Water cluster provides industry-university-student connection

Fresno State students and faculty are strengthening connections with the San Joaquin Valley’s water technology industry through quarterly “Water Cluster” campus gatherings where business innovators share their newest products and services— some of which have the potential to revolutionize the water industry.

At the most recent Water Cluster meeting, held in September at Fresno State’s Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT), more than two dozen representatives of the water industry, local and regional government agencies, as well as several students, heard about ways the industry is advancing technologies to better use and conserve water.

The Water Cluster was founded more than 10 years ago by a coalition of industry, university and  public water agencies who envisioned the need to protect and enhance the use of the water that supports the economy of Central California.

Showing water analyzer

“The goals of the cluster are three-fold, and they are all focused on growing and enhancing water technology and job creation in the San Joaquin Valley,” reported Dan Clawson, project manager for CIT and staff organizing chair for the cluster. “The first goal is to encourage innovation in new water technology development. The second is to support local companies in exporting their products. The third is to provide education and training, not only to the industry, but to the regional community.”

Showing rez water analyzerIn support of the first goal, the Water Cluster typically invites two company representatives to share a new technology at each meeting.

“We warn them – these products must be far enough along to be patented and protected,” Clawson said. “New ideas and technologies often spawn off of each other. That’s what industry is all about. We want this to be a healthy and cooperative environment that supports growth and expansion, and becomes a vehicle to help our regional economy to grow and thrive.”

Above and at left, Charlie Bupp, senior scientist for American Micro Detection Systems, demonstrates analysis capabilities of the REX Box.

In recent gatherings, Fresno State students have been invited to the meetings to witness first-hand the entrepreneurial efforts of the water technology industry. One student was Daniel Garcia, majoring in plant science with an emphasis in plant health. He was there to hear representatives of American Micro Detection Systems present a new portable water analyzer called REX – about the size of a desktop computer – that can virtually instantly detect more than 70 different elements in a water sample.

“My big interest is in irrigation plant nutrient leaching,” Garcia said following the presentation. “This taught me about a lot more than just the common elements – like nitrogen and salts we talk about in water leaching through the soil.

“There are many other elements we need to be concerned about, like boron, arsenic, mercury and other metals,” Garcia said. “If your water source is heavy in some of these areas, it could contaminate the groundwater table.”

Plant Science Professor Florence Cassel Sharma, who encouraged students in her soil and water management class to attend the cluster meeting, said Garcia will benefit from the initiative he took outside of normal class assignments.

Audience shot“Daniel (in photo at left, with red Fresno State caphas shown he wants to learn more about what is being done in the industry,” Cassel said. “He wants to meet and talk to business owners to get their perspective about what is going on out there. He is taking it one step further than other students, and he will be better prepared because of it.”

Also present at the cluster meetings are representatives from various water agencies such as irrigation districts and municipalities. New technologies can often benefit these agencies by providing ways to conserve, recycle and/or improve water delivery systems, Clawson noted.

Len Donovan showing Saturn Disc FloatOne such technology presented at the September meeting was the Saturn Disc Pond Float, developed by Len Donovan, a co-founder of Phoenix Plastics. The plastic discs are hexagonal and about the diameter of a volleyball. They float, and en mass can cover the surface of a lagoon or reservoir, reducing evaporation and odors, minimizing algae growth, and deterring wildlife. City of Fresno officials expressed interest in using the discs on some of Fresno’s ponding basins.Closeup of disc

At left, Len Donovan of Phoenix Plastics displays the Saturn Disc Pond Float. At right, closeup of the float.

Water Cluster meetings are designed to serve water related industry and public agencies, but meetings are open to the public.

“Right now there are about 120 companies in the San Joaquin Valley directly related to the water business, and they have a great deal to offer our community in helping to enhance water use efficiency and quality in this region,” Clawson said.

Along with Clawson, original cluster founding members were Claude Laval, founder of LAKOS Separators and Filtration Systems, and Ray Dunn of RWD Consulting and formerly with Floway Pumps.

For more information on the Water Cluster, contact Clawson at dclawson@csufresno.edu or program coordinator Laura Ramos at lramos@csufresno.edu, or through CIT at 559-278-2066.