Warm Springs tribe collects drinking water with solar panels
Warner Williams Jr. cannot drink the water delivered to his house by the Warm Springs utilities.
"There have been reports of bad algae in the water system," says Williams. "They tried filter systems, but the algae would clog the filters."
Williams resorted to buying cases of water for his family.
For the last three weeks, though, Williams uses solar power to turn the moisture in the air into pure drinking water.
"It tastes really good!" says Williams. He especially likes that he doesn't have to plug anything in. The sun powers the panel that generates the water and the pump that sends the water to a special faucet in his house.
His solar panels deliver about one to two gallons a day. "If it's super cloudy, it might not produce as much," says Williams.
The Warm Springs Reservation has had long-term, stubborn water issues. This latest solution comes as a collaboration between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and SOURCE Global, a company that designs off-grid water systems throughout the world.
"Right now, this community has some pretty significant needs," says Jim Souers, chief executive officer of the Warm Springs Economic Development Corporation.
The project provides panels for 36 households who get the water piped right into their homes. May 22, they turned on an array of 200 panels that generates 150 gallons a day.
"This is where the special magic's happening," says Souers, pointing to the mechanics inside a panel. "Because it's hot on one side and it's cooler on the other side, this panel slowly collects droplets of water."
Essentially, the system uses solar power to distill the moisture in the air into pure water. Too pure, in fact, according to Souers. He says minerals make the water healthier.
"It takes the pure water molecule and there's a mineralization packet the water flows through to make it what we think is normal drinking water," says Souers. The mineral recipe for this water combines the profiles of water at Opal Springs and Rattle Snake Springs, a place many reservation residents get their drinking water.
People who don't have panels at their homes come to the solar array on Mondays to pick up their drinking water in 2-gallon jugs.
Souers says they plan to build out the array, so it produces 750 gallons a day and ultimately provides 6,000 gallons of water storage for the community.
The system doesn't work when temperatures drop below 37 degrees, so it's not a constant water supply, but a dependable and important supplement for a community that needs drinking water.
Each of the 200 solar panels cost $2,000. A private donor paid the $400,000 for the original field. The project used some COVID relief funding. The CTWS will fund expanding the project.
Williams and everyone else get their water for free.
Williams also has a personal investment in the project. "I worked with SOURCE in the hydro-panel field." He set up the frames, learned how to install the firmware, and he now maintains his own panels and for other customers.
His favorite part is seeing his community benefit. "Every Monday, I see a bunch of people there picking up water."
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