TFT Works with Microsoft to Help Meet Water Sustainability Goals in California

November 11, 2020

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — The Freshwater Trust (TFT), a river restoration and water conservation nonprofit, has entered into an agreement with Microsoft to help the multinational technology company identify and prioritize actions for improving freshwater health in California’s Sacramento Valley.

In collaboration with Upstream Tech, TFT will use its BasinScout® Platform (BSP) to discover cost-effective projects that benefit water quality and quantity in the Sacramento region and ultimately contribute to Microsoft’s water stewardship strategy and sustainability efforts.

BSP identifies projects, and combinations of projects, that would increase groundwater recharge, minimize irrigation demand, and reduce sediment and nutrient runoff. With that information, Microsoft and its partners can more knowledgeably plan projects that will improve watershed conditions in the region.

BSP’s machine learning automation and up-to-date satellite imagery keep the conservation plan continuously updated throughout its implementation.

Across 6,000 square miles, California’s Sacramento Valley houses major technological and agricultural enterprises and significant population centers. It plays a key role in sustaining Microsoft operations, provides water to more than half of California’s population, and supports the most productive agricultural area in the nation.

In September, Microsoft announced an ambitious commitment to be water positive by 2030. This initiative includes reducing water usage for operations and replenishing water in the water-stressed regions they operate.

The surface and groundwater resources of the Sacramento Valley support interdependently connected farmlands, refuges, managed wetlands, rivers that support fisheries and wildlife, and cities and rural communities that rely on the resource for drinking water. Yet land and water management decisions have contributed to declines in quantity and quality of surface and groundwater in this region.

“The significance of this watershed to Californians—and knowing that many of the solutions we’ve employed elsewhere across the West could help this region—gave us the confidence that this was the place we should focus our efforts,” said Erik Ringelberg, California Director at TFT.

TFT opened its first office in California’s capital city of Sacramento in 2016. The organization now employs six full-time staff in Sacramento and one in San Francisco. Originally founded in 1983 as the first wild fish conservation group in the Pacific Northwest, the nonprofit also has three offices and more than 35 staff in Oregon and operates an array of programs to improve water quality and quantity and accelerate the pace and scale of river restoration through science and technology.

In February, Upstream Tech and TFT launched the BSP after recognizing a great need to leverage new technologies, such as machine learning, up-to-date satellite imagery and automation, to accelerate water conservation at scale.

“Watershed analysis and conservation planning—a process that currently takes months or years—can now be done in a matter of days,” said David Primozich, Vice President of Water at TFT.

“It automates the planning process—identifying optimal actions to meet conservation goals, thereby saving organizations time and money while maximizing impact.”

Actions, such as upgrading irrigation systems or cover cropping, the process of planting a crop to slow erosion and improve soil health, can greatly benefit the amount of water in the region and its quality. Across hundreds of thousands of acres, BSP zeroes in on the few dozen fields where conservation actions have the most impact for the least cost.

A user of the BSP can view detailed, current information about a landscape, such as crop type and irrigation method, on a field-by-field basis. Then, through modeling and optimization algorithms, BSP delivers a plan that would best meet an identified target for an entire watershed within a cost constraint. For example, if a user had a budget of $3 million and wanted to decrease the demands on irrigation, BSP would identify the best places to upgrade to more efficient irrigation.

TFT has a history of employing technological solutions to environmental problems in California. The organization entered a partnership with IBM to demonstrate how blockchain and remote Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can accurately measure groundwater usage transparently and in real-time.

“Microsoft is a technology leader, and, like us, they are committed to harnessing the power of technology, grounded in sound science and data analytics, to bring bold solutions to environmental challenges,” said Primozich.

“The world of water deserves this level of insight. This tool helps provide that.”

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