A Primer On Water Management Issues

IBM Water Mgmnt Icon Today is Blog Action day at water.org.  It's a good time to get the word out to everyone on water management issues. Read more about water.org's blog action day at Blog Action Day – Working Together To Solve The Water Crisis.  This post is my contribution to the Blog Action Day.

Most of us reading this post take our access to water for granted.  However, I would imagine that we all realize that water is critical to sustaining life on our planet.  Water makes up 60 to 70% by weight of all living organisms and is essential for photosynthesis.  If the Earth’s water supply vanished, there would be no plants, no animals, and no people. 

While the Earth’s water is not vanishing, many scientists believe that our global water supply is in crisis.  We may or may not be at the crisis stage, but we definitely need to take action to solve our water management issues.

Some Quick Facts About WaterWater Wasted

  • Water covers 75% of the earth's surface.  Nearly 98% of the earth's water is in the oceans.  Fresh water makes up less than 3% of water on earth, over two thirds of this is tied up in polar ice caps and glaciers.  Fresh water lakes and rivers make up only 0.009% of water on Earth and ground water makes up 0.28%.
  • It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt, 2,000 gallons to make one gallon of milk, and 39,000 gallons to make a car.
  • Global agriculture wastes an estimated 60% of the 2,500 trillion liters it uses each year. 
  • Municipalities lose as much as 50% of their water supply through leaky infrastructure.  
  • More than one trillion gallons of water are wasted in U.S. homes each year from easy-to-fix leaks.
  • 1 in 5 of the word’s population still lacks access to clean, safe drinking water. 
  • The United Nations predicts that nearly half the world’s population will experience critical water shortages by the year 2080.
  • There are nearly 53,000 different water agencies in the United States alone, each managing a short stretch of river or a handful of reservoirs. 
  • In the last 100 years global water usage has increased at twice the rate of population growth.

For those of us living in developed nations, our water infrastructure is many decades old.  In fact, in some places it is centuries old.  As our demand for water is increasing, we need to modernize the existing infrastructure.  One way to do that is to apply information technology.

Today’s water management systems are operating without enough data and insights.   The planet needs new water management systems, based on smart technology that can collect and analyze real-time data.  These new systems will provide water authorities with the insights they need to supply more water to more people with lower energy-use and cost. 

How Can Technology Help?

What is needed are water management systems that can provide real time collection and analysis of all sources of data.  This includes integrating disparate sensor technologies that produce disparate data formats along with other data from an array of partners.  Information technology solutions are needed that can take data that’s coming in fast and turn it into intelligence that augments the ability to improve decision making about water distribution.  These solutions need to connect the folks in the central control room with those working in the field building bridges, dams, dykes to the sensor experts and sophisticated modelers.

  • Technology can monitor, measure and analyze entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes.
  • The latest water meters, combined with appropriate Water Management solutions can provide a single, reliable, up-to-the minute and actionable view of water use for a government, a business, or a home.   These ‘smart’ water meters can provide real-time insight into water use, raising awareness, locating inefficiencies and decreasing demand.
  • Advanced sensors can help us collect all sorts of new data on water usage.  For example, sensors on levees can monitor changing flood conditions and respond accordingly.  Sensor based systems can provide the agriculture industry with detailed information on air quality, soil moisture content and temperature to calculate optimal irrigation schedules.
  • Advanced computing, analytics, and simulations can help us all move beyond “real time” to prediction, supporting better-informed policy and management decisions.
  • Technology can also be applied to our oceans to gather data on water temperature, currents, wave strength, salinity and marine life, and applying algorithms that can forecast everything from wave patterns over 24 hours to the right time to harvest mussels.

IBM Water Management Solution Areas

IBM is taking a leadership role among technology vendors in researching, piloting and developing a whole suite of water management solutions.  Taking a look at what IBM is doing can help us see the areas where technology can be applied to solve water management issues

  • Natural Water Resources – Provides sensor data integration, analysis and visualization to enable the measurement, modeling and management of water levels, usage and quality in natural water resources.
  • Water Utilities – Enables water providers to make rapid decisions regarding business processes and operational efficiency to maximize their return on investments as well as foresee and quickly respond to contamination issues and emergencies.
  • Water Infrastructure – Provides sensing systems for managing water infrastructure, such as levee oversight management and flood control.
  • Water Metering – Improves management of water supply and demand by integrating data between the dozens of stakeholders involved. Provides all stakeholders with consistent, real-time information to help them work together to make critical decisions about water supply in a geographic region.
  • Green Sigma for Water™ – is a business consulting service that identifies where water is being used, measures and monitors usage, and creates process improvements to reduce water use. IBM pilots have achieved reductions in water usage of 30%.
  • SmartBay Sensor System – Monitors wave conditions, marine life and pollution levels.  Provide real-time information to stakeholders in the Irish maritime economy, runs on a cloud computing platform, and is able to predict water conditions critical to those stakeholders.

Innovative Water Management Vendors

The Artemis Project held its second annual Artemis Project Top 50 Water Companies Competition during the spring of 2010.   These vendors are all coming up with some very innovative and creative solutions to Water Management issues.  Check out the winners:  A list of the 50 is here.   View a poster show of this year’s winners here.

What Is Needed

More work is needed as we transform the water infrastructure to digital technology:

  • Continue to Build Awareness for Water Issues.  Many in leadership positions are not aware of the critical need for water management information technology solutions.
  • Continue Market Testing & Solutions Platform Development.  Technology vendors need to continue to build assets and test solution platforms.  Stronger linkages are needed across the growing ecosystem.
  • Continue to Build Thought Leadership Deliverables.  Tech vendors need to develop content highlighting case studies, references, demonstrations, and white papers.

For More Information

There is a bunch of more reading material available.  Here some links…