Wednesday July 17, 2013 0 comments
By Steve Porter
FORT COLLINS - There are just a few things that touch everyone's life, and one of them is water.
And that's an especially important fact in a time of ongoing drought, as Colorado and much of the West has experienced over the past decade.
Steve Malers, founder and CTO for the Open Water Foundation (OWF), believes his startup can help supply some of the answers needed to cope with the state's future growth and strained water resources.
"The big problem we're facing is that population is increasing and we're seeing a shortage of water," he said.
Colorado's growth increases competition for water between agriculture, municipal water supply, industry, the environment and a rapidly expanding oil-and-gas industry. Drought, fires in water collection areas, climate change and natural hydrologic variability make it challenging to ensure water supplies.
Malers said Colorado's water saga started in the 1860s with mining in mineral-rich headwaters and large water users in agricultural areas, resulting in the concept of water rights that continues to govern water use and entitlement.
Over the last 150 years, a complex water system has developed that can be mystifying to even the most knowledgeable water experts.
That's where OWF can step in and be an entity to help clarify matters, Malers said.
"The systems are complicated and it's hard for any organization to develop analysis tools in-house," he said. "A lot of the data is public, but not always easy to get to. And organizations also have their own data that needs to be integrated with public data."
Malers said OWF tools access the public data, integrates that data with privately held data using an open source software platform funded by the State of Colorado and other organizations, and creates data products that help organizations make decisions.
Accessible and transparent
Malers said OWF's system emphasizes making water data accessible and transparent, which is important due to the complexity of water systems and because water is a public resource.
"Open source software licensing ensures taxpayer investment in software tools results in the greatest benefit to society," he said.
OWF's clients include state government agencies, universities, water organizations and consultants working on water projects.
"We've only been going for about three months but we have a lot of customers in hand," he said. "There's plenty of work out there."
Malers said the open source aspect of the business means his work is more collaborative than competitive.
"We're trying to break down some barriers and make these organizations more efficient, and the feedback I'm getting is that it makes a lot of sense," he said. "There are projects where we're on every team and support everybody."
Malers emphasizes OWF is not an aggregator of water data.
"There's too much data out there and other organizations have responsibility to maintain and update the data," he said. "We build tools to get data from multiple sources using processes that can be repeated later.
"We're trying to make data analysis reproducible and transparent."
Malers, a native of La Junta with degrees in civil engineering from Colorado State University, said part of OWF's mission is to get water data holders to join in the open source model.
"So much of it is breaking through silos," he said. "From day one, I've said we're doing open source software. We're transparent, and you're going to know what we're doing.
"And most folks are very willing to collaborate with that understanding."
OWF was founded earlier this year and became a resident client company of Rocky Mountain Innosphere in May. Malers said OWF's nonprofit, open source business model is unique and potentially very successful.
"If we were a company producing proprietary software, we would already have created some barriers," he said. "By keeping the software open source, everybody's our customer."
But Malers said success as an organization isn't the only driving force for OWF.
"I hope what we're doing is helping to address some of the big societal problems we now have with water," he said. "We're developing OWF as a social enterprise that operates like a business, but which provides value to society as open source software and collaborative solutions for water issues."
For more information, contact Malers at [email protected] or call 970-286-7462 or 970-286-7439, Ext. 802.