NEWS

Water is one of the most sought-after natural resources in the world. Despite its seeming abundance on Earth, our planet’s available freshwater (usable water that isn’t locked away in glaciers, too polluted for use, or so deep underground it wouldn’t be feasible to extract) only constitutes 0.5%. To put that in perspective, if all of Earth’s water were shrunk down to 100 liters, the water accessible to humans adds up to half a teaspoon (0.003 liters). (1) The implications of water scarcity on Earth are devastating, and many countries largely concentrated in Africa and South Asia were indicated to have vulnerable water resources in the United Nations’ 2015 World Water Report. (2)


Other important resources like oil and coal are also becoming increasingly difficult to harvest due to diminishing quantity; the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere projected that we will run out of oil in 2052, natural gases in 2060, and coal in 2090. (3) The finite amount of natural resources currently at our disposal means that we will eventually run out of the materials needed to sustain life. At the current rate we’re gobbling up the Earth’s resources—1.75 times more than the ecosystems of the planet can regenerate per year—that time may be approaching quickly. (4) It is in part why we are looking beyond Earth to deep space for priceless reservoirs—asteroids, moons, even other planets—in search of rare metals such as platinum and, of course, water. Mining these resources from space may alleviate some of the strain we put on nature, giving it enough time to replenish its inventory for our continued use.


If space mining were to become a serious pursuit, our first target would most likely be the closest extraterrestrial body to us: the Moon. The Moon is a rich source of uranium, titanium, silicon, and other natural resources. Helium-3 in particular, found in scarce quantities on Earth but in abundance on the Moon, is of interest for its energy potential. (5)


Recently, NASA confirmed the existence of water on the Moon. In the early 2000s, several missions to the Moon, including NASA’s Cassini and Deep Impact, identified hints of hydrogen on the lunar surface but were unable to confirm whether or not that hydrogen belonged to water. Samples brought back from the Apollo Missions revealed hints of water molecules in the glass and rock, further supporting the belief that there might be water on the Moon. (6) While several other satellites detected signs of the molecule H2O, the locations of the water sources were always located on the permanently dark side of the Moon, where it remained trapped due to the extreme cold. However, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected water in the soil of the Clavier Crater, which lies on the side of the Moon illuminated by the Sun. Unfortunately, the water discovered by SOFIA is measly, amounting to about 1/100 of the water found in the Sahara Desert. (7)


Unlike our Moon, Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons, is (at least in theory) a global ocean. The entire moon is covered in a sheet of ice estimated to be up to 20 miles thick, under which lies what could be more than twice as much water than is in all of Earth’s oceans. (8) Scientists discovered signs of water on Europa in 2018, when old data from the Galileo orbiter and Hubble Space Telescope showed plumes rising up from Europa’s surface. The water on Europa is saltwater; it more so resembles the waters in our oceans than something we could use easily. The discovery of water on another planet is still remarkable, especially because of what it could suggest about life in space.


Our main source of metals besides the Moon would probably come from asteroids, which contain lots of raw materials like iron, nickel, and magnesium, and comets, which may contain water and carbon-based molecules important for life. (9)


The technicalities of actually harvesting these materials will require extensive research and development; we currently do not have technologies advanced enough to make space mining a regular industry. We also need to sort through a whole range of logistics. Who gets to do the mining? How are countries going to divide the “land” and “spoils”? Will we have to set up some sort of permanent settlement for harvesting full-time? What sort of harm would we do to our Earth and the masses we use? Still, the prospect of successfully extracting resources from space is exciting, and we would simultaneously be able to learn more about what’s in the universe with us. Wouldn’t that be fun?


(1) “Water Facts - Worldwide Water Supply” US Bureau of Reclamation California Great-Basin

(2) “The United Nations world water development report 2015” United Nations

(3) “When Fossil Fuels Run Out, What Then?” MAHB

(4) “Earth Overshoot Day 2019 is July 29, the earliest ever” Global FootPrint Network

(5) “The approach to sustainable space mining: issues, challenges, and solutions” Xu, ECMS 2019

(6) “There’s Water on the Moon?” NASA Science

(7) “NASA’s SOFIA Discovers Water on Sunlit Surface of Moon” NASA

(8) “Europa” NASA

(9) “NEO” NASA CNEOS

Although most avid golfers have noticed the small, black, and unassuming sprinkler heads scattered across the lush green fairways of golf courses, few realize just how much water goes through them each day in order to maintain these man-made paradises. According to NPR(1), the average golf course uses over 300,000 gallons of water each day, and in extreme cases, such as Palm Desert, CA, up to 8 million gallons a day is used due to the dry desert conditions. There are over 34,000 golf courses in the world(2), this equates to around 10 billion gallons of water being used each day just to irrigate these golf courses, while only satisfying a minuscule portion of the population who play this prestigious sport. On the flip side, with over 2 billion people in the world lacking water for at least a month a year(3), this amount of water can make a significant difference. According to USGS(4), the average adult consumes upwards of 100 gallons of water a day; therefore, 10 billion gallons of water can provide for the daily consumption of 100 million people.

