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6 Crazy, Creative Ideas For Solving California Drought Crisis

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) --  California Gov. Jerry Brown has sounded the alarm over the state's historic drought, warning that it will take "unprecedented actions" to solve the crisis.

That battle cry has produced a brainstorming session like no other - prompting celebrities, tech gurus, politicians and business leaders to offer a range of innovative and outlandish solutions for easing the dry stretch that is now in its fourth year and shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

The first-ever statewide water restrictions, aimed at reducing water usage 25 percent, will see 50 million square feet of lawns replaced with drought-resistant plants, restaurants offering drinking water only on demand, and perhaps even golf courses letting their lush greens go brown.

But water savings alone won't solve a problem of this size.

As a result, the talk has turned to diversifying the state's water resources. To some degree, that has meant dusting off grandiose projects like piping in water from out of state or expanding on technologies that convert wastewater or saltwater into clean water that could be used for industrial, agriculture or even drinking purposes.

Here are six of those unique, and perhaps not so crazy ideas:

1. Star Trek-Inspired Pipeline

William Shatner says he thinks we need a water pipeline and should pay for it with a crowd-funding campaign.

Shatner sat down with Yahoo Tech recently and said it's time for a $30 billion grassroots movement to backstop the state's water reserves in case our 4-year drought drags on.

"I want…to build a pipeline like the Alaska pipeline. Say, from Seattle, a place where there's a lot of water. There's too much water. How bad would it be to get a large, 4-foot pipeline, keep it above ground," Shatner told Yahoo's David Pogue.

Nancy Vogel, a spokesperson for the California Department of Water Resources, said neither Shatner's plan nor anything like it is actually being considered.

The state is, however, moving ahead with a $25 billion Bay Delta Conservation Plan that includes the construction of two tunnels that would pump water from Northern California to the southern part of the state.

2. Recycling Sewage Water Into Drinking Water

David Sedlak, a UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering and author of the new book "Water 4.0," feels the answer is sitting right in front of us – taking water from sewage treatment plants and turning it into our drinking water supply.

"We do this already in Southern California. Essentially you take waste water and you put it through a normal sewage treatment plant. Then you put it through a second treatment plant that has reverse osmosis, the same technology that's used to take salts out of seawater, and then a system with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide to break down any chemicals that escape from the system," Sedlak tells KCBS. "Then it goes right back into the water supply."

3. Desalination Technology

Reuse and desalination technologies seem to be gaining more traction, with desalination garnering the most headlines of late. Technology that converts seawater into drinking water is standard fare in places like the Middle East where countries have little or no fresh water.

It has been slow to catch on in the United States, mostly due to the high cost and huge amounts of energy needed to run the plants. But the drought is making the technology more politically palatable in places like California.

Poseidon Water is one of those companies already taking advantage of the changing attitudes toward unorthodox sources of water. It expects to open the biggest desalination plant in the western hemisphere later this year in Carlsbad, Calif. and is on the verge of winning approval for a smaller plant in Huntington Beach.

ALSO READ: 13 Ways California's Historic Drought Is Totally Awesome

4. Ugliest Lawn Contest

San Francisco is on the hunt for the city's ugliest lawn to draw attention to the drought.

The city's department of environment launched the contest, and is calling on people to submit photos of the ugliest lawns they've seen. The winner will get a drought-friendly makeover.

It's an idea that could emerge in other cities as a fun way to encourage residents to replace their thirsty lawns.

5. Floating Solar Panels

If you have solar panels on your roof you probably feel pretty good about helping the environment. But, as it turns out, you could potentially be helping with the drought too – if you have a pond on your property.

That's the situation at Far Niente Vineyards in Oakville, where nearly 1,000 solar panels have been grouped together, floating on a large irrigation pond.

The system helps the drought too by reducing evaporation from the pond by providing shade. The proximity to the water also keeps the panels cooler and more efficient than they would otherwise be.

6. Drought-Fighting Drone To Seed Rainclouds

California communities suffering from extreme drought could soon get help from an unlikely source -- unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones.

For years, ground-based machines have injected tiny silver iodide particles into passing storm clouds -- a process called cloud seeding. The process can squeeze about 10% more precipitation during a storm.

Piloted planes have been used to seed clouds for more than 60 years. Planes can produce an additional 1 billion gallons of water for every 25 to 45 hours in flight but manned aircraft need to stay above the clouds, for safety reasons.


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