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.
If you have any familiarity with Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you know that it’s on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the largest fresh-water lakes in the world, and it’s located in the American Midwest, one of the world’s most fertile and productive farming regions.
So why does Milwaukee aim to become a model for smart water management and urban food production? And why is it experimenting with aquaponics–systems that combine soil-less vegetable growing with fish farming?
Milwaukee is concerned about water because its traditional industries, including meatpacking, tanning, shoe making, beer brewing and heavy manufacturing, are all major water users. In addition, the city experienced the largest waterborne disease outbreak in US history in 1993 when the protozoan parasite cryptosporidium appeared in the municipal water supply and made more than 1.6 million people sick. Two years ago, the city formed the Milwaukee Water Council, made up of representatives of government, academia and industry, with the goal of making the city a recognized global leader in water-related technologies.
The city is interested in urban farming because some of its neighborhoods are so-called food deserts. Large grocery stores don’t locate outlets there, so people rely on small stores, which often charge high prices for processed food. There’s a shortage of healthy food such as fresh vegetables and fish. So city leaders are promoting community gardening, large-scale composting and the nascent aquaponics industry. “The urban agriculture movement in Milwaukee is bringing local food production to the block level,” says Rocky Marcoux, commissioner, Milwaukee department of city development. “We can feed our population more economically and sustainably. We can put our neighborhoods in charge of their own destiny.”
In June, a team of five IBMers spent three weeks in Milwaukee as part of the company’s Smarter City Challenge grant program with the goal of helping city leaders explore the feasibility of their urban farming initiative.
Like many good business ideas, IBM’s plunge into water management technology started with its own pain. The story is told in Charles Fishman’s new book, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. Fishman warns that the era of easy water is over. “The new water scarcity will reshape how we live, how we work, how we relax. It will reshape how we value water, and how we understand it,” Fishman writes. The managers at IBM’s chip plant just outside Burlington, Vt., had their consciousness reshaped before many others did. Water is plentiful for them, but they use a lot of it and the water they use has to be ultra-pure, so it’s mighty expensive.
At the Burlington plant, IBM creates huge quantities of purified water for washing delicate components during the semiconductor manufacturing process–1.7 million gallons a day. The bill for purified water is nearly $10,000 per day, including the cost of water, chemicals and energy. It used to be much higher–more like $20,000. But, starting more than a decade ago, under pressure to cut costs, IBM’s managers realized that situation was unsustainable. So they launched a water management initiative that ultimately became a data-rich system for managing all of the water used in the plant. And that system grew up to be the company’s Smarter Water business. “Burlington has helped IBM change the way it thinks about itself,” writes Fishman. “IBM wants to do for its customers–for companies, for cities, for utilities, for whole natural ecosystems–what it has done in IBM Burlington.”
For IBM, natural resource management has evolved over the past decade from an internal discipline into an expression of global advocacy. The company’s annual corporate social responsibility report lays out the internal benefits of conservation and environmental sustainability. For instance, IBM saved over $50 million in electricity expenses and conserved 523,000 megawatt hours of electricity since 2008. The company’s global conservation program involves 3,100 conservation projects at more than 350 IBM facilities in 49 countries. Conservation is a good investment, too. Over the years, IBM estimates that its focus on environmental sustainability has realized savings and avoided costs at a rate of approximately $1.60 for every $1.00 spent.
As the Smarter Planet business initiatives continue to develop, those savings will increasingly be supplemented with new revenues. IBM’s experience points to a big, convenient truth: conservation is good for business.