It’s no secret that California is in the middle of a long, severe drought. It’s been five years now, and things aren’t looking like they’re going to get much better. Back in January of 2014, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency and rolled out a bunch of water-saving plans that everyone promptly pretended they were going use, then forgot all about and went back to watering their lawns. As recently as May of this year, he issued an order to continue saving water, but no one could hear him because they were inside the car wash. But despite the fact that lawns are still green and cars are still shiny in Southern California, the drought is a very real problem.
After a massive El Niño veered north and failed to drop as much rain in Southern California as expected, forecasters predicted that La Niña would show up this winter, compounding the problem. El Niño’s little sister, you see, generally means a much drier winter than normal–which is not what Southern California’s parched, cracking earth needs. But a Canadian Engineering firm might’ve come up with a beautiful solution: a desalinization plant unlike any other. Simply called “The Pipe,” it’s a solar-powered design that is capable of making over a billion gallons of fresh water from the sea.
Desalinization, while sounding like a good idea, is actually rife with problems. Turning salt water into fresh water is a surprisingly complex, expensive, and energy-intensive process, and it’s generally looked at as a last resort. “Sourcing fresh water from streams, rivers, lakes and underground aquifers and adhering to strict water conservation measures are much more viable for both economic and environmental reasons in most situations,” wrote Scientific American. But The Pipe might change all that.
With California’s developmental goals and a rapidly expanding population, the demand for fresh water is quickly outgrowing the supply. That’s where the Land Art Generator Initiative, or LAGI, comes in.
LAGI is a sustainable design event that wants to speed up the process of getting to a “post-carbon future.” For their 2016 competition, they asked designers from around the world to come up with an that incorporated either an energy or drinking water component. And what Khalili Engineers, a Canadian company, came up with, is pretty stunning.
The Pipe isn’t just a desalinization plant. It “allows people to seamlessly interact with their source of drinking water without any of the unpleasant side effects typically associated with energy generation.” So here’s how it would work, straight from the horse’s mouth:
“Above, solar panels provide power to pump seawater through an electromagnetic filtration process below the pool deck, quietly providing the salt bath with its healing water and the city with clean drinking water.”
The Engineers claim that their design, which would be placed near the Santa Monica Pier, can generate 10,000 MWh and produce 1.5 billion gallons of drinking water per year. “What results are two products,” explained the team. “Pure drinkable water that is directed into the city’s primary water piping grid, and clear water with twelve percent salinity. The drinking water is piped to shore, while the salt water supplies the thermal baths before it is redirected back to the ocean through a smart release system, mitigating most of the usual problems associated with returning brine water to the sea.”
The winner of the LAGI competition will be announced in October of 2016. And while winning doesn’t guarantee project installation, it is yet another reminder that there are other options out there–we just need to start using them.