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.
The 1990s was the era of reengineering the corporation. Technology helped leaders overhaul their operations–everything from sales to supply chains. Now the phenomenon has spread to cities. Across the globe, municipal leaders ares rethinking and redesigning how they do things.
One of their biggest headaches is infrastructure–their roads, bridges, sidewalks, water lines and sewer pipes. They used to fix things when they broke. These days, increasingly, the forward-thinkers among them aim to fix things before they have a chance to break. And they’re using technology to help them optimize the way they invest in infrastructure maintenance and renewal.
Cambridge, a small city in Ontario, Canada, is in the vanguard of getting this right. It has been working with IBM Research to develop a system for prioritizing the city’s investments in fixing or replacing physical infrastructure so they meet the public’s needs while making the most of their limited budget. “We look at how we can use technology and revised business practices to make the city work better,” says Mike Hausser, Cambridge’s director of asset management and support services.
When Pnina Vortman was growing up in Israel, she was aware of the importance of water in her life. Israel is a semi-arid country that depends in large part on the Sea of Galilee for drinking water and other uses. A breakthrough came in 1964 when Israel completed its National Water Carrier network, which brought abundant water supplies to the central and southern parts of the country. The system made possible massive irrigation projects, which transformed parts of Israel into a garden paradise. Mangos and other fresh fruits and vegetables starting appearing in her family’s kitchen.
Today, as a scientist with IBM Research, Vortman’s job is to come up with breakthroughs that enable water utilities to conserve water and money, while at the same time providing the water that consumers want and need. She leads a team at IBM Research – Haifa that designed a new system for monitoring and managing water pressure that could provide a model for many cities and communities seeking to deal with tight water supplies and growing demands. IBM has put the system to work for the Sonoma Country Water Agency, which serves more than 600,000 customers in Northern California. The first pilot is being done with the Valley of the Moon Water District, one of the distributors of the agency’s water. “We found that if we can manage the pressure in a flexible way, everybody can benefit,” says Vortman.
IBM has been working with the water agency for several years to help it improve efficiency and balance the needs of consumers and the natural environment.
By Peter Williams
CTO, IBM Big Green Innovations
During the past year, we’ve seen extreme weather conditions, from crippling drought in many parts of the United States and Europe to floods in Italy, Thailand, China and more. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, climate change may increase the probability of some ordinary weather events reaching extreme levels or of some extreme events becoming more extreme – so in essence, we can expect a continued rise in extreme weather condition and events.
Even without climate change, floods are not rare; in fact, they are the most common natural disaster in the United States. Although we typically have some advance warning of their arrival, thanks to satellite forecasts, there is always the possibility (and likelihood) that a flash flood will behave in unpredictable ways, causing untold damage. To add insult to injury, dry, desert lands are often the hardest hit by floods, in areas where water is the most precious.
Clearly, we can’t fight the weather. Floods and droughts are a fact of life. We can, however, better predict how they affect us and protect ourselves from harm. Most flood modeling systems look at the main stems of large rivers. These forecasts provide valuable information, but often times the real action is in the thousands of small river branches and the tributary networks where flooding actually starts.
Rio De Janeiro is a bustling metropolis in a booming country–and, increasingly, an example of how government and business leaders can cooperate to make cities work better. Join the live blog today for a second day of coverage of speeches, panels and hallway discussions.
Here’s Ginni Rometty, IBM’s senior vice president for Sales, Marketing and Strategy (and IBM’s next CEO) talking about how to build a smarter city.
Rio De Janeiro is a bustling metropolis in a booming country–and, increasingly, an example of how government and business leaders can cooperate to make cities work better. Join the live blog today and tomorrow for coverage of speeches, panels and hallway discussions.
Here’s Sam Palmisano’s speech:
By Elly Keinan
IBM Latin America
A year and a half ago, torrential rains in Rio de Janeiro caused floods and landslides that brought much of the city to a standstill and killed more than 100 residents. Eleven inches of rain beat down in a 24-hour period. In a city with a history of tropical rainstorms and flooding, Brazilians demanded to know why the authorities were not better prepared.
Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, vowed that such a disaster would not happen again. He moved decisively to bolster the city’s defenses against weather-related disruptions. Today, the city has a new state-of-the art intelligent operations center where managers monitor dozen of screens for data concerning weather, traffic, police, medical services, and other city departments on a real-time basis and anticipate looming problems—putting defenses in place to diminish their impact.
The mayor’s actions demonstrate convincingly how bold leaders can harness the power of sophisticated technologies to transform the way a city operates—and make life better for their constituents. The technology underpinning the Rio Operations Center, which was set up by IBM consultants and software architects, has matured since the center went live almost a year ago. Now, this kind of management system is becoming available to cities of all sizes—including via a cloud computing offering, which makes it faster to deploy.
These advances represent an important moment in the evolution of cities.
“Hidden beneath the highways and streets of Washington DC is a sprawling infrastructure of hundreds of thousands of assets — water distribution pipes, valves, collection pipes, man holes, water meters and fire hydrants . . . ”
Here’s another true story from IBM’s First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) program, which pairs IBM researchers with clients to bring incredible discoveries and possibilities into view.
As DC Water discovered, bringing greater intelligence and connectedness into its operations would go a long way toward creating a truly integrated and smarter water system; and, most importantly, satisfying its thousands of customers.
And as all the FOAK projects are proving, it is the dynamic nature of this close interaction with IBM clients and the changing forces of the real world that drives innovation and brings it to market at an ever-quickening pace.
The following is a guest post authored by Ben Hodges, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin Center for Research in Water Resources.
Although many of us are sweltering in record-breaking heat, a recent Wall Street Journal story about the race to shore up aging, damaged levee systems along the Mississipi River reminds us that flood season is just around the corner. And according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the multi-billion dollar restoration won’t be done by spring.
Deciding where to begin is a complex task. But with the right mix of technology and expertise, engineers could have a snapshot of how a river and its tributaries will behave in flood situations and other extreme weather conditions, allowing them to prioritize levee restoration efforts according to which areas are at highest risk of flooding, and when that’s likely to happen.
This new flood prediction technology can simulate tens of thousands of river branches at a time and could scale further to predict the behavior of millions of branches simultaneously. By coupling analytics software with advanced weather simulation models, such as IBM’s Deep Thunder, municipalities and disaster response teams could make emergency plans and pinpoint potential flood areas on a river.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, but traditional flood prediction methods are focused only on the main stems of the largest rivers – overlooking extensive tributary networks where flooding actually starts, and where flash floods threaten lives and property.
As a testing ground, the team is presently applying the model to predict the entire 230 mile-long Guadalupe River and over 9,000 miles of tributaries in Texas. In a single hour the system can currently generate up to 100 hours of river behavior.
By combining IBM’s complex system modeling with UT Austin’s research into river physics, we’ve developed new ways to look at an old problem. Unlike previous methods, the IBM approach scales-up for massive networks and has the potential to simulate millions of river miles at once. With the use of river sensors integrated into web-based information systems, we can take this model even further.
In addition to flood prediction, a similar system could be used for irrigation management, helping to create equitable irrigation plans and ensure compliance with habitat conservation efforts. The models could allow managers to evaluate multiple “what if” scenarios to create better plans for handling both droughts and water surplus.