The California Drought: Don’t Give Up On Silicon Valley Yet

DroughtImage.jpgBY STEVE WESTLY

The New York Times published an article on Monday suggesting that while tech companies are busy changing the world, they seem to be absent in terms of helping with California’s historic drought.

I disagree. There are two pieces of good news here. First, a number of Bay Area companies are developing new technologies that use smart phones, the Internet, big data, and the “Internet of Things” to help conserve water. For example, weather-based irrigation controllers account for local weather conditions to provide your yard with only as much water as it needs and no more. Controllers gather weather information from an online connection or through a local weather station and soil moisture sensors.

Our venture firm has invested in San Francisco-based WaterSmart Software that uses individually targeted software and behavioral economics to help residents reduce their water use. Working with data from utilities, the software gives each customer specific advice on ways they can save water. When we invested, WaterSmart served just eight utilities in California. Today, they work with 38 utilities and states around the country. Silicon Valley is developing technologies that will have an impact on not just California’s response to the drought, but on our national and international reaction to a world in which fresh drinking water is becoming scarcer. 

We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there will be a torrent of new companies that provide greywater recycling (like Nexus eWater), smart leak detection, and agricultural solutions that will help mitigate increasing global water shortages.

The second thing to remember is that the Millennial generation is more comfortable using these new technologies. They are the first generation to come of age at a time when we know that global warming is real, and that we will have to wrestle with more frequent extreme weather conditions for the foreseeable future. Millenials understand this, and that is why they are the first generation that wants to reduce their energy and water footprint. 

We are moving past an era where we need to choose massive, “Army Corps of Engineers” solutions to every problem. We don’t need more dams or water tunnels spanning the state – they cost too much and carry their own major environmental risks. Smart technology solutions are cheaper, easier to implement, and coming quickly.

Silicon Valley is the world’s innovation engine. Companies founded here have reshaped how people communicate, learn, work, and interact. New companies, like WaterSmart, are taking that same innovative approach to changing how we use and conserve water.

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