America May Have Uncovered More Drinking Water in Significant Breakthrough

By: Alyssa Miller | Last updated: Jun 05, 2024

Scientists have developed an AI model that may lead to a significant breakthrough in how we find and use water in the Western U.S. 

This cutting-edge technology aims to enhance water supply estimates over vast distances, potentially uncovering new sources of drinking water.

Beyond the Snow Stations

Currently, there are 822 snow measurement stations spread across the West, tasked with monitoring the snow’s water content. 

A stream flowing through a snowy, rocky forest landscape

Source: Wikimedia Commons

But given the region’s size, that’s only one station per 1,500 square miles. This new model could change the game by accessing unmonitored areas.


The AI Edge

The AI doesn’t just cover more ground; it does it better. 

Close-up of a ruler measuring the depth of snow, showing markings for 2, 3, and 4 inches

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Newsweek reports that comparisons with 300 traditional snow measuring stations showed that the AI model drastically outperformed existing methods, promising a new era of precision in water management.

Snow: The Unsung Hero of Water Supply

Snow melt plays a crucial role in the water cycle of the Western U.S., feeding rivers and reservoirs that supply the region. 

A man in winter clothing taking a sample of snow in a forested area with deep snow around

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Understanding its dynamics is more than academic; it’s essential for survival.

Water Woes: The Drought Dilemma

The West has been wrestling with a megadrought since 2000, making the search for accurate water measurement tools not just necessary but urgent. 

A wide, dried-up riverbed with cracked soil and sparse green vegetation in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As water becomes scarcer, the stakes get higher.

Every Drop Counts

Krishu Thapa, who led this pivotal study, emphasized that every drop from snowmelt is precious, serving diverse needs from irrigation to drinking water. 

A panoramic view of a snow-covered field partially flooded with water, surrounded by distant trees

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This AI model helps ensure not a single drop goes unnoticed.


New Strategies for Old Challenges

As climate change continues to disrupt weather patterns, the need for better water conservation strategies becomes critical. 

Satellite image capturing a large wildfire in a rural area, showing active flames and extensive smoke spreading across the landscape

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This AI tool provides a beacon of hope for policymakers grappling with these challenges.


A Waiting Game

Though it’s not ready to be deployed just yet, the new model represents a significant step forward in forecasting water availability.

Close-up of multiple water jets from fountains, captured in mid-spray against a bright green background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When deployed it will allow for smarter, more informed decisions about water use.


Predicting the Future of Water

“This is a problem that’s deeply related to our own way of life continuing in this region in the Western U.S,” says Kirti Rajagopalan, a professor involved in the study. 

Close-up of a hand holding a clear glass filled with water, slightly blurred background emphasizing the glass

Source: engin akyurt/Unsplash

The new AI model could be key to sustaining life and livelihoods in the area.


A Dense Network of Data

The goal? To transform a sparse network of stations into a dense grid of data points. 

A weather monitoring station in a snowy landscape, featuring a metal pipe and measurement devices against a cloudy sky

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This shift would allow for unprecedented accuracy in predicting snow water equivalent (SWE) values where no stations currently exist.


AI vs. Nature: Who Will Win?

The race is on to outsmart nature’s unpredictability with our best technology. 

Close-up of a young girl wearing a knitted hat, drinking water from a clear glass, with a warm, softly lit background

Source: Johnny McClung/Unsplash

This AI model isn’t just about gathering data—it’s about securing a future where water scarcity doesn’t spell disaster.


From Science to Water Security

As the region looks forward, the promise of AI in securing water resources is more than just scientific advancement—it’s a potential lifeline

Close-up of a young man splashing water on his face, with water droplets captured in mid-air against a dark green, blurred background

Source: Lucas Sankey/Unsplash

This model could one day ensure that every community in the West has the water it needs to thrive.


Fighting Against Aggressive Climate Change

As climate change progresses, monitoring the US Drought Monitor and reporting how much or how little water is available is crucial.

A depiction of drought with a woman holding a stick while standing on a dry lack

Source: Freepik

Recording data on soil moisture, temperature, snow cover, meltwater runoff, reservoir levels, and more can help determine the outlook for water supplies, declare drought emergencies, and decide where and when government aid should be distributed.


