Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
January, 22nd 2010

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.

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Posted by: Asshole Dumby
September 16, 2013
2:03 am

Can you please update the article its a little old with the numbers..

Posted by: Water Damage Walnut Creek
April 11, 2012
3:07 am

That information is a little outdated. Would you mind doing a little update for us?

Posted by: seo optimizavimas
February 7, 2012
3:48 am

they say that water is the second expensive liquid after oil

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July 1, 2011
3:17 am

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Posted by: Manjeesh
May 1, 2011
9:08 am

Watermeiser corp. has patented a 5-second toilet leak detection system. Toilets consume more then 30% of all indoor household water and up to 10% of total household water is lost through leaking toilets. Think about large old Apartments with all those toilets. One case that they were called out for to test revealed something like 237 leaking toilets out of 257 toilets!

Posted by: Petar
November 23, 2010
11:27 pm

Although water management and conservation are noble objectives, what is being done in the technology arena to turn otherwise undrinkable water into consumable water? What about that technology I heard about in the space program turning urine into consumable water? Maybe space exploration and reaching other planets is the ultimate solution. I suspect earth will run out of other resources in addition to water.

Posted by: David
November 23, 2010
3:00 pm

There is still so much waste and so much misuse of water. With every mcmansion having an acre lawn we’re in big trouble. Hopefully people catch on soon!

water ionizers

Posted by: Shane
November 15, 2010
8:14 am

But saying that, good water management does need to be put inplace, maybe the government need to put something in place and I mean something other than a hose pipe ban?? :)

Posted by: Brian Marconi
November 15, 2010
7:44 am

Issues like this take money, time and effort. I know that all of this needs to be sorted, but things like this dont happen over night.

Posted by: Brian Marconi
November 1, 2010
9:37 am

Truly, we ought to think of sustainable water source for the next generations to come. Water supply may not be utmost concern for most people today, but this may soon change gradually with the increase of population and demand.

We owe it to the next generation to pave the way for sustainable water for them. I can’t stress more the importance of recycled water especially to those places where natural sources are scarce.

Should we wait for the “crisis” to become a reality, I believe we shouldn’t. Conserve water now!

Posted by: Stephanie Jacobs
October 11, 2010
12:07 pm

I do agree that water management is not our only or our biggest issue, but it is an issue.
Hm…I guess I’ll have to make a habit out of using a mug while I brush my teeth, or closing the tap.

Posted by: Alex
August 12, 2010
9:49 am

I think anyone at the forefront of putting technology in place to conserve water should be awarded a Nobel peace prize! In the past, wars were often fought over Oil, in the future it will be Water. With climate change, will come ever increasing droughts and coupled with population dynamics and the advances in the economies of third world countries giving rise to increased consumerism and consequently increased industrial production, water supplies will become even more threatened.

I quite liked David’s challenging question “Why does the water in our rivers run off to the sea?…Why can’t it be captured and pumped back into our resevoirs.

I think the environmentalists would have a full blown panic attack! Salinity levels would change in our coastal regions and whole eco systems would be wiped out. No, I agree with you, we must find technology to save what we have. There is plenty of water on our blue planet; it’s just a case of looking after what we have and doing the right thing….

That will take more than good will; it will involve cross border co-operation, lots of effort and even more money. Now that’s a challenge for a society hell bent on taking and not giving!

Posted by: Joanna
August 6, 2010
9:40 am

I have to agree, we clearly have a problem in the UK. When you consider the amount of rainfall we get in the winter, then as soon as summer comes around a hose ban seems to come into force. That would indicate to most, that the water is disappearing somewhere along the line.

Saying that – I would assume the figures are a lot higher than is advertised.

We have a massive issue with recycling in the UK and if I’m honest, there seems to be very few pointers when you get on the net to try and educate yourself.

I’ve been looking in to the waste removal in London and what happens to it once it leaves our doors. It’s hard to image that in the 21st century we are still doing so little with recycling. The figures state that approximately 60% of what we throw into our bins is recyclable – yet we continue to throw without a second thought.

Sure there are solutions/ options to do with wastage and recycling, but unfortunately they are not very well publicised.

Posted by: mali
August 3, 2010
6:29 am

Whether you drink bottle water, tap water, or filtered water, what makes the water you drink a “healthy water”? Many people realize that the quality of their drinking water is not ideal. Maybe it’s the taste or odor. Perhaps it’s the various chemicals in the water (some are added on purpose and some are from pollution). Some people think that the dissolved minerals in the water are good and others think they’re bad.

