The American West, including the cities of Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Denver, Colorado, falling under the reaches of the greater Colorado River Basin (CRB), is now among the world’s water stressed regions facing the environmental, economic, and social challenges of increased water scarcity.
The CRB supplies more than 1 in 10 Americans with some, if not all, of their water for municipal use, including drinking water. The Basin provides irrigation to more than 5.5 million acres of land and is essential as a physical, economic and cultural resource to at least 22 federally recognized tribes. In addition, dams across the Colorado River Basin support 4,200 megawatts of electrical generating capacity, providing power to millions of people and some of the U.S.’s largest cities. It has become clear, however, that under current and projected conditions, the Colorado River is no longer able to meet the demands of its many users. Challenges are emerging that will require the acceptance of a new reality among stakeholders in the CRB.
For this reason, the CRB is seen as a strategic “testbed” to determine the feasibility of emerging and novel digital technological solutions for the water sector. This report is intended to profile the potential opportunities of emerging digital technologies to address the water quality and quantity challenges faced by public and private entities in the Basin. In conjunction with this report, a workshop on Digital Technology Applications for the CRB was held in October 2019 with the objective of identifying and defining two (2) digital pilot projects to address high priority issues in the CRB. Prior to the workshop, three digital technologies in particular were identified as having the greatest potential to manage increasing water demand, ensure water quality, and to build resilience to climate change; these are Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and sensor networks, alone or in combination. This report is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of water challenges or digital technology solutions for the CRB, but will serve as a point of departure for the potential to adopt, scale and commercialize digital technology as a part of the solution to address water scarcity in this region and others. Highlights and outcomes of the workshop are reflected in this report.