California will soon get a clearer picture of its water supply thanks to a $2 million National Science Foundation grant announced Oct. 3.

The four-year NSF grant will allow researchers at UC Merced and UC Berkeley to install more than 1,000 sensors throughout the 2,000-square-mile American River Basin in the Sierra Nevada. The network will enable remote monitoring of snow depth, stream flow, water content in soil and use of water in vegetation – data that will be used to help manage the supply of water, one of the most precious resources in the state.

The American River Basin installation expands upon an existing prototype project, SierraNet, located at the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory and led by Steven Glaser, UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Roger Bales, UC Merced professor of engineering and director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. 

“The goal is to provide a real-time water supply information tool for an array of managers,” said Glaser. “Optimal usage of our scarce water supply requires that we know how much there is, where it is and where it is going.”

The research is part of the “Intelligent Water Infrastructures Initiative” supported by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), a multi-disciplinary program that spans four UC campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz – and more than 60 industrial partners.

“We believe this type of wireless sensor network could ultimately revolutionize the way we understand our most important sources of water, both in California and elsewhere,” said Bales.