New investment group is looking to fund tech startups with innovative ways to help conserve precious water.
This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
With droughts persisting, reservoirs plunging and wildfires erupting, Utahns have more reasons than ever to worry about the future of water in one of the driest states in the country.
Gov. Spencer Cox’s recent emergency orders highlight the parched conditions by limiting the days state facilities can water lawns while calling on municipalities, businesses and residents to do the same.
But restrictions aren’t the only way to save water.
Technology could help ease shortages in Utah and six other states that get water from the Colorado River, a new investment group says.
The Colorado River Basin Fund, a Denver-based private equity firm that launched this spring, will invest $5 million in startups with technology-based solutions to water shortages in Utah and the wider region.
While this money will finance more local startups, other businesses around the world are already working on ways technology can help conserve water. For instance:
• NEER, based in Missouri, taps artificial intelligence to monitor large water systems to identify leaks and potential breaking points in pipes.
• Utilis, based in Israel, uses satellites to identify underground leaks in pipes.
• Maskam Water, based in South Africa, develops ways for homeowners and businesses to clean wastewater on-site.
Similar technologies could be applied to address water shortages in Utah and its neighboring states.
How large and small water users can help
Of course, technology alone doesn’t give humans a pass.
Utahns and others across the Southwest will need to be more conscious of their own water use, especially as climate change continues to alter the landscape, said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.
“We have experienced two decades or more of climate change,” Frankel said. “It has greatly reduced our water supply.”
Residents can help the conservation cause by cutting back on the time their faucets are running, replacing old fixtures with new water-saving models, and planting trees and vegetation that can withstand dry conditions.
Individuals, however, are not responsible for the majority of water use.
Cities, factories, farms and other big users can help by updating infrastructure, Frankel said. Leaky pipes and outdated irrigation systems, for starters, account for significant chunks of water lost before it is even used.
Private equity can bring public solutions