Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts

Field Smarts: Protecting Farmers’ Wallets and Our Water, with Bruno Basso

It’s estimated that by 2050, we’ll have over 9 billion people on earth. To feed everyone, we will need to produce 60 per cent more food – and we’ll have to do it using less water. On this episode of What About Water? we’re looking at new technology that can make that shift possible. Jay sits down with colleague and friend Bruno Basso, an agro-ecosystem scientist at Michigan State University and the co-founder and chief scientist of CIBO Technologies. Basso walks through the remote sensing technology, artificial intelligence, and process-based models farmers can use to optimize their yields – and environmental outcomes – using more precise water and fertilizer inputs.

In the Last Word we look at one of the most impactful inventions for precision agriculture: drip irrigation. John Farner, Chief Sustainability Officer for Netafim, shares how this low-tech innovation is helping farmers around the globe grow higher quality crops with less water.

We also dive into three ‘Ask Jay’ questions. You can check out the LA Times article Jay mentions here. Do you have a question about water for Jay? Let us know who you are, what’s on your mind, and where you’re based – by writing to ideas@whataboutwater.org. We also like voice memos!

Guest Bios

Bruno BassoBruno Basso

Bruno Basso is an agroecosystem scientist and a crop systems modeler. His research deals with the long-term sustainability of agricultural systems, digital agriculture, circular bioeconomy. He focuses on assessing and modeling spatial and temporal variability of crop yield, soil organic carbon, GHG emission, water, and nutrients fluxes across agricultural landscapes under current and future climates. He holds global patents on AI, remote sensing, and crop model systems to evaluate cropland productivity and environmental sustainability.

He is the co-founder and chief scientist of CIBO Technologies, a start-up operating in the space of regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Soil Science Society of America (SSSA); American Society of Agronomy (ASA). He is the recipient of the 2021 Morgan Stanley Sustainability Solution Prize Collaborative; 2019 Outstanding Faculty Award at Michigan State University; 2016 Recipient of the Innovation of the Year Award from Michigan State.

Basso serves as a member of the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). He is a member of the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC), Department of Energy, Office of Science. He is on the scientific advisory board of Field to Market, Invaio Sciences, and other firms. He published over 200 peer reviewed publications, several in high profile journals like Nature Climate Change, Nature Sustainability, Nature Food, Nature Plants, PNAS, Nature Communications. He is ranked as a top 2% scientist across all disciplines (PLOS one, 2021) and received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University.

John FarnerJohn Farner

John Farner brings more than 20 years of experience as a leader in the irrigation and sustainability industry. Throughout his career, he has been at the forefront of promoting efficient irrigation as a solution to global environmental challenges. John also serves as a recognized international water management expert and led the U.S. irrigation industry’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic. Before joining Netafim, John most recently served as Industry Development Director for the United States Irrigation Association, where he not only led their sustainability efforts, but also served as the chief advocate and spokesperson for the industry before U.S. and international policymakers and NGOs, focusing on both agricultural and landscape water use. John holds a B.A. in political science and communication from Virginia Polytechnic Institute University, in Blacksburg, Virginia. John is also a graduate of the Leadership Development Program from the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Dive Deeper

  • Globally, agriculture uses up to 92% of the world’s freshwater. (Science)
  • By 2050 we will need to produce 60% more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion. (UN FAO, UN)
  • Five of every six farms in the world are ‘smallholder farms’, meaning they are smaller than two hectares (the size of about three soccer fields). Collectively, they produce a third of the world’s food. (Our World in Data) The smallest farms (those less than 2 hectares) tend to allocate the greatest share – between 55% to 59% – of their crop production to direct human food. (Our World in Data)
  • By reducing the guesswork in farming, smart agriculture enables crops to reach their full genetic potential without the excessive use of chemical inputs. (World Economic Forum)
  • The advent of GPS tracking in the late 1990’s is what made it possible for farmers to see bigger variations within their fields and animals, and helped kickstart precision agriculture. (National Museum of American History)
  • The greatest technology push has been in precision agriculture (aka site-specific management, SSM)—where remote sensing, information technologies, and mechanical systems enable sub-field crop management. But despite this push, acceptance by the agricultural community has been hesitant and weak (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) because outside the biggest farms – most smaller farmers see initial cost, uncertain economic returns and technology complexity as limiting factors.

