Best of the West: Securing water supplies with desalination; searching for dark matter; James Webb Space Telescope captures deepest views of the cosmos yet; preserving Indigenous languages

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 11, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Getty Images and NASA/ESA/CSA/AP)

Desalination -- the process of removing excess salts from seawater or brackish water and converting it into potable water --  is not a new idea in the West. The Carlsbad Desal Plant, constructed in 2015 in California, can produce 50 million gallons of water annually and provides one-third of San Diego County's water. The Texas Southmost Regional Water Authority (SRWA) built a desalination plant in 2004 that produces 10 million gallons of water each day and makes Brownsville and the surrounding area essentially drought-proof, according to John Bruciak, the General Manager and CEO of the Brownsville Public Utility Board.

While desalination was long thought of as being too expensive, as the region looks to secure its water future the technology has recently gained a lot of attention and garnered significant investments in several western states. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed a bipartisan bill that will invest $1 billion in the state’s water supply over the next three years, including a new desalination plant. The Governor also traveled to Israel — a global leader in desalination — to learn about the most up-to-date technology and cultivated a partnership between Arizona and Israel to build the state’s new desalination plant. "We want to take care of water for Arizona for the next 100 years," Gov. Ducey said. "There's flexibility around the fund and, of course, with resources, we can bring in more water to the state. We can also add conservation." California is also adding a new water desalination plant to replace water pulled from the Colorado River. It will supply 15,000 homes with freshwater and process up to 5 million gallons per day. 

As more utilities consider the possibility of desalination, engineers have begun investigating alternative ways to improve the technology and make it more attainable, including floating, nuclear-powered systems. Powered by nuclear reactors, these vessels could travel to islands, or coastlines, struck by drought, bringing with them both clean drinking water and power. "We're flying and trucking in bottled water (to a lot of these areas)… it's the most inefficient thing possible," said Greg Pierce of UCLA "If floating desalination can address that, I'm all for that." 

James Webb Captures Deepest Views of Cosmos: After 26 years in the making,  NASA released images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope that show the deepest view of the cosmos ever. The photos document light from more than 13 billion years ago and could help scientists understand the universe's origins. The $10 million telescope is the most powerful ever launched into space and will record even deeper views of the cosmos. Read about the western partners that helped build the telescope, including Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin out of Colorado, and the University of Arizona, in a previous Best of the West

Turning Dandelions into Tires: While dandelions are often considered pesky, the species has practical uses. Goodyear Tire has partnered with BioMADE, a bioindustrial company out of California, to develop natural rubber made from dandelions instead of the commonly used latex from rubber trees. Dandelions take six months to harvest versus seven years for trees, which could increase production and bolster domestic rubber supply to prevent future supply chain issues.

Searching for Dark Matter: A team of 250 scientists is searching for dark matter in a former gold mine one mile underground in South Dakota. Physicists at the South Dakota School of Mines created technology that reduces background radiation that can interfere with the accuracy of the research. Using the new technology, scientists hope a particle of dark matter will 'fly into the vat of liquid xenon in the inner tank and smash into a xenon nucleus like two balls in a game of pool, revealing its existence in a flash of light seen by a device called the time projection chamber.' 

Maintaining Languages: The Language Conservancy estimates that 90% of languages will become extinct within a century. With the help of anthropologists, linguists, and tribal experts, the Crow Tribe in Montana is working to make sure their language survives by creating a dictionary of 20,000 words that includes definitions and pronunciations. It’s available as a hard copy or online, which the tribe hopes will appeal to younger generations.

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