The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), a non-partisan research and education center working to strengthen environmental protection by improving law and governance worldwide, and Water Foundry, a global advisor in solving water-related challenges and driving technology innovation, released their report, "Digital Technology Solutions for the Colorado River Basin."
The report is based on outcomes from an October workshop jointly hosted by ELI and Water Foundry that examined the challenges of the Colorado River Basin that could be addressed through digital solutions and mapped feasible technological solutions for those challenges.
"Among priorities for the Colorado River Basin discussed at the workshop and highlighted in the report are the clear lack of data integration for informed decisions and demand management solutions that, at scale, may solve the compounding water supply challenges," said Will Sarni, Founder of Water Foundry. "Digital solutions to address the region's water challenges exist; what we need now are innovative strategies for investing in, piloting and scaling technologies across the Basin."
The American West — including the cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver — falling under the reaches of the greater Colorado River Basin is now among the world's water-stressed regions facing the environmental, economic and social challenges of increased water scarcity. Yet, the environmental and economic importance of the Basin is profound. The Colorado River supports $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity, which is equivalent to about 1/12 of the total gross domestic product in the U.S.
Digital solutions that could benefit the Basin, as examined in the workshop and detailed in the report include:
- Artificial Intelligence — Systems programmed with AI use pattern recognition mechanisms to "learn" as they receive new data inputs, replicating some of the sophistication of human learning. In this way, AI technologies offer numerous potential benefits for sustainable water management including forecasting the availability of water resources under changing hydrologic and climatic conditions, improved asset management, planning for future water consumption needs by extrapolating from current usage patterns and more efficiently operating distribution networks. AI-enabled platforms can also offer customers real-time information on water consumption and quality in addition to expediting bill-pay.
- Blockchain — Blockchain decentralizes, encrypts and divides data into parcels. Blocks of data are added together, forming a chain of information. Blockchain differs from traditional ledgers or databases in that the chain of blocks is not stored centrally, but copied and distributed in a computer network. By eliminating the intermediaries that are traditionally required to validate transactions among parties, blockchain technologies add a layer of security to transactions and optimize processes that require storing, sending, accessing, or verifying information. The distributed, secure and transparent nature of blockchain technology lends itself to a variety of applications within the water sector including peer-to-peer water rights trading, creative and democratic financing for water projects, the establishment of cryptocurrency-enabled smart meters, the aggregation and distribution of water data, the deployment of smart-contracts and more.
- Sensor Networks — Wireless sensors can be deployed to monitor variables including pressure, temperature, pH, pollution, flow rate, equipment performance and more. Within the Basin, deploying a network of wireless sensors could enable water professionals and the public alike to achieve a better understanding of the availability, demand and use of hydrologic resources. This information is invaluable to devising conservation and distribution strategies. Wireless sensors could also be deployed at the tap to collect more accurate and near real-time data on water usage. Additionally, sensor data could also be used to monitor and better plan around peak usage times, as well as to quickly detect and remedy problems with water quality or delivery infrastructure.
The report goes on to detail use cases of these technologies in water resource management and examines funding opportunities for implementation of such technologies in the Colorado River Basin specifically.
"It's clear there are myriad ways technology can be used to solve some of the Basin's most pressing challenges," said Dave Rejeski, Visiting Scholar at ELI. "Through this workshop and report, we've established a means to drive these digital pilot projects forward as a part of the long-term strategy for system conservation of the Basin. Its importance cannot be overstated from both an environmental and economic perspective. There's a great deal at stake."
The report in its entirety can be found here.