“Digital Water” Means Better Quality, Supply
Historically, water supply has exceeded demand, and there was little need to monitor water data.
This is changing, and the information, communication, and technology sector — known as ICT — is playing a key role in addressing better use of the water we have.
Water scarcity coupled with poor quality impacts development and social well-being. Economic impacts of Brazil’s lack of rain led the Wall Street Journal to state,
“The biggest shock will come from food costs because the ongoing drought is pushing up the price of fruits and vegetables.”
Economists also noted that water scarcity impacts electricity prices, as hydropower is replaced with expensive fossil fuels.
California continues to deal with persistent negative impacts to its farmers. The economic loss from water scarcity to the agricultural sector was approximately 17,000 jobs in 2014 and $3 billion in 2015. And like Brazil, California’s ratepayers spent $1.4 billion more for electricity than in average years because of the drought-induced shift from hydropower to natural gas.
Social well-being is also impacted by water scarcity and poor quality. Nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water supplies and almost 4 billion people live in water scarce or stressed regions. And globally hundreds of thousands of people die annually because of poor water quality.
Projections of water demand versus supply, under business as usual conditions, indicate an estimated 40 percent gap by 2030. The Water Resources Group concludes that “there is little indication that, left to its own devices, the water sector will come to a sustainable, cost-effective solution to meet the growing water requirements implied by economic and population growth.”
There will be difficult choices in the allocation of water. We close the gap by moving away from business as usual in technology, policy, governance, business models, and funding strategies.
This change will be driven by the application of better water data collection and analytics. The ICT sector will need to be an essential innovator. “Digital water,” enabled by the Internet of Things, big data, and artificial intelligence, will help address 21st century water challenges.
The water sector has a long way to go before digital applications are fully integrated into both supply and demand management solutions. Let’s examine two promising examples of digital-water solutions, with water utilities and agriculture.
For utilities, the ability for data to identify actions in advance of system failure has enormous advantages. These include the descriptive (backward-looking analysis to tell us what happened), the diagnostic (what and why an event occurred), the predictive (analysis of what might happen in the future), and the prescriptive (forward-looking analysis and recommendations).
Utilities’ predictive analytics solutions driven by deployment of sensors are now used to better manage assets. Asset care for utilities is typically focused on water main failure prediction, small pipe failure prediction, intelligent network operation, sewer corrosion predictions, active leak detection, and water demand analysis.
For example, the Salt River Project in Arizona is using machine sensor data to predict when turbines need maintenance. The Australian North South Interconnection Project is using sensors and predictive analytics to increase operational flexibility, supply reliability, capacity, and drought security. The city of Syracuse, New York, is testing technology that predicts water main breaks by listening for small leaks.
Agriculture makes up the majority of global water demand, making water efficiency critical. Again, digital water has an important role to play in integrated data acquisition and Internet of Things solutions. The ability to fully integrate satellite data with aerial, drone, and on-the-ground sensors is gaining traction.
DroneDeploy is one company working to simplify the creation and analysis of data in the agricultural sector via a software program for mobile phones. DroneDeploy offers opportunities to agricultural companies to cut time and costs associated with managing large areas of land without the technological learning that both drone use and data processing can often require.
When considering the role of digital-water technologies in addressing 21st century water issues one needs to be reminded of the Global e-Sustainability Initiatives launched by the ICT community several years ago. The “Smarter 2030 Report” outlines the positive impact of the ICT sector in addressing sustainability challenges generally.
The ICT sector is poised to do the same for water that it has done for addressing energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.