 

Photo Credit

  • Bruno Basso – Submitted

Full Transcript

Bruno Basso:
Food is, as Bourlag said, is the moral act that everyone has to have access to. And in the end, what I do, whether it is an environment that builds better food, nutritional food, or helps the farmers from profitability, the core piece is food.

Jay Famiglietti:
Over the next three decades, the human population is set to explode. We’re on track to add 2 billion people, bringing Earth’s population to over 9 billion. To feed everyone, we need to grow about 60% more food. I’m Jay Famiglietti and this is “What About Water?”

Jay Famiglietti:
Agriculture already uses the vast majority of Earth’s freshwater. Climate change and intense storms make it harder to grow crops and to get good yields. Where they can, farmers cut emissions and try to improve their soils. But making big changes on a farm can be expensive and risky. That’s something Bruno Basso wants to change by taking technology out of the startup sector and putting it into farmers’ hands and farmers’ fields.

Jay Famiglietti:
Bruno Basso is a Hannah Distinguished Professor and a University Foundation Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Michigan State University. He’s also the co-founder and chief scientist of CIBO Technologies. Welcome to “What About Water?”, Bruno!

Bruno Basso:
Thank you, Jay. Pleasure to be here today.

Jay Famiglietti:
When we say that agriculture uses most of Earth’s freshwater resources, what kind of problems does that create?

Bruno Basso:
Well, the problem with that is continuous depletion of, you know, groundwater to provide this irrigation water. The additional issue in the context of water is that we’re pretty much running dry in many places, which leads to additional uses of resources like energy, you know, basically pumping water deeper and deeper, polluting what was once fresh, clean water, pristine lakes and stuff like that because of surface runoff, excessive amount of chemicals or leaching that goes all the way into groundwater.

Bruno Basso:
So because water plays a such a critical role in in producing food, when it’s mismanaged, it just creates all kinds of negative feedback to the loop. But again, I have to cite you several times, Jay, but it’s all about water. It is all about water.

Jay Famiglietti:
That’s why you’re on the program, Bruno. So, listen, you… you’re watching all this water use and what’s happening on farms. Can you take us back to, like, a turning point when you decided that you had to do something? And here I’m speaking specifically about the company that you are the Chief Scientist for and a Co-Founder of CIBO Technologies.

Bruno Basso:
Yeah, I mean, founding a company like that, for a scientist, it isn’t necessarily the biggest priority or immediate. It came as a result of, I would say, successful series of implementation of the technology that I had developed on real cases, you know, real application on farmers’ fields. And by obviously getting attention across media and so on. Then the word spread around that got the attention of the investors.

Bruno Basso:
And so what was basically, if you allow me to describe a little bit of the technology space —

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah, please go ahead.

Bruno Basso:
— a system, a series of mathematical equation that reproduce the growth and development of plants as they are exploiting soil resources, water and nutrients, and as they are impacted by climate. And so the amount of rainfall, differences in temperatures, humidity, wind and so on.

Bruno Basso:
So we call those “process-based models”. Okay? So they reproduce the observation and they can be used in hindcasting. So we trying to understand this much as possible about the past by since this already occurred, you already know what has happened. And so you can really see if our assumption are correct, we can go back into a site without ever being there and reproduce the observation and say, wow, you know, we weren’t in here, but we can reproduce the yield, we can reproduce how much greenhouse gas emission was emitted.

Bruno Basso:
And so the model was initially started and actually why I am in agriculture, because my dad was a professor back in in Naples in Italy. And we knew about this well-known scientist in the US that had created the first model of reproducing plants. And this model was used to simulate the production of wheat in Russia during the Cold War.

