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Smarter Water

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

Watch the video: Easing the California drought (00:02:15)

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 analyses 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

Current water management systems adversely affect one in five people on the planet

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 system. We all remember the lessons from grade 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 (US). "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.


6,5 billion drops in the bucket. The hydrologic cycle has moved water around the world for thousands of years. But man's increasing interaction with that cycle has added 
several layers of complexity and consequence. Agriculture: Heavy irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide runoff from farms pollute rivers and groundwater. Energy: Hydroelectric
dams disrupt river ecosystems. Sewage: Untreated effluence can infect water supploes, but treatment of wastewater is energy intensive and increases carbon emissions. Domestic
use: Urban demands on reservoirs and rivers redirect the natural flow of freshwater. Extraction: Removing groundwater in coastal areas reduces water pressure underground, allowing
saltwater to intrude and mix with freshwater reserves. Carbon emissions: Carbom dioxide in the atmosphere is sequestered by the oceans, raising water acidity levels. Fishing:
Overfishing can deplete critical food supplies and forever alter water ecosystems. Shipping: Boats release ballast water thousands of miles from where it was collected, introducing
potentially harmful species to new ecosystems.


There are nearly 53,000 water agencies in the United States alone. But there is no coordination of these agencies, despite the fact that they are all managing a shared resource. There is no sharing of data to achieve a holistic view of the entire watershed or water ecosystem.

Through a combination of information gathering technology and analytics tools, global water management can be transformed, indeed reborn. IBM's efforts are aimed at preserving and protecting clean water for drinking, bathing, electric power, food, industrial manufacturing and the irrigation of crops.

New ways to make water smarter

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

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

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

A drop to drink. Watch the video. Go Fish. Watch the video. Smarter water management. Watch the video.

A drop to drink. Watch the video. Go fish. Watch the video. Smarter water management. Watch the video.


To manage, we have to measure. River and Estuart Observatory Network. Visualising  the unseen river. More.

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 real time, how the river responds to everything from storms to droughts to human interaction.


If we can predict, we can better protect. Visualisation and forecasting tools felicitate more sustainable management of the world's great rivers, including Brazil's Paraguay - Paraná river system.

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.