EDF, NASA, DRI and Google announce web application to transform water management in the Western U.S. | TheFencePost.com

EDF, NASA, DRI and Google announce web application to transform water management in the Western U.S.

An artist's conception of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, the eigth satellite in the long-running Landsat program, flying over the U.S. Gulf Coast.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Environmental Defense Fund, NASA, the Desert Research Institute and Google announced plans to develop a new web application called OpenET to enable western U.S. farmers and water managers to accurately track water consumption by crops and other vegetation using data from satellites and weather stations.

OpenET will fill a critical information gap in water management in the West. Today, access to accurate, timely satellite-based data on the amount of water used to grow food is fragmented and often expensive, keeping it out of the hands of many farmers and decision-makers. Water supplies in the western U.S. are critical to the health of our communities, food supply and wildlife, but they are facing increasing pressures in the face of population growth and a changing climate.

Applications of OpenET data include:

• Informing irrigation management and scheduling practices to maximize “crop per drop” and reduce costs for water and fertilizer.

• Enabling water and land managers to develop more accurate water budgets and innovative management programs that promote adequate water supplies for agriculture, people and ecosystems.

• Supporting groundwater management, water trading and conservation programs that increase the economic viability of agriculture across the West.

What is evapotranspiration?

The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration — the process by which water evaporates from the land surface and transpires from plants. Evapotranspiration, a key measure of water consumed by crops and vegetation, can be tracked by satellites because the process cools plants and soil down, so irrigated fields appear cooler in satellite images.

Using publicly available data, OpenET will make several methods for estimating evapotranspiration more widely accessible, ultimately helping to build broader trust and agreement around this information. OpenET will also make it possible to track the amount of evapotranspiration reduced when farmers change cropping patterns, invest in new technologies or adopt water-saving practices.

OpenET is expected to be available to the public in 2021.

OpenET will initially provide field-scale ET data in 17 states, with plans to expand to the entire United States and beyond. The 17 states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

“OpenET will help fill one of the biggest data gaps in water management in the western United States. Our primary goal is to make sure we are providing evapotranspiration data that is accurate, consistent, scientifically based and useful for water management, whether for an individual agricultural field or an entire river basin,” said Forrest Melton, program scientist for the NASA Western Water Applications Office. “OpenET is being created through an innovative collaboration among a national team of scientists, technology experts, farmers, government policy-makers and environmental nonprofits.”

“OpenET is a powerful application of cloud computing that will lead to measurable results on the ground in the agriculture sector. Google is proud to support such an important new tool,” said Google Earth Engine developer advocate Tyler Erickson.

“After 10 years of working with farmers and water agencies to develop ET estimates, it couldn’t be more rewarding to be creating an application like OpenET that uses best available science and makes ET data much more affordable and accessible to all,” said Justin Huntington, a research professor at Desert Research Institute. “We also see OpenET having the potential to scale up to other regions of the world, including South America and Africa.”

“OpenET will empower farmers and water managers across the West to build more accurate water budgets and identify stress, resulting in a more resilient system for agriculture, people and ecosystems,” said Robyn Grimm, senior manager, water information systems, at EDF. “We envision OpenET leveling the playing field by providing all farmers with data that until now have not been widely accessible to everyone.”


OpenET is being developed with input from more than 100 stakeholders across the West.

NASA, EDF, DRI and HabitatSeven are the project leads for OpenET. Additional collaborators include Google Earth Engine, USGS, USDA Agricultural Research Service, California State University Monterey Bay, University of Idaho, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The OpenET project has received funding from the NASA Applied Sciences Program Western Water Applications Office, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Water Funder Initiative, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Delta Water Agencies, and the Windward Fund. In-kind support has been provided by Google Earth Engine and partners in the agricultural and water management communities.

Providing farmers and local water managers free ET data is a core objective of the OpenET project. For-profit entities and other organizations looking for large-scale access to OpenET data will be able to purchase it through an application programming interface (API). Revenue generated will fund continuing research and development of OpenET data services. ❖

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