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Smarter Water Management

Whether too much or not enough, the world needs a smarter way to think about water

First U.S. project to address severe drought focuses on Northern California wine country

The Russian River winds southward in a series of sweeping bends, draining almost 1,500 square miles of Northern California. It is the primary source of water in the region and a popular destination for kayakers, canoeists and anglers. Along its flood plains, vineyards produce award-winning chardonnays, pinot noirs and other wine varietals. And like the rest of California, the basin is parched after four years of serious drought.

To help manage the demands on the strained water supply infrastructure, IBM and the Sonoma County Water Agency are creating a sophisticated system that draws upon near real-time information from a variety of sources including retail water providers, meters, geographical and system map views and weather data.

The system consolidates and analyzes the data and makes it available through a Web portal. Dashboards provide a collective view and new levels of insight into the overall status of the system.


A series of conversations for a smarter planet


Water Management – Water has an image problem

Many people believe it’s cheap and abundant. But due to our current water management systems, one in five people on the planet do not have adequate access to safe, clean drinking water.

Though the total amount of water on this planet has never changed, the nature of that water is changing. Everything from where rain falls to the chemical makeup of the oceans is in flux. And these changes are forcing us to ask some very difficult questions about how and where we live and do business.

Left to its own devices, the earth has a near perfect, self-regulating water management system. We all remember the lessons at school: water evaporates from the ocean and forms clouds. Those clouds drift over the land and produce rain. The rainwater flows into lakes, rivers or aquifers. The water in lakes, rivers and aquifers then either evaporates back to the atmosphere or eventually flows back to the ocean, completing a cycle.

But mankind has thrown a spanner in the works.

Every time we interact with water, we change it, redirect it or otherwise alter its state.

Though it’s a worldwide entity, water is treated as a regional issue. There is no global market and very little international exchange. “Water is about quantity, quality, space and time,” says Ian Cluckie, Professor of Hydrology and Water Management at the University of Bristol, in the IBM Global Innovation Outlook report on water management. “Whether you have a big problem or not depends entirely on where you live.”

But with innovation comes inspiration. With advances in technology — sophisticated sensor networks, smart meters, deep computing and analytics — we can be smarter about how we manage our planet’s water. We can monitor, measure and analyse entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes. We can give all the people, organisations, businesses, communities and nations dependent on a continuing supply of freshwater - that is, all of us - a single, reliable, up-to-the-minute and actionable view of water use. But that’s just the first drop.

Water Management - It takes... 10 litres of water to make one sheet of paper - 40 litres of water to make one slice of bread - 140 litres of water to make one cup of coffee - 10,855 litres of water to make one pair of jeans - 1,300 litres of water to make one kilogram of wheat - 15,500 litres of water to make one kilogram of beef - 4,800 litres of water to make one kilogram of pork - 16,600 litres of water to make one kilogram of leather - 91 litres of water to make one pound of plastic - 120 litres of water to make one glass of wine - 70 litres of water to make one apple - 80 litres of water per dollar of industrial product The amount of water used by the average UK citizen is 150 litres every day. The UK government would like each citizen to reduce their water consumption by 20% over the next 20 years.


New ways to make water management smarter

A drop to drink: An IBM Research breakthrough in purification and desalination could enable clean water for more of the world.

Go fish: Advanced sensors and real-time analytics are making the bay in Galway, Ireland, smarter.

Smarter water management: It takes 35 gallons of water to make a cup of coffee. Water management needs to be smarter.

Watch videos A drop to drink Go Fish Go Fish


To manage, we have to measure
Municipalities commonlylose as much as 50 percent of their water supply through leaky infrastructure.

Other IBM efforts are similarly aimed at preserving and protecting clean water for drinking, bathing, electric power, industrial manufacturing, food and the irrigation of crops. In New York, for example, the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries (US) is working with IBM to deploy the River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON), with floating sensors along the Hudson River as part of a monitoring and preservation study. The goal is to be able to understand, in realtime, how the river responds to everything from storms to droughts to human interaction.


If we can predict, we can better protect
Every year global agriculture wastes an estimated 60 of the 2500 trillion litres it uses.

IBM and the Nature Conservancy are building advanced Web-based tools for river basin management. Working with researchers from IBM, they are running computer simulations in a geospatial 3D environment to help users visualise the possible effects of different land use and water use policy scenarios on ecosystem services and biodiversity.


Expertise flows uphill and down

IBM has opened two Centers of Excellence in Water Management. One project in Ireland (US) has developed a project called SmartBay Galway. It will collect a steady stream of realtime data on water quality, aquaculture, chemical content, wave energy and tidal movement, helping local fisherman manage shellfish crops and beach patrols watch for riptides or jellyfish schools.

The Amsterdam Center will play a key role in delivery of the Dutch Government's Flood Control 2015 (US) water innovation programme. Under the programme, participants from Dutch businesses as well as education and government agencies will collaborate with the goal of preventing low lying delta areas from flooding.

Optimising our water management is no longer an aspirational exercise. It requires expertise in science, modelling and understanding complex systems to improving water quality, preservation and resource management. In other words, it demands smart water systems for a smarter planet.