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Warm Springs leaders back high tech in struggle for safe drinking water

Warm Springs leaders back high tech in struggle for safe drinking water

On the Warm Springs reservation in Central Oregon, a community water system serving more than 3,000 people needs an overhaul. Repairs could take years. Now, tribal leaders want an emerging technology to leapfrog broken pipes.

The ground is bone dry at the project site in an industrial park on the reservation. But, when a field of what appear to be solar panels bake in the desert sun, an unusual source of drinking water whirs to life.

“That’s where the magic happens,” said Jim Souers, CEO of the Warm Springs Economic Development Corporation. “Each of these panels on average will create about 1.6 gallons a day of water.”

Proponents of the hydropanel technology call it deceptively simple. Solar powered fans push ambient air into a highly absorbent material, trapping water vapor. Heat from the sun condenses that moisture — think of steam collecting on a shower wall — and the distilled water pools in a chamber. Minerals are added to try and match to the flavor of a local spring.

“We have it set up as our version of a spring,” Souers said.

He pointed to three faucets installed in a metal building next to the field of panels. The facility opens once a week for Warm Springs residents to come fill up containers, free of charge. Other arrays have been installed at homes, eliminating the need for travel, Souers said.

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