"Airbnb for Water" Teams With Association to Battle California Drought

By / Apr 24, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A startup is working with the Western Growers Association to get its irrigation system up and running in a place that really needs it: drought-stricken California. The company’s service allows farmers to sell their excess water supply.

Water—or, actually, the lack of it—is a pretty serious issue in California these days. Just ask the almond growers.

The state’s severe drought is creating headaches, both political and ethical, for farmers. But a startup that’s getting association support could prove to be a big help during the extended dry spell.

The irrigation firm SWIIM, or Sustainable Water & Innovative Irrigation Management, is currently promoting a service that allows farmers to sell off their unused water supplies to other farmers in need. The San Francisco Chronicle describes it as an “Airbnb for water.”

The Western Growers Association, a trade group representing farmers in California and Arizona, is working with SWIIM to launch irrigation efforts in water-starved areas of the Golden State.

SWIIM’s offering could help solve an inequity in the system, the Chronicle notes. Under decades-old state laws, California farmers who don’t use their full water allocations may later find their allocations cut. A solution is to allow a farmer with more water than needed in a given growing season to lease it to another farmer.

“California law encourages water transfers as a means of providing for more efficient use of water,” Andy Sawyer of the California State Water Resources Control Board told the Chronicle. “The theory is if you have a willing buyer and a willing seller and they’re willing to transfer, it’s probably because the buyer is getting greater economic use out of it than the seller.”

But it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. For one thing, water use levels can be difficult to track, making a system like SWIIM’s particularly useful. In Colorado, where SWIIM is based, farmers have been able to make as much as $200 to $500 per acre by leasing water they’ve conserved.

“Water is a real, tangible property right. It’s the highest valued asset on a farmer’s personal balance sheet,” SWIIM CEO Kevin France told Fast Company.

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