Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
October, 25th 2012

Mary Keeling, Manager, Center for Economic Analysis, IBM Institute for Business Value

By Mary Keeling
Water is one of our most essential resources – yet much of the water we use every day is “hidden” as an indirect, yet critical, component of something else – food, health, energy, transportation and more. And of all the water on Earth, only 1 percent of it is useable by ecosystems and humans. In other words, a little bit of water needs to go a long way.

As the world’s population increases from today’s 7 billion to an estimated 8 billion in 2025, the demand for water will rise to satisfy increased demand for food, particularly as meat consumption in global diets increase. Every time you consume a kilo of beef you many not realize that it takes 15,500 liters of water to produce it. For comparison, it takes 1,300 liters of water to produce a kilo of wheat.

Now consider the link between water and our health – access to safe drinking water is essential for health and this link is significant – more than 50 percent of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water-related illnesses. Water is also essential for producing a host of goods and services right across the economy.

When we break it down, each of us on average consumes about 3,800 liters of water a day embodied in the goods and services we produce, as well as the water we directly drink. And, we know that as the world’s population and incomes grow, so too will demand for the water to produce the goods and services needed to satisfy consumption.

Energy, in particular, is heavily reliant on water – it accounts for almost half of the total water used in the U.S. and 44 percent in the European Union.

A less obvious, but important water link wends through our transport networks. Road and rail systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding from storm surges, rainstorms and rising water tables. In addition, transport infrastructure along coastal regions is at increasing risk from rising sea-levels while at the other end of the spectrum, drought is pushing roads to their design limits and causing severe cracking, as well as restricting navigation channels.

Because of the inter-linkages of many of these water-related systems, problems in one are can quickly spill into other areas, creating widespread problems.

For example, we have more people living in water-stressed areas than ever before, where available supplies cannot meet demand. This issue is expected to intensify as the population in such areas rises by almost 40 percent from 2.8 to 3.9 billion between 2005 and 2030, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

We are also facing more intense and frequent floods around the globe that are resulting in significant human and financial costs. Such flooding impacts water quality as surface contaminants enter water supplies, aquifers and storm water runoffs. As a result, it is estimated that 780 million people currently do not have access to safe water. That figure is expected to rise to 2 billion by 2025.

All of these challenges and problems in the water system are compounded by the looming skills crisis in the water industry as large numbers of older workers retire and the industry struggles to attract and retain younger workers. 

However, amid all these challenges there is some good news. The technology exists to take a more intelligent approach to the way we manage water, using information and analytics to deliver improved outcomes right across the water management lifecycle. Many forward-looking utilities and businesses are already using technology to improve their water management practices – from Dubuque, Iowa, and Sonoma County, California, to Galway Bay inIreland, and many other areas around the world.

We need to encourage more great work and build momentum. The time to act for a collaborative, smarter approach to water management to address the challenges facing the world’s water systems, is now.

Join me for a Twitter chat today at 11:0am ET to discuss the importance of Smarter Water management.  Hashtag: #P4SPchat

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March 25, 2016
1:06 pm


Posted by: nathary
January 20, 2016
8:56 am


Posted by: psiphon for pc
June 24, 2014
11:02 am

This is a topic that is near to my heart… Take care!

Where are your contact details though?

Posted by: it NöRdlingen
November 7, 2012
8:04 pm

Thanks Mary for this excellent post. Are there specific opportunities you see for our ISV partners? In other words, to complement IBM’s core capabilities, do you see areas where our ecosystem of Smarter Planet and Emerging ISVs can complement around joint Smarter Water solutions?

Posted by: Jim Claussen
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