Jay Famiglietti:
So what happened?

Bruno Basso:
So I was 18 years old and I was—

Jay Famiglietti:
Impressionable.

Bruno Basso:
And it was 1988 and my dad said we could try to have you go and spend, you know, the summer months working with Joe Ritchie in his lab and learn about this cool tools and system that he’s building — this modeling — and and again, my dad being a scientist, that was really a cool idea that attracted me — in addition to always go to the U.S. — it was kind of a dream.

Jay Famiglietti:
Perfect.

Bruno Basso:
In 1988, you probably remember well, it was a very strong drought. Very—

Jay Famiglietti:
I do remember that. Yeah. I was in graduate school and I remember how hot it was living in the graduate student dorms.

Bruno Basso:
Exactly. So Joe Ritchie, because he was really the pioneer of soil evaporation and, you know, modeling water, there was CNN interviewing him. And honestly, that was the moment that I said I always wanted to work with planes and I wanted to help people in general and couldn’t be a doctor because I would faint if I see blood. And I said, what else is left?

Bruno Basso:
I say, I don’t necessar— I respect animal, but growing up in the city was not the ideal situation. And so I decided I wanted to be with plants. And from that moment I thought, I want to be in agriculture and help people feed the world. So over the years, we continue to work together. We build this innovative approaches, you know, several improvements in SALUS, a Systems Approach for Land Use Sustainability.

Bruno Basso:
And so by helping farmers and using this technology on their farms, they started to apply a prescription map that my lab automatically generates. And he goes into the combine. So some of these farmers, we have never seen them. So we, we deliver these prescription maps to the farmers and the machine. The big, you know, tractor goes and applies 50 pounds of nitrogen on one side of the field, and then 160 pounds few yards away from that.

Jay Famiglietti:
So what you’re looking at sounds to me, please correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re really prescribing how fertilizer can be applied basically optimally. Don’t over apply, don’t under apply. Just put it where it’s needed, don’t do a uniform application. And therefore, you know, you’re saving money, but you’re protecting the environment, too, right?

Bruno Basso:
That is correct. As a scientist, we care about the profitability of the farmers, but our priority is also the well-being of the community. By making more informed decision, they don’t pollute the groundwater because the excessive nitrogen now is no longer excessive. It’s trying to match the supply that comes from the soil with the demand and only intervening – with the – with what is really needed.

Bruno Basso:
So it is do the right thing at the right time, at the right place. The uniqueness about this approach is that, over times, we have learned that one evaluation, a snapshot, it’s not sufficient. So if you see an image of a person, there is very little you can say. You can say, okay, it’s a male person that I’m looking at, but nothing else.

Bruno Basso:
It’s maybe dressed in a particular way, but when you start seeing a series of images of this, then you can start adding a lot of details. What has changed over time? And so the prescription are done in a much more robust way compared to what the past of whether the industry or other scientists that look at it. Because we look at how stable one particular part of the field is, if it is always been doing well, we know that in a strategic way it can be managed with a particular amount of doses ahead of time.

Bruno Basso:
Then there are areas that they change from one year to the next which make the system even more, you know, complex. And so we learn what drives that change. And so the prescription has to be adaptable to the changing climate.

Jay Famiglietti:
This concept of production resonates with me because there’s sort of similar ideas in hydrology, right? And so, you know, there are places that are always dynamically active. Those are, you know, close to rivers right? And riparian areas, you know, so they perform one way, you know, ridge tops perform another way. And often we find those sort of slopes in hydrology anyway are quite, quite variable waters moving through them.

Jay Famiglietti:
Sometimes they’re wet, sometimes they’re dry. Is there any like what are the parallels to water?

Bruno Basso:
I would I would support very much what you said. The complexity of dealing with the managed system like agriculture, is that let’s say that we are in a rainfed environment. That doesn’t mean doesn’t deal with water. It deals in a more complicated way because you depend on the rainfall. So if you think that you can give a prescription just by thinking on the nutrient level without accounting for the knowledge of how water behaves in that particular place, then you lost the game because —

Jay Famiglietti:
[LAUGHS] I know

Bruno Basso:
applying, you know, high nitrogen in an area that has a very shallow soil.

