Sunday, February 02, 2014


Water, Water

Big news: California is short of water.  Reduced snowfall has led to much less than normal snow in the snow pack in the Sierras.  Melting snow during summer provides the water that fills the reservoirs and enables California to be an important source of food for the country and the world.  With too little water, farmers will have to make do with less.  Crops that use a lot of water, like cotton, will have to be curtailed.  Some farmers report that, lacking sufficient water from the State water sources, they will resort to well water.  They have wells on their farms and will draw water from the water table.  I don't know how much that will lower the level of the water table.  The reduction of water may have unexpected effects on phenomena that depend on ground water, such as hot springs and geysers.  Tourist havens like Desert Hot Springs may find themselves out of water of any kin, hot or cold.

OK., so I am a crank who objects to drawing large quantities of water out of the ground.  What do I propose instead?

Of course, all of you who read this blog regularly know that my area of expertise does not extend to creating more water for California farmers.  So don't go charging off on a campaign to champion my suggested remedies for the water problem.  Anyhow, here they are:

  1. Conservation:  We all have to learn to get along with less water.  City dwellers like me must cut back on watering our lawns and other decorative plants around our houses.  We will have to cut back to two or three showers or baths a week.  We can spend the money saved on the water bill to buy perfume and aromatic powder to hide the smell of fermenting sweat caused by the heavy hard work that we all do.
  2. Extraction:  Most of us have air conditioning equipment in our houses.  Do you know where the water goes that your air conditioner extracts from the air in your house?  In my case, it goes outdoors into a small rectangular gap in the concrete slab leading from the door of the master bath to the pool.  The water simply falls off the end of the pipe and percolates into the ground underneath the slab.  Place a container there to collect the water.  It should be pure distilled water, good enough for drinking and washing.  You will have to remember to empty the container several times a day.  The same scheme can be used with large buildings that extract much more water from the air than my house.
  3. Desalination:  There are designs for solar powered desalination plants that take sea water, expose it to the heat of the sun, and cool the vapor to form water.  A plant like this requires no attention and no power source other than the sun and provides, during daylight hours, a continuous supply of pure fresh water, good enough to drink.
  4. Electrolysis:  This scheme uses solar cells to provide electric current to electrolyze sea water into hydrogen and oxygen.  The hydrogen can be burned in air and the vapor collected and cooled to provide pure water.  The oxygen gas is an extra bonus.
  5. Re-use of Waste Water:  Water from sewage treatment plants can be used in place of clean water for watering lawns and shrubs and trees.  Such water is available and most of it is simply dumped into drainage ditches and storm sewers and discharged to the ocean.  We need an additional water supply system, with new pipes, hydrants, meters, etc., to supply this waste water to residences for lawn watering.
It's not a complete list but these five items are all I can think of at the moment.  I invite readers to submit their own ideas.

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