Good things are happening! Construction gets underway at one of the first solar canals in the United States, New York files an “unprecedented” lawsuit against PepsiCo for plastic pollution, Florida is blocked from enforcing its ban on drag, and Starbucks workers walk out on the company’s flagship sales day.

First Solar Canal Breaks Ground

In the sunny, drought-ridden Southwest, some policymakers have been advocating adoption of a new climate technology: covering canals with solar panels. Officials hope this will create renewable energy while also preserving water. Now, in Arizona, the first of these projects in the U.S. has broken ground, and others may soon follow.

The Gila River Indian Community, which is located just south of Phoenix, announced this month that it was launching the first phase of its planned solar-over-canal project, saying it was the first in the country to actually begin construction. To start, 1,000 feet of canal managed by the reservation will be covered with solar panels, a pilot project that tribal officials said will hopefully be expanded across the reservation’s 140-mile irrigation system, a critical resource in a region where water is increasingly scarce. The tribe is using federal funds for the first phase of the $6.7 million project, which is slated for completion in 2025, and will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct it. 

For years, researchers have argued that solar canals, which have been used in India for a decade, could yield major benefits in the U.S. Covering canals reduces evaporation, saving water, and helps prevent growth of algae and other vegetation, which improves water quality. At the same time, the solar panels are cooled by the water beneath them, improving their efficiency. Yet it has been slow going to get these projects off the ground in the U.S., in part due to high capital costs.

Now, that seems to be changing. In addition to the Arizona project, a solar canal in California’s San Joaquin Valley is slated to begin construction this year, and the state is studying other potential sites for additional projects. Studies have found that covering California’s canal system with solar could save billions of gallons of water annually. As the Southwest’s water troubles worsen, such a solution is more needed than ever.

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