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William Stoecker / December 16, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere

After three years of drought, California and some other parts of the West are getting substantial precipitation – and the storms keep right on coming. But we have had other seasons begin well, only to dry up during what should have been the wettest months of all. And it’s not a question of if there will be more droughts (and floods), but when. Tree ring and other data show that in centuries past California has suffered droughts lasting thirty years, meaning not the total absence of rain but a great reduction. We may do well this year, and, for all we know, for several more years. But there will be more droughts.

As of 2013 the population of the People’s Republic of California was 38,332, 521, with 38% of them Hispanic, and 27% immigrants from outside the US. Successive Democrat regimes have raised welfare benefits, created “sanctuary cities” for illegal aliens, and given a multitude of special privileges to illegals. So the state has attracted more and more welfare recipients and criminals from across the US and from across the world (while driving out many productive and many honorably retired US citizens). These people, crowded into sprawling cities, need water. But the same leftist politicians who enticed them here have opposed building more and/or higher dams for flood management, hydroelectric power (this growing population needs more energy also), and water storage. They have also made no effort to develop new sources of water. So urban dwellers are in danger of total ruin, and California’s highly productive farmers are already being ruined. Aside from their personal tragedies, this means food shortages and higher prices for the rest of us. Yet, were we not ruled by fools, charlatans, and madmen, we could develop new sources of water, albeit at a higher price.

The first “source” of water, to which even the leftists give lip service, is conservation. Where feasible, we could use drip irrigation. And, since our politicians are fond of mandating things and micro-managing our lives, they could mandate systems in new buildings that would recycle gray water (from showers and kitchen sinks) to water lawns and gardens. Already, some of our masters are discussing ways to make us drink sewage (suitably chlorinated but also fluoridated). But there is a promising new technology called hydrothermal depolymerization that can render sewage totally sterile and non-noxious so that it could be used at least for irrigating crops. Don’t expect Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown and his cronies to enact any of these measures in the near future; they are far too busy promoting same-sex “marriage” and indoctrinating school children in the wonders of sexual perversion.

California is a coastal state with plenty of salt water, but we, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, cannot drink it. Yet technologies for desalination of seawater are advancing steadily, bringing down the once prohibitive costs. Reverse osmosis of seawater uses great pressure (that requires energy), about 1,000 PSI, roughly equal to a water column over 2,300 feet high to force seawater through a semipermeable membrane consisting of a polymer matrix. Then there is forward osmosis, that has seawater, a semipermeable membrane, and a “draw solution” of ammonia and carbon dioxide that draws pure water to it. The solution is then heated (using less energy than reverse osmosis) to drive off the draw solution, leaving pure, fresh water. The solution can then be recycled and reused. It may be possible to develop a carbon nanotube membrane, using still less energy. I would suggest, since Governor Brown and his comrades profess a great love for wind generators, that it might be feasible to build offshore windmills to pump and pressurize seawater for reverse osmosis. After all, the wind and the salt water are right there, together. For that matter, ocean wave energy is available on site as well. These technologies may well prove as big a disappointment as other green energy sources, but we should look into it.

Or we can let nature desalinate the water for us. We are already doing that when we use water that has fallen as rain and snow. But what if it doesn’t rain? Up and down the California coast, sea fog creeps inland, especially in Northern California. I have hiked near the sea in Pt. Reyes National Monument in late summer, when no rain had fallen in months, yet not only was the grass green; the ground was damp and even muddy in spots, and the roads were wet. The big conifers, in particular, with all their needles, condense the fog. On the coast of northern Chile, in the Atacama (the driest desert in the world), plants flourish up to several miles inland, naturally harvesting the heavy fog. In the coastal town of Ovalle, engineers have constructed a fog catcher consisting of a stainless steel mesh spread over a gutter between two posts. If the mesh apertures are too wide, much of the fog blows through; if they are too narrow the mesh will not drain into the gutter. But the optimum size was easily found, and special coatings increased condensation. The fog catchers typically harvest on average about twelve liters per square meter per day. One ten meters high and a hundred meters long would give 12,000 liters daily of absolutely pure water, free of bacteria, chlorine, and fluoride compounds. Similar units have been installed on the coasts of Morocco and Ethiopia. This would be a quick and fairly inexpensive way of providing abundant water to California’s coastal cities; in places like San Francisco home and business owners could even install their own rooftop fog catchers, in addition to capturing any rainwater running off their roofs. Unfortunately, the EPA is slowly trying to gain total control of all water, labeling small rain puddles as “wetlands,” and some cities have banned collection of rainwater. Count on California’s Democrats to prevent any such outbreak of sanity as fog catching.

But even when there is not only no rain, but not even any fog, the atmosphere still contains large amounts of water vapor, which naturally condenses as dew at night, including the water on car windshields. Ice accumulates in freezers, condensed from the air, even in California with its generally low humidity. Naturally, a number of companies have developed special machines that blow air over refrigerator coils just cool enough to condense the water vapor into a liquid. An Israeli company has reduced energy costs by recycling the cooled air after its moisture has been collected, to help chill the incoming air. At least one inventor has designed such a machine supplied with power by its own wind generator, and an Australian has developed a wind powered device; he claims that a four square meter unit could harvest an average of 7,500 liters daily. Even if this is a wild exaggeration, a fraction of this claimed performance would make the machine worthwhile.

Since ancient times people have devised passive dew condensers, with no moving parts, using wind and the coolness of night air. Originally, they were high mass machines made of stone or brick, with numerous apertures to let moist breezes in. Modern designs are low mass, radiative condensers, sheets of foil or thin metal plates facing the prevailing wind, with gutters at the bottom to catch the water. These will provide some water even when there is no fog, but they can also be fog catchers.

But don’t count on any of these ideas being implemented here on the Left Coast. The leftists in control here have no interest in solving problems; they thrive on poverty, fear, and strife.

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