Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

Consortium Launches New Online Water Data Platform to Transform Water Management in the Western United States as Droughts Intensify

“What OpenET offers is a way for people to better understand their water usage. Giving farmers and water managers better information is the greatest value of OpenET.” – Denise Moyle, Farmer, Diamond Valley, Nevada

OpenET makes satellite-based data widely accessible to help 17 states develop more resilient water supplies

Reposted from OpenET

SACRAMENTO, CA – OpenET, a new online platform that uses satellites to estimate water consumed by crops and other plants, launched today, making critical data for water management widely available in 17 western states for the first time amid record drought.

OpenET fills a major information gap in water management in the West. Although water is essential to the health of our communities, wildlife, and food supply, access to accurate, timely data on the amount of water used to grow food has been fragmented and often expensive, keeping it out of the hands of many farmers and decision-makers. OpenET allows users to easily view and download this important water data for the current year and previous five years at no charge.

OpenET is providing this data down to the field scale in 17 western states as water supplies become increasingly scarce due to drought, climate change and population growth. The states covered by OpenET are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

“OpenET addresses one of the biggest data gaps in water management in the western United States,” said Forrest Melton, program scientist for the NASA Western Water Applications Office. “This easy-to-use online platform provides scientifically robust data that are invaluable for water management at all scales, from an individual agricultural field to an entire river basin.”

As water supplies become increasingly scarce in arid regions, we need new, innovative tools like OpenET to manage water more precisely and sustainably,” said Robyn Grimm, senior manager, water information systems, at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “OpenET provides all farmers, policymakers and communities big and small with the same high-quality data on water use, so that we can all work together from the same playbook to develop more resilient water supplies across the West.”

“OpenET is a powerful application of cloud computing that will make a measurable impact on the ground in the agriculture sector. Google is proud to support such an important new tool to help improve water sustainability in the western United States as we see the impacts of climate change intensify,” said Google Earth Engine developer advocate Tyler Erickson.

“OpenET combines decades of research with advances in technology from just the past five years to make valuable water data much more affordable and accessible to all,” said Justin Huntington, a research professor at Desert Research Institute. “In the future we hope to expand OpenET to other arid regions of the world, such as South America, India and Africa.”



“As someone who has worked on evapotranspiration for more than 40 years, I am thrilled to see multiple, independent models for estimating ET come together on a single, easy-to-navigate platform,” said Richard Allen, a professor of water resources engineering at the University of Idaho. “By putting these water consumption data into the hands of farmers and water managers across the western United States, OpenET will be transformative in helping us manage water more sustainably,” added Ayse Kilic, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“In some parts of the arid West, more than 70% of irrigation water ends up as evapotranspiration. By automating calculations for this highly important water data, OpenET will enable the USGS and water managers to more easily create water budgets at the watershed scale, which is an essential first step toward proactive water management,” said Gabriel Senay, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Irrigated agriculture is essential to feeding a growing population,” said Martha Anderson, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “OpenET will be a powerful tool to help our nation’s farmers increase food production under conditions of limited freshwater resources.”

“OpenET has not just transformed access to information on ET, but has also facilitated important advances in the underlying science,” said Josh Fisher, a research scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles. “The collaborative approach used to develop OpenET will accelerate our ability to scale the platform to other regions, and to rapidly incorporate new information from future satellite missions.”

“The development of multi-model tools based on cloud computing, as provided by OpenET, is a paradigm shift, allowing water resources management in sustainable ways, not only in the United States, but also in many agricultural regions of the world, where agriculture and irrigation are increasing rapidly, as in Brazil”, added Anderson Ruhoff, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.


Screenshot of OpenET Data

Applications of OpenET data include:

  • Informing irrigation management and scheduling to maximize “crop per drop” and reduce costs for water, fertilizer and energy. ET data are being used by E&J Gallo Winery in California and Oregon state legislator and alfalfa farmer Mark Owens to reduce applied irrigation water while sustaining crop yields and quality.
  • Enabling water and land managers to develop more accurate water budgets, water trading programs and other innovative programs. Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in California’s San Joaquin Valley is using OpenET in its online accounting and trading platform. Salt River Project in Arizona is using OpenET to improve their understanding of the impacts of wildfire and forest management on streamflow and groundwater recharge.

