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Nopal Cactus Could be Key to Water Conservation in Parched California

posted: 09/29/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
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Could a drought-tolerant cactus hold the key to conserving water during California's historic drought?

According to a winning proposal of the Dry Futures contest, which solicits "future-focused design responses to California's drought," a sustainable cactus farm could help cut down on the amount of water required to feed cattle while also providing a low-tech solution to waster treatment.

The vast majority -- approximately 80% -- of the Golden State's water is used for agricultural purposes. One of the most water-intensive crops grown in California is alfalfa, which is commonly used to feed livestock.

Project mastermind Ali Chen proposes building a nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) farm. A staple of traditional cuisine, the drought-resistant plant has long been used as fodder for livestock during prolonged periods of drought.

The cactus also has applications in wastewater management: its pulp is a proven cleaning agent for water.

"Locals in Mexico have often dumped the water used to cook cactus into polluted rivers and streams. The 'mucilage' or inner cactus pulp has also been tested and used in oil spills. Cactus pulp was found to disperse crude oil efficiently at much lower concentrations than synthetic dispersants," the project's proposal explains.

In addition to its nopal farming operation, the hypothetical property would also double as an ecotourism destination, featuring a water museum and cactus cuisine workshops.

Chen's proposal, aptly named "Grassroots Cactivism," took home the first place prize under the "Speculative" category, which includes "proposals that involve technologies that are not yet available and/or imagine alternative realities or futures."

H/T ScienceAlert

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