Technology in the fields: outlasting California's drought

Technology in the fields: outlasting California's drought
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — No one is safe from the effects of California's drought. Farmers are helpless as it cripples their fields and raises food prices for consumers.

But, with new technologies, some farmers are finding ways to outlast the drought.

Tom Frantz is one of them.

A retired teacher, Frantz has grown almonds on his father's land for the past 50 years.

"Two years ago, this well that's been here for 50 years suddenly went dry," Frantz said.

He's now relying on groundwater, but with many farmers pumping from the same source, it won't last much longer.

That's why Frantz installed a drip irrigation system, which reduces waste and increases yield.

"For the same amount of land, although you don't see water on the surface, you're still getting the same amount of water to the roots," Frantz said.

It's more efficient than the traditional method of flood irrigation, which allows water to escape through evaporation.

Frantz isn't using less water, but he's getting at least 10 to 15 percent more almonds from the same trees.

"I know the expensive water I'm buying is being efficiently used," said Frantz, "There's no waste, and that's the best you can do."

Bill harp also grows almonds, but on a much larger scale.

He runs a 10,000-acre operation in Wasco.

Harp is the first in the Central Valley using a new technology to turn saltwater into freshwater.

"What we're trying to do in any way we can is to bring technology to the farms," Harp said.

The technology was developed in Israel by Desalitech Inc.

It uses a reverse osmosis process to remove the salt from brackish water found underground.

The system claims to produce 70 percent less waste water, while using 30 percent less energy.

"Ninety-three percent of the water that you pump into the system comes out as fresh water," said Mike Spinhirne, VP of Sales for Desalitech, "only 7 percent comes out as waste water."

It's enough to water just 40 acres of the whole 10,000, but Harp thinks it's worthwhile.

"We see it as a long term benefit, and a long term program for the valley," said Harp, "But it should be part of the solution that we're looking at as we look at solutions to the drought.

It's just one part of many solutions to the drought affecting so many farmers across the Central Valley, and while it won't end the drought, it certainly could make an impact.