What is evapotranspiration?

The “ET” in OpenET stands for evapotranspiration — the process by which water evaporates from the land surface and transpires, or is released, from plants. ET is a key measure of water consumed by crops and other vegetation that can be used by farmers and water managers to better track water use as well as water saved, for instance, when farmers change crops or invest in new technologies.

Evapotranspiration can be estimated by satellites because the ET process absorbs energy and cools the land surface, and vegetation reflects and absorbs different amounts of visible and near-infrared light depending upon the density and health of the vegetation. These effects are visible to thermal and optical sensors on a satellite. Using sophisticated biophysical models, OpenET combines satellite information with local weather data to accurately estimate ET. 

Using publicly available data, OpenET brings together six independent models for estimating evapotranspiration onto a single computing platform, ultimately helping to build broader trust and agreement around this information.

OpenET data has been extensively compared to ground-based measurements collected in agricultural fields and natural landscapes, and tested by a wide variety of organizations through several use cases to ensure the highest accuracy.

Unprecedented public-private partnership

OpenET has been developed through an unprecedented public-private collaboration with input from more than 100 farmers, water managers, and other stakeholders. The project is led by Environmental Defense Fund, NASA, Desert Research Institute, and HabitatSeven. Additional team members include Google, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California State University Monterey Bay, University of Idaho, University of Maryland, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, and Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

The OpenET project has received funding from the NASA Applied Sciences Program Western Water Applications Office, S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Water Funder Initiative, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Delta Water Agencies, and the Windward Fund. In-kind support has been provided by Google Earth Engine and partners in the agricultural and water management communities.

Providing farmers and local water managers free ET data is a core objective of the OpenET project. For-profit entities and other organizations looking for large-scale access to OpenET data will be able to purchase it through an application programming interface (API) expected to launch in 2022. Revenue generated will fund continuing research and development of OpenET data services.


Environmental Defense Fund (, a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and our Growing Returns blog.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( is a U.S. government agency that leads an innovative program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and bring new knowledge and opportunities back to Earth. With its fleet of Earth-observing satellites and instruments, NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future.

The Desert Research Institute ( is a recognized world leader in basic and applied environmental research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students who work alongside them, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge on topics ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to the environment’s impact on humans. DRI’s impactful science and inspiring solutions support Nevada’s diverse economy, provide science-based educational opportunities, and inform policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Las Vegas and Reno, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Google Earth Engine ( is a geospatial processing platform that combines a multi-petabyte catalog of satellite imagery and other geospatial datasets with planetary-scale analysis capabilities. The platform is enabling scientists, developers and decision-makers to make substantive progress on global environmental and sustainability challenges.

Senator Cortez Masto, Representatives Huffman, Lee, and Stewart Introduce Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Transform Water Management in the West

Senator Cortez Masto, Representatives Huffman, Lee, and Stewart Introduce Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation to Transform Water Management in the West

Reposted news release from the office of Senator Cortez Masto.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today introduced legislation to get critical water use data in the hands of farmers, ranchers, and decision-makers for improved water management across the Western U.S. The Open Access Evapotranspiration (OpenET) Act would establish a program under the Department of the Interior (DOI) to use publicly available data from satellites and weather stations to provide estimates of evapotranspiration (ET), a critical measure of the water that is consumed and removed from a water system. ET represents the largest share of water use in most arid environments around the world. Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Susie Lee (D-Nev.-03), Congressman Chris Stewart (R-Utah-02), and Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-02).

“With Nevada and states across the West facing drought, we need to make it as easy as possible for our communities to conserve water and for farmers and ranchers to effectively manage their water use,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will help accomplish that goal by equipping Nevadans with this critical water data. This data will help us protect our water resources and ensure our crops, livestock, and wildlife have water access, and passing this bill would mark a significant step in our plan for a more sustainable future.”

“The West faces a historic drought that demands action and innovation,” said Representative Susie Lee. “All of Nevada is currently in drought, and the entirety of my district, Nevada’s Third District, is in exceptional drought, the highest classification. In order to solve our water crisis, we need to better understand how much water is available and how much water is being used. With this program, we will have credible, transparent and easily accessible data on our consumptive water use so that we can make better water management decisions in Nevada and across the West.”

