The World Wildlife Fund states that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages and ecosystems around the world will suffer even more. In addition, an excess of 6.5 billion people are projected to live in cities by 2050, according to recent UN estimates. The sustainability problem of water scarcity is mounting at a global scale but solutions require highly localized implementation. We are well beyond mere civil engineering matters at this point and pressures are also growing for cities to get “smart.” This means that looking to improve water and wastewater management, power generation, and urban demands on rural agricultural production are at the top of the list. The matter of addressing water scarcity involved many stakeholders – householders, residential and commercial property owners, industrial operations, municipalities, water utilities, regulators, policy makers, lawyers, ecosystems, and farming communities.
This matter of water access is an age old one and has made the big screen more than once (think back to 1974 and the movie Chinatown) but today water is increasingly being managed like a commodity (think the documentary Water & Power: A California Heist) and has become a driver of fear to the point of perception that we’re on the bring of a age of water wars. To date the value of predictive analytics and maintenance of water based assets has been touted as an area of great hope for these concerns but many of these management approaches and their associated methodologies have sought to conserve water, reduce scheduling of repairs costs, maintenance efforts, and eliminate failures without accounting for many “soft” factors. Worse, these tactics neglect lower hanging fruit that is readily available. For example, during a period of about 18 months during the years 2013-2015 the largest provider of water and wastewater services in the United Kingdom, Thames Water, worked with Accenture to try to figure out how to best use sensors, analytics, and real-time data to “help the utility company anticipate equipment failures and respond more quickly to critical situations, such as leaks or adverse weather events.” A good and necessary start but far from systemic when considering the scale of implementation plans needed for the years 2025 to 2050.
Today water management and smart water sensing technologies exist even for the DIY home owner and this is indeed a great place to start. It’s low hanging fruit like residential consumers that can lead to increasingly addressing other higher volume end points of water consumption. Installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is nearly a dead ringer for water utilities so they can better mange for otherwise they’re unable to measure and that’s a death spiral nobody can afford these days. The growing pressures on infrastructure that urbanization will bring with it are well known and so to get a smart city one must prepare for growth in commensurate ways that are also able to process the worldwide urbanization phenomena. Smart water sensing technologies and in turn the education of water consumers is a logical place to start for at scale impact.