Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta to Use Blockchain and IoT Sensors for Groundwater Sustainability

By on February 12, 2019

Farming, drought management and groundwater sustainability are about to move to the next level as pilot technologies to monitor and track groundwater using blockchain and remote IoT sensors will demonstrate the real time usage of water. The pilot project is jointly funded by the Water Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The collaboration between The Freshwater Trust (TFT) — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystem — has partnered with IBM Research and SweetSense Inc., — a provider of low-cost satellite connected sensors, along with research support will be provided by the University of Colorado Boulder will pilot technologies which can accurately monitor and track groundwater use in the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta. The delta is considered one of the largest and most at risk aquifers in North America and often referred to as the “nexus of California’s statewide water system.”

Blockchain and remote IoT sensors are the technology of the future for businesses. Defined by IBM as a business process network creating transactions using a distributed, permissioned, immutable ledger. It helps build more efficient, enterprise business models and facilitates transactions with suppliers, partners and customers helping streamline business processes and transactions.

For the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta pilot project, 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.

Through the 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 California. An example might be a strawberry farmer who is planning to take the season off to prepare for an organic crop the following harvest. The farmer can trade or sell their water credits on the blockchain to another farmer. Conversely, a vintner needing additional ground water to avoid losing the vintage, due to drought conditions, can purchase additional water shares, without negatively impacting the aquifer through the blockchain. 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.

“The future success of these sustainability plans hinges on being able to track and report groundwater use, and likely will also require a robust way to trade groundwater shares as well,” said Alex Johnson, Freshwater Fund Director with TFT. “Our strategic intent is to harness new technologies to develop a system that makes getting groundwater more sustainable, collaborative, accurate and transparent process, which is why we are using the blockchain. We now have the project team and funding to do it, and a strong network of partners in the region that are open to an initial testing and building phase.”

The collaborative will pilot the system in northern California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta which covers 1,100 square miles and provides water to the San Francisco Bay Area and coastal and southern California. The delta also supports dozens of legally protected fish, plant and animal species; nearly 75 percent of the delta is used for agriculture.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which was signed into California law in 2014. It mandated the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) to ensure that 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. The collaboration of The Freshwater Trust, IBM Research and SweetSense Inc. began in response to the SGMA.

“By remotely monitoring groundwater use using our sensors, we’re able to help improve and maintain sustainable access to water supplies for people, farmers, and livestock,” said Evan Thomas, CEO of SweetSense and Mortenson Chair of Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Our research team at the University of Colorado will assist in modeling groundwater use through the sensor data and satellite detected rainfall and weather correlations.”