Combating California’s Drought: Big Data

By Arturo D.

Given the recent spurts of rain and snow across California, its easy to forget that we are still in fact suffering from one of the worst droughts in almost 100 years. Recent winter wet seasons in the past few years have been the driest on record since 1895 and experts estimate that it will take a ridiculous amount of precipitation in order for our reservoirs and lakes to reach their normal levels (Thibodeau, 2014). The big difference-maker and new weapon against droughts that didn’t exist decades ago is improving technology in the form of smart sensors for monitoring water usage and the collection of water data to create better usage reports, discover leaks in physical infrastructures and understand what regions are affected by prolonged droughts the most in order to create better conservation goals.

Today, most utility companies across California charge their customers for water based on the quantity that is used, tracked by simple water meters. You will be surprised to know that in some cases, some customers are even simply charged a flat-rate without any water-usage measuring techniques. Although some meters ARE in place, most of the data that is provided isn’t even used to its full potential to attempt to reduce usage. That’s all changing with efforts such as East Bay Municipal Utility District’s recent program to issue report card’s to its customers, grading their water usage. Thanks to the help of San Francisco software company Watersmart, data analytics solutions were used and water consumption was reduced by 5% within a year (Thibodeau, 2014). Keep in mind that all this required was current existing data provided by the utility company, geographic, and climate information not the implementation and use of new smart meters. This simple yet efficient method of harnessing big data promotes a reduction in water usage and costs of energy and chemicals used to provide water. Now if smart sensors were to be coupled with data collection, the impact on usage would be increased significantly. An example of a promising smart sensor is Driblet’s water usage monitor. With a slew of sensors within the driblet, water temperature, volume, and particulates are monitored and the data is sent through Wi-Fi and is visible on a mobile application (Velazco, 2014). Although these two solutions are great, there is a drawback in the form of increasing numbers of different types of data that will become hard to manage and asses together. This issue is also being addressed by the creation of application programming interfaces that allow different types of data to be interweaved together to gain a better understanding of water usage through a larger perspective (Sherbit, 2015). Finally, with the help of climate data and moisture level data collected from soil across different regions, we are able to determine what areas need water the most during periods of time and what areas don’t need as much. An example of this was the greater impact the lack of rain had on grasslands in the central coast as opposed to shrub land and forested areas after analyzing weather patterns coupled with moisture readings from that area in the 2013-2014 year. (Potter, 2015).

Despite these new advancements, technologies and big-data are not enough to completely bear the brunt of the drought. Industrial farms are the main culprits of water usage and due to the wasteful consumption practices of the world, demand for agricultural products continues to be high therefore water consumption is high. What smart sensors and big data analytics provide is a better understanding of habits, which allows consumers to reduce their individual impacts on the usage of a resource that if left unprotected, will eventually be gone fore good.

Works Cited

Potter, C. (2015). Assessment of the Immediate Impacts of the 2013–2014 Drought on Ecosystems of the California Central Coast. Western North American Naturalist, 75(2), 129-145.

Thibodeau, P. (2014, February 19). California fights drought with big data, cloud computing. Retrieved January 28, 2016, from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2487813/emerging-technology/california-fights-drought-with-big-data–cloud-computing.html

Velazco, C. (2014, January 8). Driblet’s Smart Water Meter Wants To Track Your Home Water Usage. Retrieved January 28, 2016, from http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/08/driblets-smart-water-meter-wants-to-track-your-home-water-usage/

Water Crisis: Can “Big Data” Save California From Drought? (2015). Retrieved January 28, 2016, from https://www.sherbit.io/big-data-water-crisis/