Water For the Rest of the World

This week, I’m coming back to a technology I only mentioned in passing more than a year ago. It touches upon the inequalities of access to fresh water in our world. Living in the US, or more particularly, the Midwest, I have easy and cheap access to fresh water. Much of the rest of the world does not. By diverting available water resources to irrigate crops or provide water to cities, people in freshwater-poor areas have contributed to desertification of their land. Trees are part of the answer when fighting desertification, but the very harshness of the conditions has made reforestation very difficult.

A new device has made reforestation possible in harsh conditions. The Groasis Waterboxx is a plastic enclosure used as part of a planting system that enables trees (or many other plants) to be planted in arid, rocky, or degraded soil conditions. The circular basin protects the seedling and reduces water evaporation from the soil. The ridged top covers the internal reservoir and focuses dew collected overnight into the reservoir. Using this system, one person can take care of more seedlings with less water than ever before.

Invented before 2008 by Peter Hoff from the Netherlands, the Waterboxx had been used all over the world with great success. Besides giving trees a great start, Waterboxxes have allowed rural populations to grow fresh vegetables and fruits in poor soil.

An Israeli company has developed a protective plastic tray similar to the top of the Waterboxx that reduces crop irrigation in arid locations. Tal-Ya’s tray collects morning dew to water the plant while reducing evaporation.

But drinking water is a crucial need in arid regions also. One of the most low-tech answers to this problem that I have seen is the Watercone, a clear plastic, inverted funnel made from recycled bottles. Placed over a circular tray filled with saltwater or unsafe water, evaporation collects in the funnel and trickles down to channels around the funnel edge. Even when no water is available, the Watercone can collect dew for drinking or just water that evaporates from the soil under the cone.

I am very impressed by the simplicity and thought that has gone into these designs. While I may never see them used, knowing that these devices are out there, having an impact, gives me a big rush. How about you?