Throughout his career, SWIIM co-founder and CEO Kevin France has been involved in agricultural development ventures involving water rights, land and natural resources. His experience working with farmers and irrigation districts led to the development of SWIIM®  (Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management®) in 2009. France was motivated by the tragedy of “buy and dry” practices that permanently fallowed tens of thousands of acres of Colorado farmland as cities bought out farmers’ water rights. Partnering with the USDA and land grant universities, SWIIM has developed what France calls Quickbooks for water, empowering farmers to conserve and optimize their water allocation, create a highly- credible and defensible data set for baseline water use, and potentially even create a new income stream with saved water. Combining ground-based sensors, aerial imagery, and a proprietary algorithm developed in conjunction with USDA, SWIIM accounts for every drop of water going on and off, and above and below the farm.

“The most solid deliverable we provide to our clients on a regular basis is an audit of all of their water use,” says France. “It’s similar to a ledger detailing where the water went, and the value of that water,” France says. “Politically, the largest water users have a target on their back whether they’re an efficient user of water or not.”

SWIIM’s audit reports are often seen as an “insurance policy” against future regulation that could affect a farmer’s water allotment. “When you have auditable financial records, and the IRS does come calling, would you rather go in with a shoebox of receipts or would you rather have a very solid auditable chain of where all of your money went?” asks France. “While we thankfully don’t have an IRS for water use, there are many pressure points coming from state government, and society at large, pushing for accountability around ag water.”

“Water reliability for western agriculture is increasingly uncertain, largely due to increasing regulatory demands and infrastructure systems that haven’t been enhanced for decades,” says Western Growers Executive Vice President Dave Puglia, who also serves as the independent member of SWIIM’s board of directors under a partnership agreement. “In California especially, with its growing population, more unpredictable precipitation and regulatory pressure on farm water use, accurate data as to reasonable and beneficial use of the resource is every farmer’s best defense.”

California is America’s thirstiest state, consuming 38 billion gallons of water per day in 2010, according to the United States Geological Survey.  While California’s consumption is down from 46 billion gallons per day in 2005, about 40 percent of the state’s managed water goes to agriculture,with much of that water being used multiple times, recharging groundwater basins and providing important flow to rivers and streams after farm use.

“Show me anywhere in the world where it doesn’t take a lot of water to grow food,” says Puglia. “It just does. Better accounting of our efficient water use on farms helps everyone outside of agriculture understand and appreciate that fact.”

In addition to helping farmers optimize their application of water on their own farms, SWIIM allows for a voluntary aggregation and movement of water to others. Voluntary participation can suppress political and legal conflict, and ensure that changes in water allocation don’t happen against the will of the farmers. Increasingly farmers are being incentivized to conserve, and SWIIM’s detailed audit report ensures that farmers are rewarded for their efforts.  The Imperial Irrigation District is one of the first SWIIM partners to offer direct-to-grower incentives, with other districts looking at similar arrangements.  SWIIM helps elimate water use inefficiency, ensuring that water isn’t wasted, and opening new opportunities to share conserved water.  Unlike the Colorado “buy and dry” disaster, SWIIM’s voluntary system ensures that farmers have access to their water right in subsequent growing seasons. “If there’s any risk in the permanent loss of allocation, you can forget wide adoption by farmers,” says France. “We believe that as this trend continues to mature and gains momentum, you’ll see more conservation, as long as it comes with protection of the water right or allocation.”

For more information about SWIIM, visit SWIIMSYSTEM.COM

As originally published in Western Grower & Shipper, Sept-Oct 2017