The Freshwater Trust, IBM Research and SweetSense Inc. aim to make groundwater usage sustainable
The Freshwater Trust (TFT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems, is partnering with IBM Research and SweetSense Inc., a provider of low-cost satellite connected sensors, to pilot technologies which can accurately monitor and track groundwater use in one of the largest and most at risk aquifers in North America. Additional research support will be provided by the University of Colorado Boulder.
Jointly funded by the Water Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the project’s scientists and engineers will demonstrate how the blockchain and remote IoT sensors can accurately measure groundwater usage transparently, and in real-time in California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta.
The sensors will transmit water extraction data to orbiting satellites and then to the IBM Blockchain Platform hosted in the IBM Cloud. The blockchain will record of all data exchanges or transactions made in an append-only, immutable ledger. The blockchain also uses “smart contracts,” whereby transactions are automatically executed when the conditions are matched.
Through a web-based dashboard, water consumers, including farmers; financers and regulators will all be able to monitor and track the use of groundwater to demonstrate how sustainable pumping levels can be achieved through the trading of groundwater use shares in the State of California. Individual users who require groundwater amounts beyond their share cap will be able to “purchase” groundwater shares from users who do not require all of their supply at a market-regulated rate.
- A strawberry farmer is planning to take the season off to prepare for an organic crop the following harvest. The farmer can trade or sell her water credits on the blockchain to another farmer.
- Due to a particularly dry season a winery realizes it will need additional ground water to avoid losing the vintage. The vintner can purchase additional water shares, without negatively impacting the aquifer.
“Based on a research project in Kenya with USAID, the Millennium Water Alliance and other partners we are now applying our expertise in building decision support systems for water management for surface and groundwater data aggregation, workflow optimization and analytics to address similar challenges in California. With the addition of the blockchain we can bridge critical trust and transparency gaps making it possible to build a robust, scalable and cost-efficient platform for managing precious groundwater supplies anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research – Africa.
The group will pilot the system in northern California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, an area often referred to as the “nexus of California’s statewide water system.” The river delta covers 1,100 square miles and provides water to the San Francisco Bay Area and coastal and southern California and supports dozens of legally protected fish, plant and animal species. In addition, nearly 75% of this land is used for agriculture.
The sensor technology is provided by SweetSense Inc, which is currently monitoring the groundwater supplies for over a million people in Kenya and Ethiopia, with plans to scale to 5 million by the end of the year. The sensor data are transmitted over satellite networks to an online data analytics platform.
The collaboration began in response to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which was signed into California law in 2014. SGMA mandated the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), local groups that are responsible for ensuring regional groundwater supplies are sustainably managed. The GSAs are charged with developing and implementing a plan to make their local groundwater usage sustainable by 2040.
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