Long-Term Solutions to Drought in California

6 Years Ago, Panelists on the SNS FiRe Conference’s “CTO Design Challenge” Worked on Long-Term Solutions to Drought in California (and the World)

In keeping with the FiRe conference’s longtime focus not only on making accurate predictions about the future 3-5 years ahead in technology and the global economy, but also on being collaboration-, action-, and solutions-oriented, posting some of the takeaways from a FiRe 2009 panel workgroup on Water seems timely this month.


For those unfamiliar: the following blog excerpt by Glen Hiemstra (Futurist.com) describes the 2009 FiRe Conference’s “CTO Design Challenge”: “A final feature of the FiRe event has become the ‘CTO Design Challenge.’ Chief technology and information officers are given a problem to solve, and a couple of days to solve it. This year the challenge was the looming water shortages in and around San Diego [and the world – Ed.]. The team did an outstanding job… a highlight was the idea of covering canals with anti-evaporation covers, and those with solar cells to collect energy to run the pumps and provide excess energy from an already established right-of-way. Great idea.”

The solution-seekers for the Challenge – originally titled “Water Beyond Tomorrow: Using Technology and Innovation to Provide San Diego (and the World) with Adequate Safe Water for Future Decades” – were:


2009 Excerpts Selected in April 2015

Moderator David Brin: [This panel comprises] people who are paid every day to be right… to keep their companies going, to vet properly, to allocate resources properly, to be agile, to control teams, to manage and stimulate teams of creative people, and yet we’ve challenged them to be “envisioneers” today, for the last 48 hours – less than 48 hours.

Presenter Ty Carlson: We thought we’d [re]frame the problem as a definition of How to Survive in the Desert. Very appropriate, considering where we’re at, and the challenge everyone faces.

Increasing Supply

Moving the water: We need to be able to focus on making more water locally if we’re going to increase the supply.

… If we have to use desalinization at any scale, this water’s going to get very, very expensive. [Therefore] one of the options [the panel] looked at is reducing loss:

There are a number of pipelines in these areas, which makes good sense, but there are also the All-American and Coachella canals. Together they’re about 200 miles long and about 100 feet wide. These are open aqueducts running basically through the middle of the desert, in a very low-humidity environment. On the order of maybe 10% of loss is due to evaporation through these open canals. When you think of 3.1 or 4.4 million acre feet of water moving through these canals every year, there’s a lot of opportunity here….

The canals [could be covered] with a rubberized material to reduce that evaporation so there is no evaporation, because it’s now a closed system. Then on top of that, put on solar panels. These solar panels will not only power the pumping systems to be able to move the water through the district, but also provide extra power for San Diego County and the City of San Diego. You already have the right-of-way; you’re going basically through the middle of the desert.

Other Takeaways (Statistics subject to change since the creation of this solution set in 2009):



Direct Solar



Technical solutions: Xerox PARC Filter, Living machines, Smart valves