© Reuters. Greenhouse technician, Leah Greiner, harvests mushrooms at Altius, a vertical farm in Denver, Colorado, US, November 9, 2021. Photo taken November 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo
By Donna Bryson
(Dan Tri) – In a rooftop greenhouse near downtown Denver, crops are thriving thanks to the support of hydroponic life. Arugula. Rainbow cabbage. Lettuce plated. Cabbage.
“And basil,” said Altius Farms CEO Sally Herbert, plucking a bright leaf. “You really should taste it. Because it’s gorgeous. ”
Vertical farms are one of many Colorado models to deal with growing water scarcity in the western United States, as climate change makes droughts more frequent and severe.
Other projects have Colorado residents experimenting with water recycling and building barriers against runoff as wildfires could damage supplies.
Colorado is hardly alone. A major United Nations climate report released recently noted that half of the world’s population has seen severe water scarcity for at least part of the year. In the western United States, drought and previous runoff from a diminishing snow cover will increase summer water scarcity, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
While Colorado has so far met the water needs of its 6 million residents, it could face a shortfall of about 30% by 2050 as populations grow while climate impacts creep. scale, according to a likely scenario experts prepare for the official state Water Plan https://cwcb.colorado.gov/colorado-water-plan/technical-update-to-the-plan.
Now, the region’s worst drought in more than a century has dramatically low water levels in the Lake Mead reservoir that supplies the Colorado River to neighboring states.
“It was wonderful,” Herbert said.
No remedial measure will guarantee future water quality, quantity and affordability. Approaches like water recycling have run into regulatory loopholes and public outcry.
Meanwhile, vertical farming won’t work at the scale needed for staple crops like corn or wheat. And while Altius primarily uses natural light to grow 25,000 pounds (11,300 kg) of produce per year on his 7,000 square foot terrace, others rely on lights and electricity. That can make crops more expensive.
However, vertical farms use 95% less water than traditional farming. Other benefits may include reduced transportation costs, and products grown closer to where consumers live. Michael Dent, an agriculture and food technology analyst at market research group IDTechEx, says food that can be grown indoors could be a boon outside of temperate regions.
Such interests are attracting investment: Georgia-based multinational Kalera is currently relocating a warehouse near Denver’s airport – close to freeways and supermarket distribution centers. The company was founded in 2010, developing production in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, with plans to expand further.
Retail giant Walmart (NYSE: Inc) in January joined a $400 million funding round by vertical startup San Francisco Plenty, a deal that is still subject to regulatory approval.
And last year, New York-based vertical startup Bowery Farming raised $300 million in a funding round.
It can be difficult to assess the overall environmental footprint of a vertical farm. For example, a farm running on wind energy will have less polluting carbon emissions than a farm running on fossil fuels.
“Frankly, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors,” says Kalera Chief Commercial Officer Henner Schwarz. Everyone has ‘the most sustainable technology’ and lots of blah, blah. “
“But when it comes to saving water, I’m really confident in saying that we use only 3% of the water that conventional agriculture would use,” says Schwarz.
At a home construction site, a team of plumbers huddled around a refrigerator-sized, black technology.
Once connected, the system draws and filters bath and shower water, removing skin, soap and hair cells before returning the water to the toilet for flushing. “This is the first time taking filtration to this extent,” said Todd Moritzky, owner of the plumbing company.
His team is building a house by Lennar (NYSE:) in Castle Rock, south of Denver. Lennar said the use of filtration systems made by Canadian company Greyter in previous constructions cut household water use by up to 25%.
“Water is liquid gold here,” said Eric Feder, National Effort Manager for Colorado-based Lennar. The company wants to make the Greyter system the standard in its home, he said.
But in Colorado, Castle Rock, along with Denver and Pitkin County, are the only three communities that allow home water recycling.
“Plumbing regulations, ordinances, local regulations are catching up to the availability of that technology,” said Pat Sinicropi, head of trade association WaterReuse.
Castle Rock receives less than 15 inches (38 cm) of precipitation a year. The town, with a population of 70,000, is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2060. It is aiming to reduce its daily water consumption from about 115 gallons per person to less than 100 gallons within a decade.
Mark Marlowe, director of Castle Rock Water, said: “We fully intend to achieve it. This add-on now offers a fee discount to home developers if they install systems like Greyter’s.
SAFE TO DRINK
Located just south of Castle Rock in Colorado Springs, Tzahi Cath worked with the local utility agency to demonstrate that recycled wastewater can be used not only to flush toilets but also to drink.
The Colorado School of Mines engineering professor and his students at Golden built a portable water treatment laboratory to further treat the treated wastewater part of the utility in a way that is safe for human consumption. consumption.
The idea is not new. Singapore has been treating wastewater and recycling water back into its reservoirs since 2003. San Diego, California, is building a wastewater recycling infrastructure. And Cath’s desert homeland, Israel, is a world leader in desalinating seawater for drinking and treating wastewater for irrigation.
Cath produced half a million gallons of drinking water between June and December – serving nearly 1,000 people who visited his lab. Most taste testers say the water tastes good.
“The state needs to start investing and utility companies need to start building the infrastructure” to allow utilities to clean and provide recycled wastewater for drinking, Cath said.
State officials are urging residents to conserve water, while they also seek to increase funding for infrastructure.
The state needs at least 10 times the $25 million currently allocated in the annual budget to the Department of Natural Resources, which funds water projects, according to the state’s official Water Plan.
In addition to concerns about having enough water, Colorado is facing a growing threat of wildfires depriving it of the supplies it has.
Last summer, the university town of Fort Collins had to let some water from the Cache la Poudre River run off after it became contaminated with ash and debris from a wildfire the previous year.
Wildfires wipe out vegetation that normally soaks up some of the rainwater, leading to erosion and polluted runoff over many years. A study https://www.pnas.org/content/119/10/e2114069119 published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month warned of an increase in hazards such as floods and landslides in burned areas of the western United States. .
Fort Collins also has a reservoir, so losing some from Poudre supplies isn’t an immediate crisis.
The workers are building permanent structures, at a cost of about $300,000, to block fire debris from entering, said Mark Kempton, Fort Collins Utilities Interim Deputy Director of Water Resources & Treatment. purify water factory.
It is expected to take years to clear debris from a major fire in 2020, and wildfires are becoming more frequent and destructive amid climate change.
In the future, Kempton said, we could see “fire response becoming part of regular water rate increases.”