In a world increasingly plagued by frequent drought and water pollution, the technology of water desalination may offer a glimmer of hope. The process of ridding seawater of its salt, in order to make it drinkable is not a new one. The first documented account of water desalination dates to 1684 (story here: http://www.desalination.com/museum/shipboard-desalination-1684-uk – Desalination 1864). In the present day, this technology is relied upon more and more frequently, especially in arid climates near the sea.
The current drought being experienced in the “Central Valley” of California has shown few signs of relief. This is the most productive agriculture zone in the United States, and it’s being threatened by a seemingly uncontrollable factor-climate. However, the pioneering company WaterFx has stepped in to aid in the situation. WaterFx has only one plant to date, but they have hopeful plans of expansion. The technology offered by this groundbreaking company is different than any of its competitors. The plant uses solar thermal technology to strip the water of its salt, but at a quarter of the cost of traditional desalination methods. This incredibly economical method is great news for the local farmers. Mike Stearns, a fourth generation farmer says, “this situation right now is a killer, and anything that adds to a potential water supply is good”. WaterFx is able to supply the farmers with water for $450 an acre, as opposed the $2000 an acre charged by their competitors.
The method of distillation in the Central Valley is quite simple. The plant collects water that has been tainted with salt and other chemicals from the farm runoff and feeds it through a series of pipes for heating. Next, “the heat comes from the plant’s huge, parabolic-shaped solar reflector, which focuses the sun on a long tube containing mineral oil. That heated tube in turn creates steam, which condenses the brackish water into usable liquid, separating out the minerals” (Fagan, P. 2).
In sum, the fears of decreasing fresh water that is suitable for irrigation and drinking are rapidly becoming reality. The method of desalination is helping to resolve some of the shortages, and offers a great deal of hope. The WaterFx plant in the Central Valley is a testament to what desalination has to offer the world, and is the way of the future.