Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

By Joe Cahill
CFO, UgMO, an IBM Business Partner
Michael Sullivan
IBM Smarter Water Program Director


Across North America, drought-stricken farmers are facing historically small harvests, raising concerns about global shortages and increasing food prices. This summer’s drought should be a strong reminder that we have to manage our water resources more carefully.

In many countries, the competition for water between the countryside and cities is intensifying.  Farmers  face an uphill battle in the competition for water since industry can afford to pay much more than they can, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

This battle over water is likely to intensify. As the world’s levels of CO2 emissions continue to rise, the frequency of extreme weather phenomena such as heat waves is expected to intensify. Heat waves are expected to further strain the world’s water resources, especially in areas where water demand is increasing and water supplies are shrinking. The challenge worldwide is to meet today’s water needs while putting in place innovative strategies to address future requirements.

One of the best ways to promote sustainability is to make consumers aware of the true cost of water.

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What we pay to the water company each month only reflects the price to bring clean water to our taps. It does not reflect the value of the resource in each of its various uses. Water management, resource expansion, environmental protection and infrastructure maintenance are expensive, and much of the cost is redistributed through state and federal taxes, as well as local and regional bond measures, according to the American Water Resources Association.

Transparency about the real cost of water should be a fundamental principle, irrespective of the source of funds that underwrite the supply.


For example, as a nation, we must begin to treat water as we would any other scarce resource and learn to live within our means. This requires efficiency and planning for sustainable use in the face of increasing demands for water, particularly in agriculture, industry and power production. Concern over the intensive use of groundwater, deterioration of surface waters, and various state and federal nutrient and water management regulations, are making us reexamine the efficiency of water and nutrient management strategies.

A study by University of California at Davis scientists shows that plants only use half the nitrogen fertilizer that farmers apply. The other half travels down through the soil, eventually making its way into local drinking water supplies where nitrate contamination can make the water unfit for drinking.

It’s a serious problem that’s getting worse.

Research shows that coupling the use of soil moisture measurement technology with irrigation controls can reduce water application and nutrient runoff by 50 percent – and those efficiencies also mean reduced energy use because less water is pumped overall.

Furthermore, increasing drought and aridity around the world, linked to climate change and land degradation, are becoming a major threat to food security and poverty reduction efforts, according to the United Nations.  Since 1950, 1.9 billion hectares (4.7 billion acres) of land around the world has become degraded, a problem that has reduced harvests, contributed to changing rainfall patterns and increased the vulnerability of millions of people. Each year, on average, another 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of land a year is lost to the problem.

Applying analytic insight can assess drought conditions, communicate threats and trigger actions in a systematic and efficient manner as drought conditions intensify. Although progress is being made, much more work is required to develop effective systems across the globe and to provide information at a scale that is meaningful for drought planning at the local level by water managers and other decision makers.

Extreme events – such as the extreme floods and droughts around the world in recent years – often provide stimulus for action. They provide the opening for change to take place.


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