Chileans are turning the mist into usable water with the aid of fog nets.
In Chile’s Coquimbo region, farmers “try to grow wheat and raise sheep and goats on 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) of semi-arid scrubland. A decade-long drought has made that harder. Hilltop springs where the animals once drank have dried up. As herds shrank and yields fell, farmers’ children moved away to take jobs in cities or at copper mines.”
Hope for Los Tomes comes in the form of three 60-square-metre (646-square-foot) nets stretched between poles on a ridge above the community. These atrapanieblas capture droplets from the fog that rolls in from the sea 4km (2.5 miles) away. They trickle down to a pipe, which channels the water to two troughs at the foot of the ridge, from which livestock drink. The banner-like nets can harvest 650 litres (140 gallons) of water a day. “We’re content: it’s produced the results we wanted,” says José Ossandón, the child’s father and the president of the co-operative.
Chile has been investigating fog capture since the 1950s. The dense fog that arises from the Humboldt current, called the camanchaca, can be harvested with the help of a coastal mountain range and strong winds. Earlier attempts to turn the mist into usable water failed. In 1990 fog nets at Chungungo, a fishing village north of Los Tomes, captured 8,000 litres a day.
At Majada Blanca, a goat-herding community north of Los Tomes, three 150-square-metre fog catchers feed a plantation of young olive trees, a splash of green in the brown scrub. When the trees mature they will produce 750 litres of organic olive oil a year, which the comuneros will be able to sell for about $12,000. They reckon the water source will be a big selling point. “We’ll be pioneers in the production of quality olive oil made with fog water,” says one of them, Ricardo Álvarez. A privately owned brewery in Peña Blanca was quick to spot fog water’s marketing appeal. It is the main ingredient of its artisanal beer, called Atrapaniebla. …
Less communal arrangements and the introduction of private investment would go along way to accelerate this remarkable, but workable, fog-catching experiment.
… MORE in “Making Money from Mist: The Feisty Fog-Catchers of Chile,” courtesy the Economist.
UPDATE (7/9): Facebook thread. (And why do I bother?)