Water scarcity in the western US and worldwide
Jun 12, 2019 12:00 PM
Dr. Stephen Smith
Water scarcity in the western US and worldwide
At our meeting June 12, Dr. Stephen Smith, founder and former CEO of Aqua Engineering, outlined for us the background, organization, and goals of the Irrigation Innovation Consortium (IIC).  IIC was founded some 15 months ago as a joint initiative by a collection of private, public, and university organizations to address growing water scarcity in the western US and worldwide, addressing both agricultural and landscaping needs.  Some of the organizations included are the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR), the Irrigation Foundation, Colorado State, Texas A&M, Fresno State, and Kansas State universities. 
IIC is already enjoying significant success and is open to being joined by other, especially private, organizations.  They are working with other groups (e.g., the Ag-Chemicals industry) to optimize the interaction of water usage with usage of other products and procedures.  Funding is secured by a matching grant from the FFAR for $5 million, matched by the other participants. 
 
IIC focuses on three areas: 1) development of more efficient and lower-cost hardware and software for management of water; 2) training of users in both the agricultural and landscaping community in more efficient usage of water; 3) certification of users in more efficient water practices.  They are being encouraged by FFAR to embrace “white-space” research (research in the gaps between other established areas of interest). 
 
In the area of development, some of their interests are in developing lower-cost moisture sensors (so they could be deployed more widely); emphasis on ease of data capture by embracing IOT (internet of things) technology; remote sensing (e.g., use of drones and infrared sensing); and development of standards for flow measurements. 
 
Training includes technology transfer of not only hardware/software developments, but also procedural developments from, for example, a 50-acre research plot near Fort Collins. 
 
In response to questions, Dr. Smith commented that increased water storage seemed to be the easiest short-term answer to increasing water-supply issues.  He also commented favorably on efforts by different farm groups to adopt procedures to reduce depletion of the Ogalalla aquifer.  He qualified his comments about efficient use of water by pointing out that some through-put is necessary to reduce salt buildup in the soil and to satisfy historical “return flow obligations”.