Unique System Could Bring Millions of Gallons of Fresh Water to Valley Farmers

Solar Panels Power Machine

Joe Del Bosque farms 2,000 acres near Firebaugh.

"Melons, almonds, asparagus, tomatoes and cherries,"  Del Bosque said. 

The drought's made farming hard, but there's another problem. The minerals in the soil here make fresh irrigation water salty. It can't be used again or drained into the Delta-Mendota Canal.

"We take it out of the soil, but it's not useable for crops," Del Bosque said. "So we have to find something else to do with it."

Betty Hurley Lindeman is with Panoche Water and Drainage. The district's already set aside 6,000 acres to help.

"On that 6,000 acres, we've planted salt-tolerant crops, such as Jose Tall wheat grass, some pistachios and alfalfa," Hurley Lindeman said.

These pipes pick up what the plants don't, so the water can be re-used a few times.

However Lindeman says, with five districts nearby, almost 40,000-acre-feet of salty water comes her way.

That's where Bruce Marlowe and his massive solar wall come in.

"It's a solar still," Marlowe said. "It takes the heat, or the energy from the sun, and it turns it into hot, boiling water, which we use to distill the water out here and clean it."

Leaving minerals behind.

This is just the demonstration plant. The company plans to build a 40-acre plant nearby. It'll produce 2 million gallons a day. That's more than 2,000-acre-feet per year. Good news, when you're in a drought.

"Right now, we're looking at anything that'll get a little bit more water back into the system for us," Del Bosque said.  

"There's no limit to what we can do," Marlowe said. "This is the starting point."

WaterFX hopes to have the new commercial project up and running by next summer, right now they're still looking for investors.

Reporting in Firebaugh, Megan Rupe.

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