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Grand Challenge 5: Clean Water

Lack of clean water is responsible for more deaths in the world than war. Water conservation, high-tech irrigation strategies, desalination for increasing drinking water supplies, and large-scale recycling of wastewater and sewage are pieces of the clean-water-for-all puzzle that require engineering expertise and creativity.


How Much Irrigation Water?

Jacobs School mechanical engineering undergrad Samer Naif sets up a sensor in California's Imperial Valley. The large aperture scintillometer determines the amount of irrigation water that is lost through evaporation.
Jacobs School mechanical engineering undergrad Samer Naif sets up a sensor in California's Imperial Valley. The large aperture scintillometer determines the amount of irrigation water that is lost through evaporation.

As California's population continues to grow in the coming decades, freshwater supplies to farms, homes and businesses are expected to decline. To help reduce the vast amount of water used for agriculture - which consumes about four times the fresh water of homes and businesses - researchers at the Jacobs School are using sensor technologies to devise new strategies for irrigating farmland more efficiently. In alfalfa fields in California's Imperial Valley, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Jan Kleissl and his students have installed a "large aperture scintillometer" that measures, over a three-mile radius, the amount of irrigation water that is lost through evaporation from the ground and from plants. This evaporation data provides insights into how much irrigation water is needed. The goal of the project is to create tools that California farmers and water agencies can use to determine exactly how much irrigation water a particular field requires, and thus avoid both overwatering and underwatering.