Bruno Basso:
Well, you know that that’s how we learn about stability, areas that are constantly underperforming and giving farmers negative return of $200 per acre. Okay. Why? Because they kept putting this uniform application of close to 200 pounds per acre in nitrogen. And this dynamic aspect, as you said Jay, in positioning the landscape and it’s extremely dynamic which makes a rainfed system complicated to manage because the biggest costs in a farmer’s bill is fertilizer and seed.

Jay Famiglietti:
So that — so that brings up this question of, you know, how are you doing with engaging farmers? Because you’re showing them real science. But we know, you know, farmers are really conservative. There’s a tremendous amount of intergenerational knowledge, right? That’s been passed down across generations and you’re… you know, you’re a disruptor.

Bruno Basso:
Yeah. Well, in any field, in anything that we do, there are the destructive there are the go getters, there are the early adopters, and there are the ones that it doesn’t matter what you put in front of the evidence, they just may not want to change for different reasons. So one thing is incentivizing farmers. So I have two grants from the USDA that half of them, the money goes to the farmers to implement the technology.

Bruno Basso:
Then you get attention because you say, really, you pay me to do variable rate? So in the case of the low and stable zones, we would pay the differences or we would pay that even to the extreme end of removing from production and some of these low productivity areas to biodiversity conservation areas. And so planting pollinators in prairie strips in which some of them were incredibly excited about, they say, you know, I’ll go buy the the strips and I’ll listen to the birds.

Bruno Basso:
And it reminds me of some of the agriculture that actually I grew up in. He’s the one that, you know, push the the field to the fence. When the previous generation had, you know, grassed waterways. And now there is nothing like that anymore. So you’re getting a lot of this low and stable zone almost at the edge of the field because of the historical way that land has been managed.

Jay Famiglietti:
But you you can’t— You can’t just march into a meeting and say: “Hey, I’m Bruno. And like, look at this cool look at these cool maps I made.” Like, you have to be there. You have to build trust. Like you said, it sounds like you’re showing them the science. You’re figuring out ways to to get money in their pockets to incentivize them.

Jay Famiglietti:
That seems critical to me.

Bruno Basso:
That is definitely the way we’re getting the attention, because one of the first thing they need to understand from you that you are not an environmentalist fanaticist scientist, you know, trying to basically condemn them about too much nitrogen. And, you know, eating is an agricultural act, you know, so you have to be on the side of the farmers in the sense that: thank you, guys for being here.

Bruno Basso:
I mean, it’s a really tough life. Which job would depend on weather to make a living? I mean, it’s it’s like completely, you know, complex, unreliable, and they’ve been doing that. They’ve been feeding the world. We’ve been… be able to take people out of starvation. 2 billion people over the last 30 years have been able to be fed through technology, through the Green Revolution, new cultivars, responsive to fertilizers.

Bruno Basso:
Well, that’s part of the evolution. Now it’s coming back to us in the sense of degradation and resources, because… there is never an ending, you know, to to being greedy and that the level of things. But be able to tell them that priority for us is making sure the well-being is not just of the environment but of themselves first.

Bruno Basso:
So profitability is key. And this, that will be foolish for us to be here to say, “Why don’t you buy this technology that will cost a lot more than what you going to make?” And they will say, “Good God, where did you go to school?” You know, it’s that would not fly.

Jay Famiglietti:
Of course we should say that “CIBO” means “food” in Italian. And I say of course, because you told me.

Bruno Basso:
That’s right. Yes, “CIBO” means food. Then there was the priority of, when CIBO was being founded and I told them, I said, I care less about how this ends up in terms, you know, making money and all the other. This needs to help me translate what I’m doing in the lab.

Jay Famiglietti:
So what is what is what’s water? Is it agua?

Bruno Basso:
Acqua.

