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California Researchers Expand 'Intelligent Water Infrastructures Initiative'

A University of California group is deploying hundreds of wireless sensor nodes in the Sierra Nevada, to help better predict water availability.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 07, 2011In the Sierra Nevada, wireless sensor nodes are transmitting data indicating the amount of snow that has fallen or melted, as well as soil-saturation levels. Ultimately, all of this information can be used to calculate the volume of water available to the tens of millions of residents and businesses located downstream.

One step in achieving that goal is SierraNet—a program being run jointly by University of California (UC) researchers at the school system's Berkeley and Merced campuses. The first SierraNet project is taking place at the Kings River Experimental Watershed area, and is part of the Southern Sierra Nevada Critical Zone Observatory (CZO)—an environmental laboratory. The SierraNet projects are being led by Steven Glaser, a UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Roger Bales, a UC Merced professor of engineering and the director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI). Glaser's team is now launching a much larger installation of wireless sensors, spread across the basin of the American River, with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant, awarded in September 2011, will be dispensed over the course of four years.


Steven Glaser fixes one of the sensor nodes installed in the Sierra Nevada.

The American River installation will provide a much larger view into the movement of water originating in the Sierra Nevada, in order to help predict water supply downstream, where urban centers use the water that comes from this area. In fact, Glaser says, it will be the largest ecological wireless network in the world.

The Southern Sierra Nevada CZO project is a small part of an "Internet of Water" that researchers at four UC campuses—Berkeley and Merced, as well as Davis and Santa Cruz—are striving to create. The larger effort, officially known as the "Intelligent Water Infrastructures Initiative," intends to track the volume and flow of water in the mountains, aquifers and California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and to make all of that data available to the public on the Internet, in real time.

Intelligent Water Infrastructures Initiative projects are supported by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), a multidisciplinary program that spans UC's Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz campuses, in addition to more than 60 industrial partners.

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