Drought-Stricken Californians Resorting to Drawing Water from Air

by Jennifer Shea

Amid widespread drought across the western U.S., Californians are so desperate for water that they’ve started springing for expensive machines that make water out of air.

Washington-based Tsunami Products designed the machines, which function similarly to air conditioners, the Associated Press reports. They chill air with coils. Then they gather the water drops that form in a container.

Tsunami’s system is among a handful that have gone to market in recent years. All of them create humidity in order to draw water droplets from it. Some such products use solar panels. Some use shipping containers.

Californians Say Costly Machines Pay for Themselves

The machines are out of the affordability range for many Californians. However, those who can manage to buy one say the devices pay for themselves.

Tsunami’s models run anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000. But with Californians being asked to use water sparingly due to drying reservoirs, some homeowners decided they were worth the expense.

Benicia resident Don Johnson told the AP that he got the smallest model of the machine. He wanted to use it to water his garden. Instead, he discovered that it produced enough water to sustain both his garden and his household.

“This machine will produce water for a lot less than you can buy bottled water at Costco for,” he explained. “And I believe, as time goes on and the price of freshwater through our utilities goes up, I think it’s going to more than pay for itself.”

Johnson has also invested in solar panels for his house. That’s a difficult expenditure for many. But it’s one that allows him to run the air-to-water machine. (The units do use up a lot of energy making the conversion.)

Systems Are No Solution to Climate Change, Researchers Warn

The water produced by the machines is filtered and drinkable. And the system works best in foggy or humid areas, where it can convert from 200 to 1,900 gallons of water from the air per day.

“Our motto is, water from air isn’t magic, it’s science, and that’s really what we’re doing with these machines,” said Tsunami design engineer Ted Bowman.

But University of California-Davis hydrology researcher Helen Dahlke cautioned that Tsunami’s machine is not a scalable solution to the drought problem, especially in as big and populous a state as California. She told the AP future droughts will only get worse unless climate change is stopped.

“We really actually need to curb climate warming to really make a difference again,” she stressed.