Oakland has good track record when it comes to water conservation. Through times of drought and flood, the city conserves 15 percent more water on average than the rest of the state, according to the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
With California experiencing it’s driest year on record, Oakland-based Fruition Sciences is looking to add to our city’s track record of sustainable water use through new technologies.
Elias Fernandez, a Napa winemaker, spoke with the Peninsula Press about monitors from Fruition Sciences he installed on his grape vines that send him text messages when the plants need water.
“In the old days you would look at a vine and say, ‘Yeah, it looks like it needs water,’ and 60 percent of the time those decisions were probably the wrong thing to do,” Fernandez said. “Today, with this, you can actually get into what the vine is sensing.”
Fernandez can also monitor the weather, atmosphere, humidity and wind speed though his computer. In the past year, he says the monitors have helped him save more than 160,000 gallons of water. At Dana Estates, Director of Winemaking Cameron Vawter says the sensors have saved 2.5 million gallons of water across three wineries.
With California supplying a third of the nation’s vegetables and almost two-thirds of its fruits and nuts, the competition to save water is stiff, and questions still remain about the effectiveness of scaling and the cost of investing in new technology. At $50 per sensor, Fernandez says the monitoring system is costing him $20,000 a year.
But another East Bay startup, mOasis, is trying to bring down the cost of conservation with a new water-absorbing gel. Winners of the 2011 Imagine H2O competition, mOasis’ new gel absorbs excess water in the soil when crops are planted and releases that water as the soil dries out. They claim the product can reduce water usage by as much as 20 percent and increase yield by 25 percent.
At $150 per acre, mOasis CEO Steve Hartmeier says there’s been interest in the gel since before the drought, but doesn’t think it will solve all the state’s problems. “I think California is going to be in a drought for the next 15 years,” he told the Peninsula Press. “We still have to develop a program that addresses long-term supply issues in the state.”
There’s no doubt the success of these technologies and others like them are crucial to helping alleviate the burden to California farmers brought on by the drought. But other businesses, like restaurants, are also hoping the new methods of conservation can help their bottom line by keeping the cost of produce and other ingredients down.
Some of the places looking for a water miracle can be found on Kickstarter’s new map of all the successfully funded restaurants across the country, starting with Oakland’s own Homeroom that was funded in 2010.
In all, Oakland boasts 12 restaurants successfully funded through Kickstarter from Jack London Square to Alcatraz Ave. Some of the successful projects include Authentic Bagel Company, the sandwich shop Marrow, Nick’s Pizza and Bakery, and West Oakland’s Fuse Box.
In other news, you may have read that Pandora CTO Tom Conrad is stepping down, saying he’s confident in the company’s new leadership and will transition to a part-time advisory role in the coming months. But other changes at the Oakland-based company will have some customers footing a bigger bill.
Pandora One, the music streaming site’s ad-free, pay-to-play service, will charge a little bit more to new users starting in May. It’s the first rate increase since the site introduced the service in 2009. The 3.3 million users currently subscribed to the service will be able to keep the old $3.99 monthly rate for now, but new users should expect to fork over an extra buck due in large part to the rising cost of royalties.
In a post on the Pandora blog, the company says royalties paid to performers have increased 53 percent over the last five years and are scheduled to go up another nine percent next year.
The company is also fighting the royalty battle in court. According to The New York Times, a federal judge in Manhattan held steady royalty rates paid by Pandora to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or Ascap, at 1.85 percent of total revenue through 2015.
While Pandora wasn’t given the 1.7 percent paid by commercial radio stations, the ruling could have been worse if Ascap had been granted the mandatory rise in royalty rates it sought. Pandora will face a similar lawsuit against Broadcast Music Inc. later this year.
Here’s a parting shot of Tom Conrad speaking to TechCrunch at the Consumer Electronics show in 2013: