New Sky Energy Turning Agricultural Waste into Clean Water for California’s Farms

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The last several years have not been easy for California’s San Joaquin Valley, which is arguably the nation’s bread basket—or perhaps, fruit basket for its plentiful citrus, stone fruit, and grapes. Sparse rain and reduced water moved from the Sacramento river delta region has resulted in barren farms and dying orchards.  Meanwhile, irrigation runoff has led to a buildup of salt deposits including selenium, which renders hundreds of thousands of farm acres useless.  New Sky Energy, however, believes it has a desalinization solution that could help reverse this trend.

Working with the Westlands Water District, the nation’s largest agricultural water management agency in the U.S., New Sky will build a desalinization plant that will process about 240,000 gallons of drainage water daily by the second half of 2010.  The project serves two purposes:  providing irrigation for parched farms that desperately need fresh water, while generating byproducts of “green” chemicals that the firm can sell to help offset the cost of its operations.

New Sky’s venture, if successful, should prove to San Joaquin Valley residents that all the talk of a “green economy” is relevant to them, and not just banter from “liberal” San Francisco and Los Angeles, regions this conservative swath of California often views with distrust.  Some farmers have found that their now arid farms are prime real estate for solar power fields, but that option is not viable—or desired—by other farmers; many of them are the now the third or fourth generation to till their soil and have a strong attachment to the land.  Furthermore, with the collapse of the local residential real estate market in the valley, selling their land is no longer an option.  And if you have ever driven along eastern Fresno County’s Blossom Trail, the scent of almond, pomegranate, apricot, and citrus blossoms will remind you that some aspects of farming are sustainable and must be preserved.

The tragedy of the San Joaquin Valley’s plight is that far too many trees—which absorb CO2 and provide shade, right?—died because of bureaucratic blundering during the recent droughts.  Solutions like that of New Sky’s should not only help save some of these farms, but also provide solid-paying jobs that graduates of the local UC and CSU universities could fill.  Solar power plants and more water desalination plants are a natural for this region.

240,000 gallons is not a lot when considering the scale of farming in the San Joaquin Valley, but New Sky’s venture alone prevents 2.8 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.  Reducing the Valley’s air pollution, saving jobs, and ensuring fresh water?  Let’s move some of this hyped “green revolution” to the middle part of California—since after all, they are feeding us.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).