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From thin air: Cheapside man hopes to capture vapor for new public water supply
October 3, 2004
CHEAPSIDE - Shea Cockrum: visionary or fruitcake?
At least one observer got the impression that the Cheapside shrimp farmer/ex-Star Wars laser optics technician, who keeps an electron beam gun in the shed next to his clapboard farmhouse, pretty much left a Senate water law committee and a state water planning group thinking the latter: Nut.
Members of both august bodies, which are involved in the effort to ensure that Texas has enough water to grow its future, were more or less speechless after Cockrum explained his ideas about extracting water supplies for the masses from thin air - and asked for research funding.
"There's about 10 gallons in a room this size," Cockrum told the senators gathered last March in a large meeting room in Victoria.
Afterward, the mannerly senators were kind, but there were a few snickers from others sitting in that 10-gallon room.
Last month, the soft-spoken and somewhat rumpled Cockrum probably didn't help his cause any when he opened his laptop computer before Region L water planners meeting in the Alamo City and told them this: "I think I have a PowerPoint presentation in here, but I don't know how to get it out. Is there somebody here who can help me with that?"
Luckily, I suppose you could say, a PowerPoint person was on hand and the planners were treated to Cockrum's theories.
"I think everybody in this room has probably experienced having a cold drink and having water form on the side and drip off and form a puddle right there on the table. That's kinda what I'm talking about," he told them.
Or visionary genius?
During a recent visit to the farmhouse where Cockrum lives on his family's 2,000-acre ranch along the DeWitt/Gonzales county line - and conducts his experiments on extracting water vapor from the atmosphere - he discussed his vision for the simple, low-cost, earth-based "air well" system he is working to develop.
"Assuming that all the problems or potential problems are solved, I believe it could supply 100,000 acre-feet a year to a city like San Antonio," he said. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.)
One advantage is that an air well can be set up near the point of use, he said. "You don't have the expense of pumping it from 100 miles away."
Cockrum said water from air is soft, or demineralized, and has a high level of purity.
Unlike with desalinated water, he said, you wouldn't have troublesome briny deposits to get rid of.
It's drought proof, too, he said. That means the supply would be continuous and reliable.