[env-trinity] Fresno Bee 4 3 10
srosekrans at edf.org
Mon Apr 5 10:47:28 PDT 2010
I cannot possibly imagine what Byron is thinking.
I am skeptical of the economics, however. $2500 per af is about the cost of desalting seawater. They have boron etc. to worry about as well.
But if there is a solid concept, maybe spending $M 3.2 on a pilot project is worthwhile. It will need to be watched closely.
From: env-trinity-bounces at velocipede.dcn.davis.ca.us [mailto:env-trinity-bounces at velocipede.dcn.davis.ca.us] On Behalf Of Byron Leydecker
Sent: Monday, April 05, 2010 10:37 AM
To: FOTR List; Trinity List
Subject: [env-trinity] Fresno Bee 4 3 10
I will keep my thoughts to myself.
Water-cleaning project may aid Valley farms
By Mark Grossi
A surprising marriage of molecular chemistry and business might soon end the slow poisoning of lucrative farmland in the nation's largest irrigation district.
The science will be blended with business later this year in a $3.2 million project to pump trapped farm drainage from beneath crop fields in Westlands Water District, purify the bad water and harvest contaminants as valuable products.
One big plus for taxpayers: It might eliminate most of the $2.7 billion price tag federal officials have estimated to clean up the salty water beneath 200,000 acres.
As bonuses, the project would remove the global-warming gas carbon dioxide from the air and eventually run on a renewable fuel, such as biogas from manure or cogeneration with crop wastes.
It's possibly a high-tech Holy Grail for the west San Joaquin Valley, where billions of gallons of used irrigation water are perched on shallow layers of clay beneath crops. The briny water slowly rises as irrigation takes place. It already has made thousands of acres unusable, putting some farmers out of business.
The contamination has lingered for decades, mostly because no one knows how to economically filter the bad water beneath this big swath of land -- which has a footprint two-thirds the size of Los Angeles.
The pilot project, spearheaded by westside farmer John Diener and a joint-venture company, is supposed to clean up about 200 gallons per minute through desalination, a well-known filtering process used on ships to provide drinking water right out of the ocean. Officials with the company say they can clean out such troublesome contaminants as boron, selenium and others.
The newest part of the approach will be the removal and chemical alteration of several tons of salt from each acre-foot of water. The salt will be converted to marketable chemicals commonly used in plastics, glass and building materials.
Officials said the cost to clean up the water this way might be as high as $2,500 per acre-foot -- an acre-foot is equal to 326,000 gallons or a year's supply for an average family of four. But by selling products created in the process, the resulting clean water might cost farmers about $300 per acre-foot.
"I can't say if it's the whole answer to our problem," said Diener, a former Westlands board member. "But I think we're quite a bit further down the road now."
For decades, the cleanup has been Diener's passion. He has worked on committees and invested in attempts to recycle the dirty water on his own land.
He says the pilot project will clean up dirty water beneath a 640-acre field of his and produce enough water to irrigate the field. The next hurdle would be expanding the process to clean up more of the billions of gallons of tainted water.
It was Diener who connected with water-treatment specialist Ron Smith, based in San Francisco, to talk about Westlands' drainage water. Realizing the problem was more than water treatment, Smith found Deane Little, a molecular biophysicist who runs New Sky Energy in Colorado.
New Sky uses carbon dioxide in converting salt to products that are well-established manufacturing staples, such as polymers and carbonates. Other products include baking soda, lime or carbon fibers for manufacturing.
Smith and Little started a joint-venture company called Ag Water-New Sky to work on the Westlands problem.
Little said the concept worked for his company because he needed a big supply of sodium sulfate or salt -- which is abundant in the trapped water beneath Westlands.
"We weren't really thinking of the Central Valley and its salt problems," Little said. "We were wondering where we would get all our sodium sulfate."
There are other challenges in which Little's expertise helps. The brew of chemicals in the farm drain water includes calcium and magnesium, which have clogged expensive desalination filters in the past.
Little said one of the products his company makes from salt and carbon dioxide is sodium carbonate, a chemical water softener. When mixed with the raw water before desalination, it converts the calcium and magnesium into useful chemicals and prevents their fouling the desalination membranes.
Converting the salt to a marketable product is basic chemistry common all over the world. Little's twist on the process is trapping carbon dioxide from the air and combining it with the salt. But the process uses a lot of electricity to get the needed chemical reactions.
"The cost for electricity is about $400 daily and represents about five months usage for an average residence," Little said. "However, that is small demand for an industrial manufacturer."
Water-treatment expert Smith said the new company will try to create electricity using biomass, such as manure, crops or even human waste solids from cities.
This melding of science and business differs from the federal government's multibillion-dollar plan, which involves buying and retiring a lot of farmland on the west side.
In the past several years, a federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and taxpayers are on the hook for the cleanup.
Westlands officials say the federal government has agreed to pay for the pilot project, though Bureau of Reclamation officials could not confirm it because the drainage-water case is still in court.
Smith said he hopes the pilot project will jump start a broad cleanup and save a big part of west-side agriculture.
"There's a lot of work that still needs to go into this," he said. "But this could be a very efficient project that makes good business sense and is good for the environment."
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
bwl3 at comcast.net<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net>
bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> (secondary)
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