Water is California’s most precious commodity these days as the state endures a drought that scientists call worse at 1,200 years.
State officials say more than 1,200 wells have gone dry this year, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same period last year. California’s water crisis is most severe in the San Joaquin Valley, the country’s most productive agricultural region. This year’s snowmelt and rain have not been enough to replenish already depleted groundwater reserves.
Now an Australian company has harnessed an innovative potential solution to the crisis, by “cultivating” water suitable for drinking, agriculture and just about any other use.
“We like to say that, simply put, we grow water,” said Terry Paule, co-founder and CEO of Australia-based Botanical Water Technologies. BWT has partnered with Ingomar Packing Company of California.
Ingomar turns tons of tomatoes grown in the San Joaquin Valley into ketchup and tomato paste. The natural by-product of this process is water, which, until now, just went down the drain. “We vaporize a lot of tomato to create ketchup. And that vapor concentrate is what we capture. Then we run it through our purification process.” said Paul.
All of this happens in a self-contained unit that fits inside a shipping container. “From a single plant, we can generate up to 250 million gallons of water over a 90-day period,” said AJ Priester, BWT’s Chief Commercial Officer. The clean water can then flow through pipelines or be trucked to municipalities, depleted reservoirs, farms, industry, and even domestic water tanks.
So, one might ask, what does water produced from tomatoes really taste like? “The water is this water that I drink. It’s crystal clear. It tastes really great,” Paule said.
In fact, BWT water was named Australia’s 2019 drink of the year.
BWT works to provide water to many thirsty cities in California.
Each cleaning unit costs about $1 million. It can travel anywhere any crop is processed and then proceed to another area.
BWT has also created a water exchange, where companies that want to give back to their communities or use a lot of water can buy clean water and donate it to areas in need.
Plants in water technology has been around for more than a decade in Australia. Paule said he started with grapes during the winemaking process and has since expanded to almost any other fruit or vegetable one can think of, including sugar cane.
Paule said he soon plans to take the technology to India, where clean water is scarce. He calls it a “game changer” and “a huge invention for the world.”
BWT hopes to play a significant role in alleviating the global water problem by providing clean and safe drinking water to 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2025.
Here in the US, it starts with tomatoes – a drop in the bucket that could lead to a source of clean water for a thirsty world.