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Using Blockchain to Manage Colorado's Water

Using Blockchain to Manage Colorado's Water

Recent legislation calls on Colorado universities to study emerging technologies to assist with water crises.
With heightened attention being paid to climate change coupled with recent challenges facing water stakeholders across Colorado—drought, wildfire, forest management, population growth, and increased water demand—legislators and educators are teaming to find novel ways to preserve the most important of resources, water.  
The Colorado legislature passed a bill funding initial research on new digital technologies by the University of Colorado and Colorado State University. Specifically, they concentrated on new technologies, such as blockchain, telemetry, improved sensors, and advanced aerial observation platforms, that can improve monitoring, management, conservation, and allocation of water to fulfill obligations under Colorado water law and enhance confidence in the reliability of data underlying water rights transactions.
The University of Colorado Boulder Mortenson Center in Global Engineering & Resilience and the Colorado State University Colorado Water Center produced a report that discovered technological gaps in monitoring groundwater use, snowpack modeling and streamflow prediction, including water rights trading and transactions. The report presented technological advancements that could help water managers, landowners and policymakers improve western water management in the face of severe, ongoing drought.

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It seems blockchain is up to the task. It allows digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not edited, and can become the foundation for immutable ledgers, or records of transactions that cannot be altered, deleted, or destroyed. For digital water rights, it could improve the fluidity, transparency and effectiveness of transactions for water users across the state by acting as a digital ledger to store people's water rights.
According to Kat Demaree, co-author and co-editor of the report and project manager at the Mortenson Center, using this type of data-driven modeling not only accurately monitors the allocation and uses of water systems, it also assesses its quality. Blockchain can help water systems all across the country approach climate-related water challenges head on.

“We had contributions from the Colorado Water Trust and Deloitte Consulting, using their expertise in water law and marketable solutions, respectively, to discuss the complexity and potential of a blockchain-enabled solution,” Demaree said.

Currently, methods being deployed to better surveil the entire watershed include aerial remote imaging, low-cost groundwater sensors, and the Colorado Arkansas Basin Colors of Water tool by Leonard Rice Engineers. All hope to conduct advanced, high-resolution aerial observation in the stratosphere. The emerging technologies highlighted in the report along with others do not represent the best or only solutions to these challenges, explained Demaree.

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The report also outlines immersive educational programs that give producers the insight they need to harness the power of these new technologies, incentivize them when they do, and connect them with a network of peers to engage, learn and expand.

With everything, there are always the caveats. Though while good on paper, they’re not always good in practice. The universities’ report addresses some of the reasons these solutions are not already in place or will contribute to their slow adoption, the largest being money. Given the monitoring equipment is typically expensive and always at the mercy of weather and its anomalies, there is the hesitation to sacrifice high cost for what could at any given moment go up in flames (quite literally). Other factors include reliability, durability of equipment and ease of use. Plus, the technology requires support and training while not being immediately accessible to all.
“Technology on its own is not the solution to bring communities together around the issue of water in Colorado,” said Demaree. “However, it can be used as a tool to encourage better collaboration and reveal areas of shared vision and knowledge across the state. From our work engaging stakeholders, we found that while there are many overlapping goals, communication across this space is challenging. Digital platforms that could aggregate and synthesize data and solutions - both highlighted as case studies in the report - have the potential to address some of these challenges.”

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But for now, the legislation and the report are at least the steps in the right direction to better adapt to factors that affect life’s most important resources – water.
While water problems in the West are complex and ongoing, the authors are optimistic that stakeholders will be able to use the report to create and apply innovative solutions. They also hope the report helps spur additional funding and research into these areas.
Michael Beachum is an independent writer in Dallas, Texas.

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