The end result is confusion…
So Building a Smarter Planet, thank you for this informative item.

Posted by: Vanessa
July 31, 2010
2:49 pm

The importance of communities having enough water is easy enough to understand, but the QUALITY of that water is the real issue. Water is the single most important resource for the human body and is involved in every function, so even when regular tap water is plentiful, is it actually the BEST you can drink for optimal health? Question what’s in your water and where it comes from, not just how long the supply will last.

Posted by: Alkaline Water Drinker
July 29, 2010
1:22 pm

It seems many of the cities and states with the least amount of rain that have to purchase water from other states aren’t really doing much to address these issues. But in addition to water supply issues the amount of toxic chemicals in the water is another issue. People are getting sick and diseased right here in the US from the water. A water ionization system is a definite step in the right direction.

Posted by: rnoel
July 27, 2010
3:03 pm

Things like this take time and effort. I know that allot of this needs to be addressed, but we can not just jump in with both feet either.

Posted by: Pete the Water Ionizer Guy
July 27, 2010
3:01 pm

What do you think we would do with out water management as a whole. I know that things need to be changed, but we also have to take baby steps and look at the bigger picture. These things take time and planning and I know I do not have the answers, but allot of thought needs go to into it.

Posted by: Pete the Water Ionizer Guy
July 26, 2010
4:40 am

Can any body answer this.
Why does the water in our rivers run off to the sea?…
Why can’t it be captured and pumped back into our resevoirs..
End of uk droughts forever.


Posted by: David
February 10, 2010
7:58 am

I’m sure that we are where we are in terms of water infrastructure for sound reasons from those making investment decisions points of view. And in that vein, it makes sense for water companies to lobby for consumers to pay for a fix to their situation (too many leaks) by reducing demand through water meters. Consumers have limited lobbying capacity or real awareness of the situation (and cannot pay IBM to help them).

I live in Kent and I won’t be happy if the local authority’s approach to increasing capacity for new builds imposed by central government is to get existing water users to fund meters to reduce existing demand :-)

I’m sure that if the UK water industry were opened up for a bit more competition (it’s been privatised as a series of monopolies), we’d soon see the picture change. Certainly the costs of other utilities has fallen dramatically where monopolies have been broken (eg telecoms, gas), but not where they’ve been kept (eg water, rail, buses).

I wonder if there’s a win around making the energy consumption of water more flexible to mop up the capacity fluctuations that we’re going to get from wind power.

Posted by: Tim
February 2, 2010
2:03 pm

Certainly as we watch the aftermath in Haiti, we must be thinking of the ALWAYS constant catastrophes that will continue on our planet. Now what opportunities do we have to organize chaos, organized chaos is one thing, but how about before it gets to that phase. It is apparent that populations need to get out of the way quickly and transported to “safe places” that have bare essentials. People are reluctant to leave without their families in tow. How do we make it ok, and commit that they will be brought together at within a certain timeframe. What do we do upon birth to make it possible to create safe havens for data that can be accessed if we were in have chips implanted at birth in all people everywhere on the planet. How do we then best go through these devestated areas to gather the injured, bury the dead and then remove all rubble how do we best start rebuilding. I do not think that governments can do this! I do not think that giving large sums of money to governments can solve this. Businesses must do this work. it starts with making it ok for the survivors to move away from the place of devestation as a 1st step. But what can we do to organize chaos before it is organized. What is the first step. Why don’t we work on this in IBM.

Posted by: Kathleen Hamill
February 1, 2010
6:06 pm


I’m not sure that’s the whole story, although I guess it may be part of it. I have not lived in the UK for some years and may be out of touch, but I always understood that the issue with UK leakage was the investment climate imposed on water utilities when they were in the public sector. Water was not priced sufficiently to generate the benchmark return on investment – it was therefore deemed a better use of capital to let water leak and fix the major incidents. Now water is largely privatized, the same mentality has persisted, making the backlog even larger – just as people are realizing the value of fixing such leaks.

I do know, also, that the counties of Sussex and Kent remain very concerned about the water impact of housing development.

Posted by: Peter Williams
January 30, 2010
5:39 pm

Peter, Thanks for your examples. As far as I can see, only the first and the last is much to do with water, although your point about the wastefulness of water utilities is well made. I don’t think that there’s any issue with correct pricing and suitable property rights to address many of the points you make. Property rights and pricing are hardly issues for a smarter planet, unless I’ve missed the context of the messages.

