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Executive Summary for March 25th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key developments in the California drought, including a White House Summit on water where the Obama administration issued a five-point plan for tackling water sustainability. We also look at calls for revolutionizing the collection of water data.

Published on March 25, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

White House Weighs in on Water

Water was big news this week with an extra media spotlight thanks to World Water Day. The Obama administration took the opportunity to host a Water Summit at the White House and issued a call to action on how partners are leveraging efforts to address water sustainability and long-term infrastructure issues.

Here’s the administration’s five-point plan:

  • Nearly $4 billion in private capital committed to investment in a broad range of water-infrastructure projects nationwide.
  • More than $1 billion from the private sector over the next decade to conduct research and development into new technologies.
  • A Presidential Memorandum and supporting action plan on building national capabilities for long-term drought resilience in the United States, including by setting drought-resilience policy goals, directing specific drought-resilience activities to be completed by the end of the year, and permanently establishing the National Drought Resilience Partnership as an interagency task force responsible for coordinating drought resilience, response and recovery efforts.
  • Nearly $35 million this year in Federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support cutting-edge water science;
  • The release of a new National Water Model that will dramatically enhance the nation’s river-forecasting capabilities by delivering forecasts for approximately 2.7 million locations, up from 4,000 locations today (a 700-fold increase in forecast density).

California projects were also front and center at the summit. One was a project consisting of 11,000 new homes near Tracy that will feature water recycling systems to reuse water onsite from showers, laundry and sinks. The gray water systems are designed by Nexus eWater, an Australian startup now operating in California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The UC Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative at UC Merced was also featured. It is developing a “new basis for managing groundwater by using a novel combination of conventional groundwater-level data and modeling tools that will be disseminated to hundreds of water managers by 2017, including those in 127 California state-defined groundwater basins,” the Merced Sun-Star reported.

A Call for Better Data

A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, makes the case for using data to help solve our water issues. Part of our problem, he writes, is in the collecting and analysis of water data – those in the water business are woefully behind. He cites a study on water use and quality by the United States Geological Survey, which was released in 2014. But the data used came from 2010 – it took four years to put it together, and by the time it was published, it was, of course, out of date.

“The data system is ridiculously primitive,” he wrote. “More than any other single step, modernizing water data would unleash an era of water innovation unlike anything in a century.”

Fishman suggests modeling water data on the high-level energy figures collected by the Energy Information Administration. “It’s not just authoritative, it’s indispensable,” he writes. “Congress created the agency in the wake of the 1970s energy crisis, when it became clear we didn’t have the information about energy use necessary to make good public policy.”

In recent years, California has taken important steps forward in requiring the collection of more data on activities such as water diversions and groundwater pumping, but there is a long way to go before that data can be regularly compiled and accessed.

The State Water Resources Control Board is also stepping up its commitment to this area, last week hosting a “data fair” and previewing its Data Innovation Challenge to be held next month with the release of water-related data sets being made available to the public.

Top image: The White House held a Water Summit this week and announced new plans to address long-term water sustainability in the U.S. (the White House)

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