The Water Crisis in the US

Beyond the ongoing megadrought, the US faces several challenges regarding drinking water quality and access.

Garbage on Body of Water

Source: Yogendra Singh/Pexels

In some regions, water has been contaminated or polluted with lead, PFAS, and agricultural runoff to the point where it cannot be used for anything.


Tools and Tech Are Out of Date

The aging infrastructure in the US is causing more problems. From old and deteriorating pipes to a lack of funding and maintenance, tools and technology used to track, monitor, and provide clean drinking water are simply unavailable.

Two researchers are pictured as they go over notes in the lab

Source: Freepik

This leaves many communities without clean water, forcing them to find other solutions to the ongoing water crisis in the US.


Creating a Reliable Snapshot

Accurately monitoring as much water as possible will provide a reliable snapshot of what is happening in the climate system.

Two kayakers paddle down a river that borders a snowy landscape with barren trees and a clear blue sky overhead, illustrating a stark contrast between the water and snow

Source: City of NOEL, Missouri/Facebook

By discovering long-term trends through the new AI model, the US government and other scientists can help design products for a larger, slower-moving global crisis that is already impacting farmers across the nation.


Solar Panels Could Provide Clean Water

While the new AI model is hard at work during the winter months, solar panels might be another source of water in the US.

Rows of solar panels with concrete and green grass.

Source: Anders J/Unsplash

Researchers and scientists in Southern Nevada, which is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history, are attempting to pull water out of thin air.


Pulling Water from Thin Air

Cody Friesen, a professor of material science at Arizona State University, is testing a solar-powered hydropanel that absorbs water vapor at high volumes when exposed to sunlight in water-stressed areas struggling to survive under the hot Nevada sun.

Black Solar Panel Near Calm Body of Water

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

This is a more modern-day twist on a water-pulling system that has been used for centuries.


Using a Traditional Peruvian Technique 

Since the 1500s, water has been collected in Peru by placing large sheets of mesh strung up on hillsides, which collect thick mists that drift across the landscape.

A man standing next to a large mesh net collecting water from fog

Source: Great Big Story/YouTube

Tiny droplets condense on the netting and drip down into bamboo pipes that carry the water into containers where it can be used to irrigate crops or as drinking water.


How Solar Panels Can Pull Water from the Air

Similar to the Peruvian method, Friesen has created panels that work by using sunlight to power fans that pull air into the device.

A group of solar panels absorbing sunlight in a field.

Source: American Public Power Association/Unsplash

The device, which contains a desiccant material that absorbs and traps moisture, accumulates water molecules that are emitted as water vapor as the solar energy raises the temperature of the panel.


A New Source of Drinkable Water

As the panel rises in temperature, a high-humidity gas is created that will eventually condense into a liquid. Minerals are then added to make it drinkable.

A woman in a black tank top drinks from a clear glass containing water.A woman in a black tank top drinks from a clear glass containing water.

Source: engin akyurt/Unsplash

This invention could revolutionize how drinking water is created for Americans in the West who are struggling with ongoing droughts despite the atmospheric rains of the winter.


A Low-Cost Approach

“We’re headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is sub-5% relative humidity in the summer and we’re still making water,” Friesen told the BBC.

A close-up view of shiny blue solar panels installed on a corrugated metal roof with a clear blue sky in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“It’s a uniquely efficient and low-cost approach that enables us to go places where nobody else can go.”


Giving Americans More Options

Friesen’s goal with his new source of water is to democratize access to clean, drinkable water for people in the US who have limited options.

An NAVFAC operator tests drinking water in Hawaii.

Source: NAVFAC/Wikimedia

Tribal and rural communities without access to electricity, as well as regions devastated by natural disasters, will have improved access to water if Friesen’s invention proves successful and becomes a common practice.


How to Help With the Ongoing Water Crisis

Many urban communities have the power to help their water-insecure local communities.

Clear Drinking Glass Filled With Water

Source: Elle Hughes/Pexels

Turning off your water while brushing your teeth and watering the lawn every other day can help save water, as researchers, scientists, and government officials work on solutions to regulate and create clean water sources.