News Feature | December 19, 2016

California Employs Drones As Drought-Relief Tool

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

aerial ca reg new

California researchers are investigating how aerial imagery shot by drones help can stave off the effects of the state’s protracted drought.

AeroVironment, a manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems, is teaming up with researchers from Cal State Fresno for a year-long study into how such images can streamline water use on almond farms, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

“As California nears its sixth year of serious drought the state’s thirstiest crops are under increased scrutiny, and almonds have been criticized for their intensive water footprint. Improved crop management is a major goal for all growers, including almond producers,” the report said.

This project coincides with state efforts to investigate aerial imagery as a tool to bolster water and drought data. The state revealed this month that use of aerial imagery is part of its new conservation plan.

“Governor Jerry Brown ordered up the state plans for improving long-term conservation in May, when he lifted a statewide mandate put in place at the height of California's drought for 25-percent water conservation by cities and towns,” KPCC reported.

Aerial imagery is one part of the plan to support conservation in California.

“The state has budgeted $3 million for a first-of-its-kind project analyzing high-resolution aerial images of 410 urban water suppliers’ areas throughout California. Data from those images, together with data on climate and other factors, will help state officials calculate new community-specific conservation targets for the coming years,” according to The Desert Sun.

AeroVironment says aerial imagery, specifically the kind shot by drones, can help improve the way water resources are managed in the nation’s top farming state.

“We look forward to developing a reliable and effective means of correlating multispectral data with almond tree hydration data to provide growers with better insight so they can proceed with certainty,” Jon Self, a vice president at AeroVironment, said in a statement.

How can drones be useful for gathering water use data in California?

“AV will deploy its Puma UAV drone outfitted with a 24 megapixels photogrammetric camera and a 6-channel multispectral sensor to capture data and aerial imagery of Fresno State’s orchards. Its cloud-based analytics platform will then process and analyze the data for correlation with ground measurements,” the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.

“The team will test the data the drone gathers and correlate it with ground-level hydration information to better predict how the crops should be watered. Fresno State researchers and campus farm staff will closely monitor the hydration levels of almond trees as well as environmental and crop conditions using a variety of soil and plant sensors,” the report continued.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.

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