by Sharon Nunes
Have you ever thought that one day you might turn on a faucet and no water would come out? Did you ever consider that getting a glass of water from a restaurant could cost money? While these scenarios might seem far-fetched today, a water crisis is looming — and if we don’t get serious about smarter water management, it can – and will – become a reality.
The world’s population tripled in the 20th century, and according to the World Water Council, the use of renewable water resources has grown sixfold in that timeframe. Within the next fifty years, the world population is expected to increase by another 40 to 50 percent. This population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water. But overall, little has been done to address this crucial issue. Consider the Clean Water Act of 1972. Although it was put into place to create an era of technological innovation, the promise is still largely unfulfilled.
In his recent speech ushering in the Decade of Smart, our chairman, Sam Palmisano, pointed out that applying smarter technologies to drive cost out of legacy systems and institutions—doing more with less—would be critical to near-term and long-term economic prospects. He emphasized that we need to do more than extend the useful lifetime of our infrastructures – we must ensure that next-generation systems are inherently more efficient, flexible and resilient.
Up to 50 percent of usable water is lost due to leaky pipes. To put this into perspective, imagine that when you fill up your car with gas, half of that gas drips to the ground, wasted, instead of flowing into your tank. The good news is that there are many ways to extend the useful lifetime of our water infrastructures around the world – and to look at water management in new ways and build new, smarter systems that take into account the true value of this critical resource.
For example, IBM is working with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to provide deep insight into the management of their water supply and usage so they can improve the quality of their water while reducing the costs associated with minimizing pollution. SFPUC, which treats an average of 80-90 million gallons of wastewater per day during dry weather and up to 370 million gallons of combined wastewater and storm runoff per day during the rainy season, is working with IBM to develop smarter management of the city’s 1,000 miles of sewer system and three treatment facilities.
We are also working with water utilities around the world – in Europe, Australia, China, Japan, to name a few – to help improve the availability and quality of drinking water and to help add efficiency to the management of water management systems.
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 analyze entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes. We can give all the people, organizations, businesses, communities and nations dependent on a continuing supply of freshwater—that is, all of us—a single, reliable, up-to-the-minute view of the way we use water. And by doing so, we can help build a sustainable, smarter planet.
Sharon Nunes is vice president of IBM Big Green Innovations, a portfolio of environmentally-focused initiatives at IBM.