Jay Famiglietti:
Yes, acqua. So I have to form I have to [CROSSTALK] we can have.

Bruno Basso:
Exactly.

Jay Famiglietti:
CIBO plus aqua. Aqua equals sustainability. And [CROSSTALK] how do we say that in Italian?

Bruno Basso:
Well, that’s easy sostenibilità but it’s vita, vito, vital. It’s the life of ourselves. It’s the life of the planet. And it’s, it’s just we can never emphasize enough how important it is to do proper science. People believe in science. Science is… is real. We have no second agenda. And so if we trying to field someone, it’s not to sell anything else that our knowledge that you guys paid for through investment.

Jay Famiglietti:
Exactly. Yeah. Just having conversations like this where people realize like, you know what? It’s not like farmers versus cities. Like, we all need to eat. You know, growing food takes a lot of — it takes a lot of water. It takes a lot of nutrients, takes a lot of energy. And we need to do it sustainably. I mean, we need to keep this going forever.

Jay Famiglietti:
So, listen, we know that the majority of farms around the world are pretty small. In fact, you’ve told us that they’re smaller than the size of just three soccer fields.

Bruno Basso:
Correct.

Jay Famiglietti:
But those farms, and I didn’t realize this, grow a third of the world’s food. So when you’re talking about your technology, are you talking about small farmers? Are you talking about the large scale farms? Like I see when I go out to the prairies here I see monstrous farms. Who— do you have a target? Is it is it small?

Jay Famiglietti:
Is it large? Is it both?

Bruno Basso:
We will always have big farms that they are run that like enterprise and CIBO Technologies and all. You know, the advancement of image analysis can be implemented obviously on these large areas also because they are just much more readily available to digest the information — they’ve got the machinery to implement the change. But when you go — and you know this — I work a lot in smallholder farmers.

Jay Famiglietti:
So yeah. How do you get down to the scale of the these small farms? Not the huge corporate farms?

Bruno Basso:
Right. Well, technology still is going to be helpful to them. They are not the one they they could obviously afford to pay, you know, to use the technology. But they can use the information from technology. And so the way I work in low income countries is by building and training people in the government, in partnership, in using the model and running the model to evaluate the probability of outcomes and see, well, if you do something today, this is most likely what you’re going to get.

Bruno Basso:
That type of information is still driven by technology, but it can make a huge difference in the hand of a farmers that listens to some level of advice that comes from a local person and not for someone that doesn’t understand, you know, the context of the system. The other piece that I work on in developing countries is forecasting food.

Bruno Basso:
So be able to tell the, you know, the government that there will be areas that could be more shortages in one area versus another so they can intervene. So you can distill the complexity of the science into actionable items that gets transfer all the way to the single smallholder farmer.

Jay Famiglietti:
In the tech sector, there’s always discussion about scaling up. Scaling up. And so what do you see about the work of CIBO? Is it scalable?

Bruno Basso:
It is actually, again, a success because it’s a scalable platform by definition. So it takes— 

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah. What does that what does that look like?

Bruno Basso:
So you, you have a typical method that you will say, you know, Google Map, you can click on that particular field and you will learn about how much carbon can be stored over time if you were to do. But then you could move 3000 kilometers away and you click on another field and you will get a different answer, which is tailored for that particularly.

Bruno Basso:
So what do we do? How do we scale? We scale by using climate — which is different by any point in space and time — capturing soil — which is different one location to another. But the model is the same. Then the remote sensing components or imagery from space or any type of geospatial data brings these point-based runs or the spatial runs into a visualization.

Bruno Basso:
And so the simulation allows to reduce the risk because it’s it’s informing about the possibility of obtaining a certain level of outcome. And so now the companies are interested in these food shared areas because they are doing regenerative practices, they are reducing the emissions and they can claim, “Hey, I am buying I’m purchasing food from a sustainable group of farmers that have implemented.”

Bruno Basso:
And so you can go in another area, very different, different stateand so on. Then you will be able to say which one is really leading the way of sustainability.

Jay Famiglietti:
So, you know, you’ve got my brain firing on all kinds of joint research proposals that that we can write. So I’m looking forward to, to chatting with you after this. But, you know, I want to share with people that you’re you know, you are from Naples.

Bruno Basso:
Correct.

Jay Famiglietti:
And my family is from Naples. And you were talking about before about how, you know, you can’t just take a snapshot of a of a field.

Jay Famiglietti:
You need to look at it over time. And I have decided that if people look at snapshots of us, you and I, over time, they’re going to realize that that we’re only getting better.

Bruno Basso:
That’s right. We’re like the red wine. We get better with the time.

Jay Famiglietti:
Okay. Thanks so much for joining us today, Bruno.

Bruno Basso:
Well, thanks for inviting me.

Jay Famiglietti:
Bruno Basso is an internationally recognized agricultural system scientist. He is a Hannah Distinguished Professor and a University Foundation Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Michigan State University. He’s the co-founder of CIBO Technologies.

Jay Famiglietti:
When farms see shifting rain patterns and evaporation, what about water? What about doing more with less? That’s where drip irrigation comes in. It’s a low tech and more precise way of watering crops that doesn’t let a drop go to waste.

John Farner:
We need to look at how water is used across the board. But then for agriculture, we need to make sure we are using that water efficiently. Drip irrigation, when you think about it, is very simple. You have a tube or like a thin tape, and you have these little emitters and they’re like a little labyrinth where water goes through a final phase of filtration to ensure that the drip line does not get clogged and drips the water out at the little pole where the water needs to go at the root or below the surface.

John Farner:
If you are familiar with the kibbutz and the history of kibbutzim in Israel, they’ve historically relied on farming for their income. The Negev Desert, as you can imagine, does not get much water. So the kibbutz leadership got together and said, we need a better way to use the water we have available to us in irrigating our crops. And in doing so figured out that, if they just take a tube and essentially put some holes in it and drip out the water as opposed to spraying it towards the crops, they would get actually a better yield, a better quality crop with using a lot less water. And thus drip irrigation was invented on that kibbutz in the Negev Desert in Israel in 1965.

John Farner:
The food we eat depends on agriculture. We need to make sure we are using that water efficiently and embrace the technologies that are being developed whether it’s 1965 on Kibbutz Hatzirem in the Negev Desert, or in Silicon Valley of California yesterday. These are technologies that are advanced and should be adopted widely to make sure enough water is available for all of us in the future.

Jay Famiglietti:
That was John Farner. He is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Netafim, an Israeli company that emerged out of the invention and the need for drip irrigation.

Jay Famiglietti:
Well, I think I know what that means. It’s time to bring back our friend Erin.

Erin Stephens:
That’s right. It’s time for “Ask Jay”, where we bring your questions about water to our resident water expert, Jay. Before we get into some of those listener questions, I mean, don’t you just love Bruno? Not only is he this amazing guest, but I also learned he is a world class espresso maker.

Jay Famiglietti:
That was a great surprise to me. I visited Bruno over the summer and he has a little mocha pot, but he churns out some of the best espresso that I have ever had.

Erin Stephens:
I’m jealous, and I felt like we could smell it. Churning in his office, brewing right there with us even through the screen.

Jay Famiglietti:
And his colleagues actually do smell it. And they come to visit him as soon as they smell it.

Erin Stephens:
Most popular guy in the hall, I bet.

Jay Famiglietti:
Absolutely.

Erin Stephens:
Awesome. So we’ve got some questions here for you that we want to get into.

Jay Famiglietti:
Let’s do it.

Erin Stephens:
This first question comes to us from Los Angeles.

Tara from LA:
Hi, Jay. This is Tara from L.A.. I would like to plant a grass of sorts in my backyard, which is currently now dirt. But I’d like to pick a type of grass that doesn’t use too much water. Any recommendations?

Jay Famiglietti:
I do have a couple Tara. And I used to live in L.A., so I’m familiar with what works out there. I’ve actually had buffalo grass before, and that works really well. And also, the native California bentgrass is super popular. We have a link to an L.A. Times article that we’ll… that we’ll post on our site that can provide a little bit more information.

Erin Stephens:
That’s awesome. And I really like this question, too, because I’m not a homeowner right now, but I would like to be one day and I have thought about, you know, how can I not have to put a lot of water into my yard and not do a lot of upkeep? So those are great recommendations. And Tara actually had another question for you, Jay.

Tara from LA:
I also heard that the city puts much of its sewage in the ocean. I hear this is a common problem in cities across North America. Why is sewage put back in the ocean? Is there a safer place to put it or is it just a necessity? Why is so much poop and peeps put back in the ocean? Please help. Thank you.

Jay Famiglietti:
So it’s actually not a huge problem in the United States. It’s illegal to discharge raw sewage. Some older cities have sewage systems that need repair. And thanks to the rollbacks of the Trump administration — and there’s a huge eyeroll happening here right now.

Erin Stephens:
Right.

Jay Famiglietti:
Ummm… they’ve been allowed to delay their repairs and they negotiated some terms over which time periods over which they can do the repairs. There’s also places that have difficulty now during storms and floods and in overuse issues. But but these are being addressed. But in the U.S., it’s really a problem that is that is largely under control. In Canada, however, it’s a huge problem.

Jay Famiglietti:
And I always have difficulty wrapping my brain around it. Canada knowingly dumps about 200 billion liters of raw sewage into its rivers and off of its coast every year. To me, that’s a national embarrassment.

Erin Stephens:
Oh, my gosh. I had no idea. That is insane.

Jay Famiglietti:
And that’s why we “Ask Jay”. We just give you the straight the straight stuff here.

Erin Stephens:
Right. Well, it’s a good fact checking moment to about what’s happening here in the U.S. versus what’s happening in Canada. And I know we talked a little bit about that last year with Stella Bowles and learned that it was happening literally in her own backyard.

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah, it’s it’s crazy. But again, that’s why we do “Ask Jay”. We want to give you the straight scoop here [LAUGHS]

Erin Stephens:
[LAUGHS] Absolutely. So, you know, speaking of sewage and our wastewater, we have another question from a listener named Sandy about wastewater testing as it relates to COVID-19. She wrote in: “The only reports we get about COVID that are at least a little helpful are wastewater reports. So if it’s found in wastewater, why are there no COVID tests that are like pregnancy or F.I.T. tests instead of our current nose and throat ones?”

Jay Famiglietti:
Hey, that was a great question, Sandy. At this point in time, I think the answer is it just requires sophisticated lab equipment that we typically only have in universities or in commercial labs. I agree. I think it’s a great idea. It would be awesome if we could get these tests to be simplified so we could do tests that are similar to urine tests or the FIT tests.

Erin Stephens:
It really would. And Jay, you have a colleague, right, Markus Brinkmann, who works really closely on this stuff for the University of Saskatchewan, correct?

Jay Famiglietti:
That’s right. And we do weekly reports up here for the Saskatchewan River and the City of Saskatoon.

Erin Stephens:
Awesome. And if you have questions like these, send them to us at ideas@whataboutwater.org. No water questions are off the table. Or too silly to ask. So please send them in. And you might hear your question on the air.

Jay Famiglietti:
Thanks, Erin. Great as usual.

Erin Stephens:
Thanks so much.

Jay Famiglietti:
That’s it for this episode of “What About Water?” We record and produce this podcast on Treaty Six Territory, The Homeland of First Nations and Métis people. “What About Water?” is a collaboration between The Walrus Lab and the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. This podcast is a production of Cascade Communications.

Jay Famiglietti:
Our audio engineer is Wayne Giesbrecht. Our producer is Erin Stephens. The crew at GWS is Mark Ferguson, Shawn Ahmed, Fred Reibin, Andrea Rowe and Jesse Witow. I’m Jay Famiglietti. Thanks for listening.