Inter-institutional Water Management Project Receives Partnership Award
The Landsat 7 satellite in orbit. The Water Management in California partnership is using Landsat
images to provide real-time assessment of water demand for agricultural use in a pilot program at 15 farms. Image
courtesy of NASA.
The Federal Laboratory Consortium - Far West Region has awarded the 2011 Outstanding Partnership
Award to a multi-institutional collaboration including NASA Ames Research Center, California State
University-Fresno, California State University-Monterey Bay, and the University of California Davis, as
well as the California Department of Water Resources. The project, "Water Management in California:
A NASA-CDWR Partnership," uses cutting-edge technology to help assess water demand for agricultural
"The project uses a satellite based, remote sensing platform to help refine irrigation
scheduling," said David Zoldoske, Executive Director of Water Resources and Policy Initiatives at
California State University and a CCST Senior Fellow. "We've completed the first year of testing at
fourteen farms, with 'ground-truthing' to check the accuracy of the model for water demand being
produced by the satellite data, and have several more years of testing before finally verifying the
The project is a timely collaboration that fits in with the broader road map for water use that
California needs to be developing, according to CCST. Water use was one of three primary
infrastructure areas CCST focused on in its 2011 "Innovate to Innovation" project, which analyzed
the state's overall innovation 'ecosystem' at the behest of the state legislature in order to
determine how best to sustain and support California's high-tech innovation. "California's Water
Future: A Science and Technology-Based Water Innovation Road Map" calls for a broad
inter-institutional and cross-disciplinary collaboration on a plan that looks at how science and
technology can most effectively impact the state's water management over the next fifty years.
"This partnership fits right in with the concept of developing a road map which leverages
technology in new and highly effective ways," said Zoldoske. "While water is only one element in
optimizing crop yield, providing field level, localized data can help optimize for regional
variables such as localized weather patterns and help maximize the efficiency of the irrigation
Using satellite data to provide more accurate information will be an important step in
quantifying agricultural water use and efficiency, which has presented policy makers with a host of
challenges including contradictory reports and data on demand and supply. However, while the project
offers the potential for improved water use efficiency, the overall likelihood for producing "new
water" through more efficient agricultural practices is limited, according to the California
State University, Fresno's Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT). In a November 2011 report, the
CIT estimated that the estimated potential "new water" from greater agricultural water use
efficiency represents no more than 0.5 percent of California's total water use.
"This partnership is a valuable example of how remote sensing can contribute the potential for
improved water use efficiency, and it is an honor for all of us to be recognized by the FLC," said
Zoldoske. "However, improving management of water use is only one element needed in an overall road
map. The state also needs to continue work on supply-side management - expand its ability to
effectively store and manage the State's water supply from all sources to achieve long-term
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