Six Technologies That Could Help End California's Cycle of Drought

Hilary Achauer
Hilary Achauer is a freelance writer based in San Diego. She’s written for The Washington Post, The Week, Eating Well, Greatist and Men’s Health. Find her on Instagram at @hilaryachauer or @HilaryAchauer on Twitter.
Six Technologies That Could Help End California's Cycle of Drought
Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

Even after last month's record-breaking storm, scientists are skeptical California will be lifted out of its drought any time soon. Lake Oroville, for example, is still 16% below its historic average, and the state's long-term forecast still features drier-than-usual conditions.

With 45% of the state still in exceptional drought, the solution to California's water crisis may lie in emerging technology that could help to better reuse and conserve water.


Here are six of the most promising new water conservation technologies for residents and agriculture.

1. Satellites:

California farmland uses three to four times more water than its residents. Much of this water comes from aquifers, and before 2014 farmers could take as much water as they wanted from these natural underground basins. Over time this free-for-all approach caused the underground water table to sink, and led to depleted aquifers. The state imposed restrictions, but found it difficult to enforce usage.

Recently, a team of researchers at California Polytechnic University realized regulators could use images from NASA satellites to estimate the amount of water being used on crops, and use that information to figure out if farmers were exceeding the allowed amount. The Sacramento-based remote sensing company Land IQ refined the technique by combining satellite imagery with stations on the ground to collect data and monitor usage.

2. Strips Drip

The IoT (internet of things)—physical objects equipped with sensors or software that connect and exchange data over the internet—has bestowed digital intelligence onto ordinary devices like lightbulbs and thermostats. Now IoT technology is playing an important role in water conservation. In addition to connecting systems in the water supply chain, IoT technology can also help consumers save water. Swedish company Sensative's Strips Drip product, for example, addresses the problem of broken and leaky pipes that can go undetected for days. When placed in hard-to-reach places, like under a sink or a washing machine, the strip can alert the user of leaks, freezing pipes, or extreme temperatures.

3. Cloud-seeding drones

Cloud seeding, the practice of adding chemicals like silver iodide to clouds to induce rain or snow, has been around for decades. Eight states in the western U.S. are currently using cloud seeding, but the approach comes with drawbacks, namely that the chemicals added to the clouds fall on people, crops, and drinking water. In response, the United Arab Emirates—a country that also struggles with punishing heat and little rainfall—is trying a new technology: They're using drones to zap clouds with electrical charges. This causes smaller water droplets to combine into larger droplets, which triggers rainfall—without chemicals. Cloud seeding can potentially increase rainfall by 35%, which would go a long way toward alleviating drought and water scarcity.

4. Microdrip irrigation

Not all important innovations are complex—sometimes the answer to a problem is a beautifully simple solution. The former chairman of Israel's water authority, Uri Shani, realized one way to alleviate water scarcity is through drip irrigation. Drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to the plant's roots, is the most efficient watering system for growing crops. The problem with existing drip irrigation, however, is the cost required to power the pumps that push water through hundreds of feet of pipe.

Shani came up with a solution that plays off existing drip irrigation technology. He realized he could add a new kind of emitter that offers less resistance to water pressure and use gravity to power the water through the pipes. His N-Drip Gravity Micro Irrigation System lets farmers take advantage of the efficiency and water conservation provided by micro-drip irrigation without the cost of electric or diesel-fueled pumps.

5. Offenham Vertical Farm

Hydroponic growing—when the roots of plants are in water, not soil—cuts water usage by about 80%. The water is recirculated, and there's no runoff or evaporation, so it's a great option for low-water agriculture.

Vertical hydroponic farms take the hydroponic concept inside. Along with the water conservation benefits of hydroponic farming, indoor vertical crops save space and require almost no chemicals. They are also less likely to be contaminated with salmonella and E. coli. However, most indoor farms are powered by artificial light, which uses energy.

U.K.-based Shockingly Fresh have solved that problem by creating an indoor vertical hydroponic farm that uses only natural light to grow and heat the crops. Their first commercial site in Offenham, England can produce four times the typical yield of a traditional farm while using much less energy and water. The three-acre farm is already producing lettuce and bok choy for supermarkets, and the company is planning a 32-acre farm in Scotland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

6. Wave-powered desalination system

The Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego County provides 50 million gallons of drinking water to 400,000 San Diego County residents every day. While the Carlsbad plant uses a solar-powered generation system and energy efficient motors, many desalination plants use fossil fuels or nuclear energy—which partly explains environmentalists' hesitation around the tech.

Resolute Marine Energy, a Boston-based startup, has developed a way to turn saltwater into drinking water by using the power of ocean waves. The company developed a technology called Wave2O that can completely power a desalination plant with a Wave Energy Converter attached to the bottom of the sea. The converter moves back and forth with the waves and generates enough power to send the seawater onshore and power a reverse osmosis unit. Their current system can provide water to about 40,000 people a day. The company plans to bring the technology to Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa, that currently gets 85% of its water from diesel-powered desalination systems.
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🤠Musk Picks Texas and 🔥Tinder AI Picks Your Profile Pictures
Image Source: Tinder

🔦 Spotlight

Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

The selection process occurs entirely on the user's device, ensuring privacy and data security. Tinder doesn't collect or store any biometric data or photos beyond those chosen for the profile, and the facial recognition data is deleted once the user exits the feature. This new tool addresses a common pain point for users, as Tinder's research shows that young singles typically spend about 25 to 33 minutes selecting a profile picture. By automating this process, Tinder aims to reduce profile creation time and allow users to focus more on making meaningful connections.

In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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  • Penguin Random House agreed to acquire comic book publisher Boom! Studios from backers like Walt Disney Co. - learn more

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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