“Extreme drought fueled by climate change has become a dire challenge in the western United States, and it’s critical for us to operate with the best information and data possible as we manage this increasingly limited resource,” said Representative Huffman. “Knowing key water metrics like evaporation rates is incredibly valuable for folks across all sectors, and I‘m glad to join Representatives Lee and Stewart and Senator Cortez Masto in this bill to help farmers, water utilities, regulators, and governments alike all make well-informed water management decisions.”

“Water is the lifeblood of the American West, and the ongoing drought is taking a toll on everyone,” said Representative Stewart. “It’s absolutely necessary that we get the most use out of the water we already have. That starts with giving states more consistent, accessible, and accurate data. This legislation will allow us to be more prudent with our current resources and plan for the future of our communities.”

“The Nevada Division of Water Resources strongly supports the continued development and public accessibility of OpenET,” said Adam Sullivan, Nevada State Engineer, Nevada Division of Water Resources. “This outstanding program directly benefits water users throughout Nevada and the West who strive to improve efficiency and conserve water. Public access to these data will be increasingly vital to support water users and responsible water management needs into the future.”

“OpenET will allow water managers to assess how much water is being used via a cost-effective and easy-to-use web-based platform, filing a critical data gap in water management across the U.S.,” said Zane Marshall, Director, Water Resources, Southern Nevada Water Authority. “The Authority believes OpenET is a valuable tool for federal, state, and local policymakers and water users.”

“It’s more important than ever to provide consistent, accurate information to water users and water managers to allow them to make the most efficient decisions about water use,” said Desert Research Institute President Kumud Acharya. “OpenET is an innovative approach that provides agricultural water users and water managers access to the same information on consumptive water use. I appreciate the leadership of Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee on this important piece of legislation.”

“OpenET has been developed in close collaboration with partners from agriculture, cities, irrigation districts, and other stakeholders across the West,” said Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited.  OpenET is a forward-looking tool for supporting TU’s goals of water conservation and meaningful water allocation to promote the sustainability of both agriculture and watershed health.”

The West is facing the devastating impacts of increased drought and a changing climate, and to maximize the benefits of our water supplies, we must know how much water is available and how much is being used. Access to this data has been limited, inconsistent, and expensive, making it difficult for farmers, ranchers, and water managers to use it when making important decisions that could benefit communities. The OpenET program brings together an ensemble of well-established methods to calculate ET at the field-scale across the 17 Western states. Applications of this data include:

  • Assisting water users and decision-makers to better manage resources and protect financial viability of farm operations during drought;
  • Developing more accurate water budgets and innovative management programs to better promote conservation and sustainability efforts;
  • Employing data-driven groundwater management practices and understanding impacts of consumptive water use.

The bill text can be found here.

Senator Cortez Masto has worked to safeguard Nevada’s water and landscapes and the agricultural and outdoor recreation industries that rely on them. Her legislation to combat drought and protect the water supply in western states recently cleared a key Senate committee hurdle, and she is also leading a bipartisan bill to restore Lake Tahoe. She has introduced comprehensive legislation to prevent wildfires, fund state-of-the-art firefighting equipment and programs, and support recovery efforts for communities impacted by fires.

Making Sense of Remote Sensing: A Q&A with Matt Bromley

Making Sense of Remote Sensing: A Q&A with Matt Bromley

Making Sense of Remote Sensing

SEPT 28, 2020

Remote Sensing
Hydrologic Sciences

A Q&A with Matt Bromley on remote sensing and the OpenET project

Matt Bromley, M.S., is an Assistant Research Scientist with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, and specializes in GIS and remote sensing. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.S. in Geography from the University of Nevada, Reno. He is a native Nevadan, an Army veteran, and has been a member of the DRI community for ten years. 

Matt is currently working alongside a team of scientists and web developers from DRI, NASA, Google and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to develop a new web application called OpenET (, which will make satellite-based data on evapotranspiration widely accessible to farmers, landowners, and water managers. We recently sat down with Matt to learn the basics of remote sensing and how it is used in the OpenET project.

Matt Bromley

Matt Bromley, M.S. is a an Assistant Research Scientist with the Division of Hydrologic Sciences at DRI in Reno.

