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New Fast Company: World Water Day

My latest Fast Company piece went up last night, in commemoration of World Water Day 2010. This was the perfect opportunity to talk a bit about my time at the LAUNCH inaugural event, which focused on -- surprise -- water. In the essay, I talk a bit about three of the ten innovative ideas we got a chance to explore at the LAUNCH meeting. Here's one:

Dutyion Root Hydration System, a mouthful of a name for something that's actually pretty remarkable. The system takes a specialized form of hydrophilic plastic and converts it into heavy-duty tubes suitable for below-ground irrigation. If you run saltwater (or similarly brackish/unusable water) through the tubes, the plastic wicks the water out as vapor, permeating it into the soil, which can then support many kinds of food crops and trees. That is, this plastic would let you irrigate orchards and farmland with sea water.

There are still plenty of questions, most critically about how long the plastic lasts and how to bring down production cost (it's not cheap, at present), but the utility of something like would be enormous. Test uses in the Middle East have already shown quite a bit of promise; one use that could be of particular value would be to maintain trees to fight desertification.

This was actually the first item we talked about at LAUNCH, and it really set the tone for the meeting. A technology in the early stages of development, with some good test results already available, and with incredible potential for transforming the landscape. The pilot projects really underscore just how powerful this kind of tech might be: rows of fruit trees growing in the sands of Abu Dhabi, watered only by seawater pumped from the Gulf through the dutyion tubes. As I say at the end of the Fast Company post:

    On this World Water Day, 2010, it's hard not to feel a bit of hope for the future.


Jamais - what prevents the residual salt from clogging up the pipe after a while?

Periodic flushing, meaning just running a flow of salt water through for a bit, pushing the salt either into a catchment at the end of the tubes, or back into the sea.

Maybe because it lacks ecological context (fruit trees watered by sea water in a desert ecosystem), but for some reason, this newest "innovation" feels less hopeful and more maladapted.

If outside the comfortably eroded pattern of that system, in isolated form, it sows its own seeds for failure.

No resilience.

Josh, you're right.

Using the dutyion tubes to irrigate otherwise arid areas to grow food is terribly non-resilient.

The valuable use, which I should have mentioned in the post, is to irrigate for trees to hold soil to fight desertification. Still vulnerable to the degradation of the infrastructure, but providing a useful service (allowing time for other adaptations) while it's there.

Also agree with Josh about lack of ecological context, unless the plantings are part of a permaculture-based systems approach.

Am wondering if the dutyion tube plastics would be fully recyclable at end of use, and whether they could ultimately be fabbed semi-locally out of plastics from the village dump or the oceans' garbage gyres (see http://5gyres.org/).

In a similar "green the desert" theme, would love to know your opinion on the Groasis waterboxx:
http://www.groasis.com/page/uk/animation.php because this method does seem a tad more robust. Not sure if this can be used with seawater or not--part of that Groasis waterboxx relies on evaporation so maybe...

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