in winter, three days a week in spring and fall, and six days per week in summer, but only between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m. the next day. Watering on Sunday is not allowed.

Furthermore, Las Vegas treats its wastewater and puts it back into its reservoir, nearby Lake Mead, allowing it to be used again and again. However, the level of the lake, which also supplies seven U.S. states and parts of Mexico, is gradually declining because of population demands and what Entsminger calls “significantly reduced hydrology in the 21st century.” 

Here, some clever financial engineering comes into play. California’s water needs are so much greater than Nevada’s, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California proposes to build a vast new plant to recycle wastewater, rather than discharging it into the Pacific. Entsminger says the Southern Nevada Water Authority would help finance that project to the tune of $750 million, in return for California giving up a bit of its claim to water from the Colorado River, which flows into Lake Mead, for Nevada’s future use.  

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