The debate over solar projects like Aramis and Sunwalker shows the concerns of many environmentalists who believe that covering hundreds of acres of ag land will harm federally listed species, destroy dwindling open space and negatively impact the local environment. Proponents of these projects say that the need for green energy is urgent, and that installing solar along rooftops throughout local municipalities is cost-prohibitive.

While there’s no doubt we need renewable energy or that installing solar on roofs in a city is going to cost more than plopping down panels in a field, there’s another option that could help us.

There are about 4,000 miles across the state of open water canals. A new study co-authored by Distinguished Professor of Engineering Roger Bales — in collaboration with UC Water and UC Santa Cruz — reports that covering California’s open canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation and save upwards of 63 billion gallons of water annually. Brandi McKuin, with the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author of the report, said researchers “were surprised by the significant evaporation savings, which we project to be as much as 82%. That amount of water can make a significant difference in water-short regions.”

The solar panels would have the capacity to generate about half the additional renewable energy California needs by 2030 to meet the state’s decarbonization goals.

Should we be collaborating with neighboring counties to help make this a reality? Our local elected officials should push to explore what this could look like for Alameda County and, by extension, the entire state.