Golf courses often also feel the need to overwater their fairways to maintain the bright green color that is pleasing to patrons of the course. There is a common misconception that the greener the grass is, the better quality the course. According to Adam Moeller for the USGA(8), “golfer expectations...have contributed to the idea that aesthetics, particularly lush green grass,... define good conditions”. To experienced golfers, this is a greatly problematic opinion, as it causes excessive overwatering, hoping to achieve the brilliant green that attracts golfers. Overwatering not only wastes water, it affects the firmness of the fairways, and ultimately creates muddy and wet conditions.

Many suggest that there are far too many golf courses that cater to far too small of an audience, and thus eliminating some defunct golf courses might help with water conservation. The United States has seen a consistent decline in the number of golf courses since the 1960s. According to Jared Green from ASLA(5), over the last 4 decades, 1000 golf courses have closed their doors, with the land that they had previously sat on converted to things like housing units, community areas, wildlife habitats, and other spaces.

Despite these efforts, golf as an industry is strong and will stay strong in the foreseeable future. In 2018, Forbes reported that the golf industry had contributed 84.1 Billion dollars to the US economy in 2016 alone(6). The financial stability of this industry has encouraged a focus on how water can be conserved on existing golf courses. This water conservation issue has drawn increased attention from government departments, research institutions, as well as the individual golf courses. Their studies and efforts have mainly fallen into three areas: water resource modification, course renovation, and bioengineering applications in grass and soil.

Many courses have made the shift from freshwater to reclaimed, or recycled, water. Reclaimed water is effluent water taken from sewage, treated to remove bacteria, and made suitable for agricultural use. However, it cannot be used for golf course irrigation as easily. To implement reclaimed water for golf course use, the water, grass, and soil all need to go through extensive testing in order to prevent damaging the course. This process is both difficult and expensive. The pipes needed to carry this type of water and the related infrastructure and construction costs are also very expensive. These drawbacks deter many golf courses from using reclaimed water.

Some golf courses have also converted irrigated rough areas to out-of-play areas that need little to no irrigation. Rancho Santa Fe Country Club in San Diego, CA, has recently renovated their golf course, replacing around 15% of maintained rough and even fairway with unirrigated desert area in an effort to conserve water. Members of the club were generally very pleased with the changes. Because of the careful planning and selection of the areas to be converted, the resounding opinion was that they did not affect playability.

The irresponsible water usage of the golf industry has troubled environmentally concerned golfers for years, and efforts are being waged to solve this problem every single day. The next time you play a round of golf, look out for signs signifying the usage of reclaimed water, or the desert areas that could have wasted so much valuable water, and think about the water you have helped save.


**(1) “How Much Water Does Golf Use and Where Does It Come From?” NPR

(2) “How Much Water Does Golf Use and Where Does It Come From?” ESPN

(3) “Water Scarcity” WWF

(4) “How Much Water Do I Use at Home Each Day” USGS

(5) Jared Green

(6) “The Economic Impact Of Golf: $84 Billion In The U.S.” Forbes

(7) “Dr. Brian Shwartz discusses TIFTUF Certified Bermuda”

(8) “Irrigate for Playability and Turf Health, Not Color” Adam Moeller

Cover photo from istockphoto.com

Updated: Jan 16

FIRST Lego League Team the Supersonic Falcons won a nomination for the Global Innovation Award with their environmental project, the Rain Catchment Device. Clearwater Innovation interviewed the Supersonic Falcons and is grateful for their water conservation efforts!


What problem are you trying to solve? What was your inspiration?

Water scarcity is one of the most pressing issues faced by the modern world. The overall lack of fresh water, combined with the increasing number of droughts due to climate change makes water scarcity not only a current problem, but an issue that will become drastically more severe as time progresses. With the human population growing constantly and plans being made to create larger, more compact cities, the world will need a large amount of water and as things stand, it will not have it. As water is a limiting factor for the growth of the population, a lack of it will drastically slow down the progress being made on creating the city of the future as well as limit the number of people that may live there. However, humanity has access to one largely untapped water source: rainwater. While rainwater harvesting technology already exists, it is exceptionally inefficient and underutilized. The current rainwater collection system collects a mere fraction of what it could if it were to be optimized. This untapped potential inspired us to create a Rainwater Collection Device which can maximize the rainwater collection from every household and building. A device that can collect more rainwater from a given area than ever before.


What is your solution?

Our team has designed an automatic Rain Catchment Device (RCD), which can be mounted on the roof of a house or a building to maximize rainwater harvesting for domestic and commercial use. A rain sensor attached to the Catchment System makes up the RCD. The RCD is mounted on the roof of the house at an angle to better channel water into the rain gutters. When it rains, the rain sensor on the top of the house detects water and automatically extends the catchment. The extension significantly maximizes the surface area of the roof for collecting the rainwater. The rainwater falls on the catchment and is channeled into the gutters of the roof, which are connected to rainwater collection and storage units like rain barrels, or underground water storage systems to be used later. When the rain stops, the rain sensor stops detecting water and automatically retracts the catchment device to its original position. The RCD significantly increases the amount of rainwater collected.

Catchment Design: The mechanism of the catchment has three folding arms, each with two joints rotating off of one beam at the base of the catchment. This base is attached to the roof of the house. The ends of the three arms attach to a bar, which also attaches to the cloth itself so when extended, the arms carry the cloth out to catch the rainwater. The bar is driven by a gear rack and pinion mechanism, which holds onto the bar and makes the arms extend. On the base is a rolling bar (with cloth attached to it) that spins. This allows the cloth to roll up tightly against the base when retracted, but expand when extended.

Sensor Design: We designed and attached a Rain Sensor to the Rain Catchment Device to make its operation automatic.   We used an Arduino board, a water sensor, and a stepper motor connected to the catchment device to build the Rain Sensor.  An Arduino (a mini computer) can be coded to control any modules connected to it, so we connected the water sensor and a stepper motor (modules) to Arduino and programmed it to control the two modules. When the water sensor detects rain, the Arduino directs the stepper motor to turn and extend the catchment. When the sensor does not detect rain, the stepper motor is directed to turn in the opposite direction, thereby closing the catchment. Similarly, we designed a wind sensor to detect the wind speed. The idea is to retract the RCD when hit by heavy winds to prevent damage. We also designed (in CAD) and 3D printed a box to safely house the Arduino part of the Rain Sensor.


What challenges have you faced?

This year when we were first coming up with project ideas, we had some pretty cool ideas. The only issue was that some of them had already been invented. For example, we wanted to make a smart fridge where you would enter what foods you were putting in and the fridge would suggest what to eat depending on expiration dates. We soon learned that there were already apps that did this for you.

Another tough challenge was that our motor for opening and closing the device would not have enough torque to turn the gears to open the device. To solve the problem, we tried many different programs but in the end we made it to work by switching some inputs in the declaration of the motor. Finally, it worked. Similarly, we went through multiple rounds of catchment designing before we had the final catchment design that worked for us.

Also, in the middle of one of our presentations to an elementary school class. The prototype to our project stopped working just before the presentation until some of our teammates were able to fix the problem and our mini RCD was able to unfold. Luckily it was just in a presentation, not a competition.

The biggest challenge of all has probably been qualifying for worlds but not being able to go because of the shutdown. Our team does very well under pressure so any challenges we did face seemed minor.


How did you utilize your home resources to develop this solution?

Our team designed a model for the RCD by using various home resources. First, we used Legos for building the house to hold the catchment and the catchment mechanism. We used plastic from plastic bags to simulate the cloth for the catchment. Then, we attached the catchment to the house using Velcro. Finally, for demonstration purposes, we used small mason jars to represent the rain barrels and straws to represent the gutter flow. However, we did 3D print some features of our model; for example, a custom box to hold the Arduino and circuits was designed and 3D printed by one of our team members. So, most of our project was built from things available at home.


Have you shared your solution with the professionals? What feedback did you receive?

We reached out to multiple experts with experience in water management and water conservation and shared our project with them to get their feedback. We met with professionals from Carlsbad Municipal Water District, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to mention a few.

Most of the professionals we talked to liked our project and agreed that our project could help save an abundance of rain water across the globe. They thought that our solution was unique for water conservation and they had not come across any other solution like ours.

They also gave us some pointers and suggestions on how to improve our project for example to think about mosquito and algae prevention in the collected and stored water and prompted us to think about large scale water storage and for purification of water for potable uses (for human consumption).


What advice would you give to other students who might be interested in solving water-related problems?

Even though it doesn’t sound fun, research can be really helpful and interesting. Start by researching what issue you are interested in and figure out what inventions already exist. Outreach and communication are also very important. By talking to other people and professionals about your invention, you can realize so many ways to improve your design. The most important advice of all is to have fun. If you are passionate and excited about your project, others will be too.




Team Members: Artem Drohobytsky, Dean Sauerwine, Drew Limberg, Quinn Churchill, Racquel Crook, Rohan Soni, Samitha Senthilkumar, Suchir Sambhavaram

School: Aviara Oaks Middle School, Carlsbad, CA

Clearwater Innovation

A program of WE IMPACT Corp, a 501(c)(3) non-profit company 

A student-run enviromental advocacy program founded by Emily Tianshi and Kyle Tianshi. Concerned about the global water crisis and water pollution, they have been conducting scientific research related to moisture harvesting and microplastic contamination from their home lab. Through events and educational programs, they encourage students to share water project ideas, advocate for change via blogs on this website, and utilize their creativity to solve environmental problems.

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Email: weimpactcommunity.yt@gmail.com

 

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