First solar canal project is a win for water, energy, air and climate in California

Roger Bales, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced

Mounting evidence suggests the western United States is now in its worst megadrought in at least 1,200 years. Groundwater supplies are being overpumped in many places, and the dryness, wildfires and shrinking water supplies are making climate change personal for millions of people.

As an engineer, I have been working with colleagues on a way to both protect water supplies and boost renewable energy to protect the climate.

We call it the solar-canal solution, and it’s about to be tested in California.

About 4,000 miles of canals transport water to some 35 million Californians and 5.7 million acres of farmland across the state. As we explained in a 2021 study, covering these canals with solar panels would reduce evaporation of precious water – one of California’s most critical resources – and help meet the state’s renewable energy goals, while also saving money.

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