DRI: You specialize in remote sensing. Can you tell us a little bit about this field of study?

Bromley: Technically, remote sensing means “the acquisition of data from a distance.” In the context of the work that I do, it means studying the earth’s surface with satellites. These satellites are often sensitive to same portions of the light-spectrum that our human eyes can see, as well as portions of the light spectrum that we can’t see, such as infrared (thermal).  The images and data that Earth-focused satellites provide are a great way to learn about the Earth from a distance. There are also other types of remote sensing data, such as aerial images from planes, Radar, and LIDAR, where you use laser light to determine distance which can allow you to measure terrain and geographic features.

DRI: What is OpenET, and what is your role in the project?

Bromley: To understand the importance of OpenET you have to first understand evapotranspiration (ET). ET is the process by which water is transferred from land to the atmosphere – through evaporation from soil and transpiration from plant leaves – which is approximately the amount of water used by crops to grow our food and other resources. OpenET is a new web application that will provide ET data to water managers, land owners, and farmers in 17 western states. We started building this tool in 2018 and it’s scheduled to launch in 2021.

My role is pretty varied within the project. I have a foot in the technical side of it, in that I’m working on some of the data used in the ET models as well as contributing to the analysis. I also have an outward facing role in that I engage with people and organizations who are the preliminary users of the data. I provide some analysis, answer questions, and act as the bridge between the teams developing the evapotranspiration data and the people using it.

OpenET data showing evapotranspiration graph

OpenET is a new web application that will provide evapotranspiration data to water managers, land owners and farmers across 17 western states.

Credit: OpenET.

screenshot of OpenET website

To learn more about OpenET project, visit their website at

DRI: How do you use remote sensing data in the OpenET project?

Bromley: The team that I work with uses remote sensing to measure water use from irrigation. We use both optical and thermal data to get information from the land surface. Among other things, the optical data shows how green and healthy the vegetation is, and with the thermal data we can actually detect the cooling effect that’s produced when water evaporates.

When I started at DRI, remote sensing data was generally processed on individual computers. You had to download all the data yourself and then process it with specialized software. About ten years ago, Google started hosting climate and remote sensing data in the cloud. So, rather than having to download all the data to do your analysis on a desktop computer, you can instead send your analysis to the cloud (lots of computers), allowing you to get some of your answers much, much faster. OpenET makes use of that platform, processing remote sensing data through five different models. Through OpenET we’re able to produce not only individual model ET estimates, but also an ensemble estimate using all of those models.

DRI: What type of remote sensing data do you use to calculate evapotranspiration (ET)?

Bromley: All of it right now is from the Landsat series of satellites, which gives us the optical and thermal data that we need to calculate ET. Landsat is a series of earth-observations satellites which are operated as a joint program between NASA and the USGS. The modern series of Landsat satellites started in the early 1980s, so with this collection of data we can actually look back in time and see how water use has changed over the decades. The duration and consistency of the Landsat program really sets it apart from other sources of remote sensing data.

OpenET data showing evapotranspiration graph

OpenET is being built by scientists and web developers from DRI, NASA, Google and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The web application is scheduled to launch in 2021.

Credit: OpenET.

DRI: How did you become interested in working in this field?

Bromley: Being a native Nevadan, you grow up being  aware of how special water is. As a kid my family would go on road trips through the Great Basin and as much as I loved seeing the sagebrush and mountains, it felt like we were discovering an oasis whenever we’d drive past a river or lake. In working to understand water use, I’m providing information to the people who manage that precious resource, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who grow our food.  It feels like I’m helping not just my community but the state and the region.

The work that we’re doing at DRI and with OpenET is especially important, because detailed information on water use at a large scale has typically been hard to access and very expensive.  OpenET is working to change that and make this data widely accessible to spark improvements an innovation in water management across the West.

“In working to understand water use, I’m providing information to the people who manage that precious resource, as well as to the farmers and ranchers who grow our food.”

Additional information

Other DRI scientists that work on the OpenET project include Justin Huntington, Charles Morton, Britta Daudert and Jody Hansen.

To learn more about the OpenET project, please visit:

To read a recent (September 2020) press release on the OpenET project, please visit: 

To learn more about Matt Bromley and his research, please visit: