Silicon Valley aims to help drought-stricken California

Thermal image of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
Source: TerrAvion

The three-year drought in California is making history, and not in a good way. It's officially the worst drought on record for the state, already costing over $2 billion and 17,000 jobs.

Now start-ups from Silicon Valley, like the neighboring farms and residents, are trying to alleviate the problem.

At the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California, the company's head of grower relations, Lise Asimont, says the drought is a huge concern and worries that if this three-year drought stretches to four or five years there will be even more significant problems.

"It could be a compounding issue for us that could keep continuing on and if that should happen, perhaps in a couple of years we would really see the impact on wine grapes," she tells CNBC.

The winery has teamed up with start-up TerrAvion, which has received funding from incubator Y-Combinator, a company that flies manned aircraft over farmland and gives growers thermal images that can show farmers potential trouble spots when it comes to irrigation.

TerrAvion's CTO, Cornell Wright, says demand for its services is strong. "We see a lot of interest from growers because of the drought, and it definitely helps them find irrigation leaks and manage water more effectively."

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Coppola Winery, one of TerrAvion's first customers, has seen results.

"After having that technology, we have been able to fine-tune it so much more finely that now we have so much more confidence and comfort in how we irrigate. It has changed everything for us."

But it's not just on the farm where tech start-ups and big-name investors are hoping to help when it comes to this water crisis.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
Justin Solomon | CNBC

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WaterSmart Software, which has received funding from the likes of The Westly Group and Menlo Ventures, works with water utilities to supply detailed, easy-to-understand information to customers on their water use. For example: showing how much water one home may be using versus another of the same size.

Jeff Lipton of WaterSmart Software says: "You can in some way think of WaterSmart as a virtual reservoir. As people are prompted through this social comparison approach to use less water to improve their water efficiency, you are effectively creating more reserves in the reservoirs for other people to use."

Expect more from Silicon Valley as this water crisis continues, not just from entrepreneurs but from investors.

Scott Bryan, COO of ImagineH2O, tells CNBC: "As our water resources are squeezed, we are going to see more interest from investors and entrepreneurs. I think that's a good thing, if it's not too little, too late."