California’s persistent water scarcity issues linger, even after an unusually wet winter. Governor Gavin Newsom has refrained from declaring an end to the drought, while President Biden’s recent proposal suggests further water cuts for the state. California’s pattern of extreme weather events underscores the ongoing importance of water conservation.
A state-funded pilot project in the San Joaquin Valley aims to tackle drought resilience by covering California’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels. This dual-purpose approach aims to reduce water evaporation and generate renewable energy. Jordan Harris, CEO of Solar AquaGrid, a company responsible for the project’s design and supervision, believes it is a common-sense solution.
The California Department of Water Resources has allocated $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County, where the state’s 4,000-mile canal system is located. The project is a collaboration between Solar AquaGrid, the University of California Merced, and the state of California. Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced, notes that the concept has not been attempted in the U.S. before, but envisions its potential scalability across western states.
A 2021 study by Bales and his colleagues found that covering California’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by up to 90%, saving 63 billion gallons of water per year. Additional benefits include energy generation, reduced algae growth and maintenance, enhanced solar panel performance, and improved air quality.
The project, set to begin in the fall, will initially cover two miles of canals in the Central Valley district. Harris has already received inquiries from operators of larger canal and water districts worldwide, emphasizing the global implications of this innovative approach to addressing water scarcity and renewable energy generation.
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