I believe that it’s still the case that tap water is cleaner than most bottled water, which provides a very quick opportunity to improve the overall economic well being :-)

I’m assuming that your reference to Adam Smith refers to his ‘Wealth of Nations’ a very fine series of books. I particularly liked his analyses of the the herring industry and how labourers’ wages dictated the size of their families, including his observations on the state of clothing and shoes in England and Scotland.

My concern comes from the leakage issue and how water stress is estimated in UK. As far as I can see, partly since water distribution and treatment are handled as regulated monopolies, there is a strong incentive for water companies to get customers to fund fixing the pipes by distorting the expected water stress. An anomoly in the measurements that I’ve seen (mainly in official EU documents) is the use of the Water Extraction Index, which takes no account of water re-use. Using the WEI, SE UK looks like it’s already under stress. However, since 70% of water is recycled (according to the water companies), the actual river extraction rate is quite low. There is a small increase in the population, but there is fall in manufacturing industries and cities such as London have a rising water table. The only really stressed UK area that I can see is East Anglia, and there the stress is due to farming, not consumers.

I cannot help but feel that there’s a propaganda war to create a false crisis and ensure unnecessary extra costs on consumers, and to divert attention away from the rule breaking leakage levels.

There is nothing that consumers can do to help others’ water issues, unlike, say reducing CO2 output, which would be a general good.

I’d love to be shown where I’m wrong here so that I can put my resources where they improve the commonwealth (to use another 18th Century term).

Posted by: Tim
January 28, 2010
12:59 pm

Tim, water is to some extent a local problem, and you are right to identify the lack of appropriate pricing to be a significant issue (as did Adam Smith in 1776, by the way). That said, however, consider the following:

- South eastern England is one of many areas in the world likely to be acutely water-stressed within 20 years (along with about half the population of the globe, in fact). Water recycling does not replace water withdrawals anywhere in the world that I am aware of, with the possible exception of Singapore. And where it partially replaces it the recycled stuff does not have the same selection of trace elements and minerals as the original and it can change the ecosystem accordingly.

- Water is essential to energy generation – both in France and in the US, for example, within the last 5 years there have been several shutdowns of nuclear power-stations as there was not enough water to cool them.

- Energy is essential to water movement and treatment – it takes about 3% of the UK’s total electricity output to move and treat its water, for example. So inefficiency with water (such as the 40%+ that some utilities lose through leaking pipes) is not just a waste of water, it’s a waste of energy and a significant contribution to green-house gasses.

- New water quality issues are coming to the fore all the time, for example with pharmaceuticals. For instance, a safe product given to patients as an x-ray contrast agent, Iopamidol, can decompose in the presence of organic compounds in sewage and chlorine compounds used for sewage processing to form iodated-cyanogens, which are among the most geno- and cyto-toxic compounds that have ever been measured (the stuff damages DNA – and thus future generations – at parts per trillion levels). There is no known form of detection for these byproducts apart from complex and expensive lab tests.

- Valuation of the ecosystem services provided by water resources frequently identifies that the value of intact resources is significantly in excess of the value derived from their consumption or impairment. I don’t personally know of any UK examples, but there are plenty from other places (for example, Vermont and British Columbia).

- The whole issue of virtual water is a massive drain on some countries’ water resources. Every beefburger requires up to 2000 litres of water to produce, for example, that is then exported out of the area with the product. Tracking these virtual flows and replacing the sources of water consumption with other economic activities (shutting down beef production in this case and finding something to replace it) would appear to be essential to making sure that some areas will continue to have enough water. This is not a trivial exercise, least of all in the absence of properly priced water.

For these reasons, IBM does not underestimate the significance of water issues! We would be happy to discuss further. In the meantime we are intent on creating solutions to many of the issues above, and others related to effective water management”

Posted by: Peter Williams
January 27, 2010
5:40 pm

I must say that I cannot see the issue with water. Surely it’s a purely local problem. Unlike, say, CO2 emissions where my profligate use of energy can impact other people far away, water consumption can surely only have a small zone of impact.

Clearly there are hotspots where a limited supply is being contended over, and there can be international political overlays, but within a country is there much more to the situation than pricing and regulation of monopolies?

Maybe I’m being parochial and paranoid about being ripped off by my local water suppliers/removers, but my sense, based on reading the statistics that are produced by the EU is that water outside of the hotspots is mostly a supply side pork barrel problem. For example river depletion in UK is over-emphasised as it does not take account of water recycling back into rivers.

If there are better sources of information, I’d love to find them.

Posted by: Tim
January 22, 2010
9:43 pm

Water management problem is really a big issue, you have opened my eyes in saving each drop of water here after. I wish every one will know about saving water for a better future.

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