This article was originally published on Microsoft.


“Every year on March 22, the world focuses its attention on water. This year’s theme for World Water Day is the “Nature for Water,” which explores how we can use nature to overcome the water challenges of the 21st century. These challenges include everything from scarcity to quality to floods. While the root causes of these water-based challenges varies, two things are clear – environmental degradation is exacerbating all of these issues, and nature-based solutions offer incredible potential to solve many of these challenges.

This isn’t just a hypothetical concept – New Yorkers today enjoy an immaculate water supply served up by nature. But in 1997, New York City was facing declining water quality and an expensive decision – invest in new water treatment and sewer facilities at $6B with $250M annual maintenance or invest in the Catskills watershed at a cost of ~$1.5B. They chose the latter.

Now, over a billion gallons of water are delivered and consumed each day by New Yorkers, served up by natural systems. Soil and tree roots filter water, microorganisms break down contaminants, plants in streams absorb nitrogen from automobile emissions and fertilizer runoff, and wetland plants suck up nutrients while trapping sediments and heavy metals. These natural systems that capture run-off and clean our water, add efficiency to existing water treatment facilities, and reduce the impact of storms on our communities.

To get the most of these natural systems, though, we also need technology. Ensuring the safety and quality of more than a billion gallons of water flowing daily through a sprawling network of lakes, reservoirs, and aqueducts requires data….data that is gathered from a combination of sensor networks, sampling stations, and hundreds of thousands of tests performed in the watershed. This enormous monitoring apparatus is a critical part of New York City’s drinking water supply – nature and technology working harmoniously together to enable clean water and the health of a city.

This could be replicated around the world. After all, every community on the planet relies on ecosystem services at some level. But right now, much of the world lacks the data and technology infrastructure to monitor, model, and manage these systems more effectively.

This is exactly the kind of gap we’re intent on solving through AI for Earth. We are starting to see the promise of AI to enable nature-based solutions and are working to accelerate a future where everyone has access to clean freshwater…”

Read on at: Microsoft.