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California fights drought with big data, cloud computing

February 19, 2014 06:10 AM ET

Out of this process, Warren hopes innovative ideas and prototypes will emerge that find support and corporate sponsors. "The idea is to find other people who are much better than me to become leaders and go forth with it," he said.

The need for innovation in the water technology market was identified by a team of people who, in 2007, formed Imagine H2O, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that runs water technology competitions and provides a platform for connecting winners with investors, customers and pilot opportunities.

Scott Bryan, the chief operating officer of Imagine H2O, said the organization doesn't have equity in the startup ventures it helps. The effort is focused on "trying to address the market failure in the water sector," he explained.

Bryan said the drought is bringing attention to the water technology issue, but it's difficult to make a return on investment in the water technology market. It can take a long time to bring a new water-related technology to market, he said.

The industry is seeing changes. One positive development is the increased use of smart meters, which collect a wealth of information about water usage and can offer a company such as WaterSmart more data to work with.

"This is an industry that doesn't have a whole lot of data yet, and that's where there will be quite a bit of opportunity," Bryan said.

WaterSmart was one Imagine H20 winner. Another is a company called Leak Defense Alert.

Scott Pallais, the CEO of Leak Defense, is planning to release, in the second quarter, a technology for detecting leaks that is analogous to a smoke detector.

Pallais says his device will be easy to install and is relatively inexpensive. It will include a heating element and temperature sensor that is attached to the outside of an intake pipe to detect the flow of water. A plumber is not needed for installation.

The system is designed to work with home security systems or apart from them, and can use a home's network Wi-Fi to alert a homeowner to a potential issue.

If there is no water flowing through a pipe, the temperature stays about the same; if water is flowing, the temperature declines. The system is sensitive enough to detect a running toilet, but is also configurable so it doesn't trigger an alert when someone is taking a shower, Pallais said.

Pointing out that water leaks can cause billions of dollars in losses, Pallais said that he believes there's a big market for this device. "It's a very simple principle," he said of the technology.

This article, "California Fights Drought With Big Data, Cloud Computing," was originally published on

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