“We’re still managing water on the Boise River like it’s 1920. If we want to be good stewards of water and save all we can and do all we can, then we ought to use 21st century technology that gives us the tools and ability to do so.” – Mike Meyers, Watermaster, Idaho’s Water District 63.

Nearly half of the United States is experiencing a drought, and multiple states are recording historic levels of severe or extreme drought – New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and South Dakota. These extreme weather conditions increase wildfire threats, damage agricultural systems, and lead to water insecurity — a growing concern across the globe.

No other natural resource is as critical to life as water. Climate change and warmer winters mean that many communities are seeing diminished snowpack runoff, central for replenishing critical reservoirs and water systems. Likewise, century-old water sharing policies have allowed resources to be funneled from water-rich to water-poor areas, leading to urban sprawl in areas less conducive to growing populations.

With widespread drought and climate change threatening life as we know it, investing to modernize critical water infrastructure is vital for communities seeking to better manage this precious resource and reduce waste. Today, many irrigation canals are still monitored manually, the same way they have been monitored for decades – dependent on significant investments of personnel, vehicles, and time. And given the lack of real-time data, districts struggle to promptly adjust headgates when fluctuations in water levels occur, leading to significant water and energy waste.

As state and local governments capitalize on this historic opportunity to invest in long-term, sustainable, and secure infrastructure solutions with support from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the expanded infrastructure funding mechanisms, the use of smart technologies can help digitize water management – providing support to governments responding to evolving water challenges and protecting communities’ access to water.

Digitizing Water Management in Idaho with Cisco Technologies

The Boise River in Idaho is one of many rivers affected by severe drought and low snowmelt runoff. This 102-mile tributary sustains life in an otherwise harsh, desert plain and supports both urban and rural communities. It’s critical to households and to farming, ranching, forestry, fishing, and tourism sectors.

Mike Meyers, Watermaster of Idaho’s Water District 63, knows the serious implications of drought on the Boise River. Born and raised in Idaho, Mike and his family have been in the water sector for multiple generations. According to Mike, “Any way that we are able to save water through automation or other programs gets us excited.” While some watermasters are resistant to change from traditional, manual water monitoring, Mike explains that the vast majority of watermasters are enthusiastic about the benefits of automation: “9 out of 10 times they’re on board, once you show individuals the savings and ease of automation.”

Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program supports public sector leaders around the world to solve some of the biggest societal problems. And a core goal is enabling a digital revolution in critical infrastructure, including water infrastructure. Upgrades to water infrastructure that include technology can help foster more sustainable water usage amidst extreme weather patterns.

Cisco’s CDA Program has invested in Idaho’s Water District 63 to automate parts of the Boise River, a project leading to an estimated water savings of 9,000-15,000 acre-feet over a 6-month season. That’s an average savings of over 32 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. Per day.

And compared to alternative water infrastructure solutions governments might be considering, such as increasing storage capacity of reservoirs, automation equates to a fraction of the cost ($300/acre-foot via automation vs. $3,000/acre-foot to build increased reservoir storage capacity).

By leveraging Cisco’s IoT infrastructure and Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul and by partnering with Paige Wireless, the nation’s largest carrier-grade LoRaWAN network provider and an innovative Water Management Solutions provider, the project captures real-time data of the Boise River’s movement, use, and allocation – allowing for rapid response, which is critical in areas of water scarcity like Idaho. Data is displayed on Paige Wireless’ user-friendly dashboard where watermasters like Mike are able to visualize their most relevant metrics per water site.

When checking water levels manually, Mike and his team drive to 88 sites per week to check what the flows in the canals are, and they use data from the previous week to make determinations for the following week’s headgate levels. Digitization has saved countless hours of time, fuel, and workforce. They can now administer the river and make adjustments on a daily basis based on real-time data instead of a lagging weekly estimate.

Partnering with Governments to Innovate for Our Shared Future

Digitizing the Boise River represents water savings across all industries that depend on this vital resource, from agriculture and ranching to urban dwellings.

And the technology solutions – and accompanying financial and sustainability savings for communities – apply well beyond water infrastructure alone. Investments in modern, secure Operational Technology networks, or OT networks, can lead to a true digital transformation of our nation’s roadways, subways, pipelines, and utilities – fostering a more inclusive infrastructure for all.

As state and local governments make determinations in the coming years on how best to invest in resilient infrastructure solutions for their communities and where to apply for funding, Cisco stands at the ready as a trusted partner for the public sector. As a global technology leader with decades of experience serving public sector customers, and with over 60,000 Cisco partners worldwide, we can work together to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure solutions – to use 21st century technologies to tackle the problems of today and the future.

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Gary DePreta

Senior Vice President

U.S. Public Sector