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What Can Other's Learn From California's Drought?

What Can Other's Learn From California's Drought?

California is in the midst of a historic drought, but it is uniquely situated to respond to it.

California’s drought has begun to be featured prominently in the news since Jerry Brown declared it an emergency in early 2014. But California isn’t the only region affected by drought; more than 1.5 billion people in the developing world are affected by drought and more are facing the potential of huge shortages.

But, as Wired's Nick Stockton explains, California’s response to its historic drought could be a huge opportunity for other regions of the world. For one, "California’s water laws could be a master’s class on what not to do.” Because, “after all, drought is largely a policy problem. And no amount of tech could ever unscrew California’s screwed up water rules. Those rules need to be negotiated, but right now water is so scarce that everybody is holding what they have as tightly as possible, while trying to grab even more.”

However, illogical water policies aside, the state "has some of the best resources for setting things right. Resources like its $2.2 trillion GDP, its water-hawk governor, or the brains at Caltech’s Resnick Institute in Pasadena.”

Stockton highlights the three-part plan of the Resnick Institute:

"1. Technology to catch and recover water that is currently lost.

2. Sensors to gather better intelligence on how much water is available.

3. Models to put this intelligence to use for water management.”

Currently, California’s water system is not effectively designed to capture and recycle water. Most cities storm management infrastructure is designed to move rainfall out of the city and into the ocean as quickly as possible. And while capturing rainwater isn’t difficult, integrating it into the system can be: "Building stormwater capture and treatment facilities isn’t hard, but there’s no way to plug them into the system. Similar problems exist with wastewater: It’s not a matter of cleaning the water, but returning it to the system efficiently.”

And California doesn’t just fail to capture and store a large amount of water, it also wastes a huge amount of water, possibly billions, even trillions, of water. But there’s no way to know. “This is partly because, up until recently, the state didn’t keep track of how much water was pumped out of the ground.” The Resnick Institute advocates for a network of water accounting sensors, including municipal sensors that would track water flow and water quality in real time.

These sensors would help build an important data set that would allow computer models to detect leaks and pinpoint their location.Technology, of course, won’t solve California’s water crisis on its own. But increased data collection and innovation in capture and storage could help ease up on demand and encourage the creation of more sensible water policy in the state.

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