The Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service has unveiled a new computer application that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to better forecast water supply in the arid West. 

The primary goal of the new technology is to help producers in the American West use increasingly tight water resources more effectively while protecting the shared natural environment.

The program, known as the multi-model machine learning metasystem, or M4would be the largest migration of artificial intelligence into real-world river prediction programs, according to Sean Fleming, the applied R&D technical lead, water and climate services team at the NRCS National Water and Climate Center in Portland, Oregon.

As farmers, ranchers, foresters, and water managers in the West face extreme and debilitating drought conditions, accurate water forecasts have become critical to their operations by helping guide choices like crop selection, water rights rentals, and whether or not to leave land fallow. 

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Since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, NRCS has helped producers plan for their operations through the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast program. But as margins between water supply and water demand narrow, improved accuracy in these programs is needed to reflect tighter margins due to climate change and population growth. 

The value of water managed using these forecasts is in the billions of dollars. But with the use of artificial intelligence in the M4 program, changes in accuracy of these programs can help create over $100 million a year in public benefit for just one river basin.

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