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Surviving the Drought

The Drought in California: Can Technology Help?

California is currently experiencing a drought so severe that California Governor Jerry Brown has been compelled to declare a State of Emergency and implement mandatory water reductions. After four straight years of water shortages, this year California saw the smallest snow pack ever recorded.

Drought in California is nothing new but the severity and length of the current drought has strained the water system to unprecedented levels. The water crisis has meant that farmers cannot irrigate their fields and those that do have access to water will not be able to grow crops that require large amounts of water, such as rice and most nuts. Farmers in hardest hit areas are now buying water from farmers in less water deprived regions, impacting the crops grown by farmers in the less dry areas. The California drought is not only an environmental issue but an economic one as well. Lack of water has the potential to damage the food supply chain, making life more difficult for everyone, especially low income households which have been particularly hard hit. Conservation measures will certainly provide some relief, but is it enough to address the enormity of a problem that shows no signs of easing any time soon? Water needs will only increase as the population does. What is needed are additional sources of water, not simply conserving the water that is left.

There are a number of technologies that could alleviate the water shortage brought on by drought. In coastal areas, desalination of ocean water is a viable alternative. Desalination is the process by which ocean water is purified to remove salt, sand and other impurities. Desalinated water is equally comparable to traditional ground and surface waters that have been properly treated. Already, as many as fifteen coastal California cities are exploring the potential of funding and building new desalination plants as well as refurbishing existing ones. Although desalination has been explored in a limited capacity in the past, particularly in the Middle East, such efforts in the US have been largely stymied by cost. As soon as droughts have ended, municipalities often de-fund desalination projects. New interest in desalination has been prompted by the severity of the current drought and the likelihood that drought hit areas will require ever more water in the future. Greater stress on the water system and increasingly damaging droughts mean that desalination is now a likely permanent solution to water shortages as opposed to a stopgap measure.

Long term desalination projects will require trained personnel, such as certified water treatment operators. This growing demand to revisit the desalination process and improve its efficiency will place a much greater need for certified water treatment plant operators. As often happens, new technologies open up new career paths and educational opportunities. Few people in the United States have a truly in depth, hands-on experience of operating and maintaining a desalination plant which means that now is the time to get into the field and start acquiring that valuable experience that few people have.

Waste Water Treatment
Wastewater recycling, often called reclaimed water, recycled water, potable reuse or “toilet to tap” is the process by which waste water is purified to drinking water standards. This option is especially helpful to highly populated areas and farmers who depend on irrigation systems. Municipalities not just in California but in several drought stricken states have been investing heavily in treating waste water for drinking use and reclaimed water projects. This type of water treatment is another relatively new technology that will require water treatment certification. A treatment operator will find him or herself in high demand as California and other regions direct further resources into solving not only the current serious water shortage but the ever growing need for increased water output, even when there is no drought. It is critical that water treatment facilities of any kind have properly trained personnel so that the facility runs efficiently and safely. Water treatment certification is an important step in providing a treatment operator with the necessary tools to obtain a satisfying career producing a safe potable water supply.

The current drought situation has presented not only the state of California but multiple other states with an ever growing number of challenges to find ways to turn otherwise waste water, into safe, potable drinking water to help curb the reduce water supplies across the United States. Even when this drought ends, farmers will still be facing the obstacle of a growing population on an increasingly strained water supply. New technologies such as desalination and toilet to tap waste water recycling will have to play a significant role in securing and improving the water supply now and in the future. Past experience has shown that using these technologies as temporary measure has proven shortsighted. Farms can no longer be allowed to go without irrigation, households cannot be expected to go without water. Conservation and digging for more and more sources of groundwater are not enough to meet the current or future water needs of California. There is no reason why technology cannot be employed to solve this problem.

As is often the case, new technology also provides new opportunity. The need for water will not decrease, even when the drought ends, which it shows no signs of doing. As more communities realize that they cannot afford to be vulnerable to the whims of a drought, water treatment facilities will see greater investment and water treatment personnel will be in greater demand.

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