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Smarter Water

Ahmed Simjee, Smarter Planet Leader, IBM South Africa

By Ahmed Simjee

When I was growing up in South Africa, my family was fortunate.  We had access to fresh drinking water. At first we lived on a small farm near Johannesburg, where we used a well. Later, when I moved closer to the city, I had good tap water. But many of my fellow South Africans weren’t so lucky, and, even today, many people in the rural areas and in informal settlements near the cities don’t have ready access to fresh drinking water. That’s why I’m extremely pleased to be spearheading an initiative in South Africa, WaterWatchers, which is aimed at using mobile phones and crowdsourcing to cut down on leaks and wasted water.

We’re launching our free WaterWatchers app today in Gauteng Province, home of Johannesburg and the capital city, Tshwane. With 12.3 million residents, the province represents 23% of South Africa’s population. We timed the launch to coincide with the United Nations’ World Water Day. If you’re in South Africa, please download the app. Continue Reading »

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February 15th, 2013

Scott T. Rickards, CEO, Waterfund

By Scott T. Rickards

In our data-rich financial universe, a fundamental economic question remains unanswered: at what cost is it economical for the world’s largest cities to bring additional water supply online?  

The oil industry will tell you that $100/barrel oil is the value below which capital allocation can earn a return. Given its critical importance in our lives, why does the water industry not have a similar fast answer to the question? Is the ‘global water crisis’ a resource crisis or perhaps a capital crisis?

Precisely because of its critical importance, the water industry has been given a pass on cost transparency by everyone from politicians, to Wall Street, to economists due to the unimaginable consequences of not having an abundant supply of fresh water. As a result, the subject of water production costs remains largely unexplored and water has taken a back seat to virtually every other resource in the battle for private investment dollars.   Continue Reading »

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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.

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September 12th, 2012

By Harry Kolar,  IBM Distinguished Engineer and Sensor-Based Solutions

The rough seas off the coast of Ireland, where the North Atlantic can churn waves more than 15 meters high, are home to some of the largest concentrations of wave energy in the world. This turbulent seascape has for centuries served as both a sanctuary for marine life and a source of commerce and sustenance for the people of Ireland and Europe.


Now the waters of Galway Bay are providing something new: information.

After more than 18 months of design, development and research, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in association with IBM and the Marine Institute of Ireland last month turned on a massive data collection system that will capture and analyze – in real-time – the under water noise levels of the bay.

Initially, the system will capture and analyze the ambient noise of the ocean to establish a baseline of acoustics including natural and anthropogenic (man-made) sound sources including vessel traffic. But the ultimate goal is to capture and analyze the sounds and vibrations of hulking wave energy conversion machines that have begun bobbing along off the coast and help determine what, if any impact the sound waves from those devices could have on marine life – but especially highly sensitive dolphin, porpoise, and whale populations.

This year-long project is an offshoot of an effort launched in 2009 in Galway Bay by IBM and SEAI, called SmartBay. While much has been written about both of these projects, little has been said about the technology behind them. The “smarts,” if you will, of the SmartBay.

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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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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.

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by Bob Jones, COO/General Manager, Desert Mountain Club

With a population expected to exceed nine billion by mid-century and a fixed water supply, the world’s demand for water is quickly outpacing its supply.

We rely on steady seasonal rainfall to restore our ground water sources, but droughts are becoming more frequent, often forcing communities to enforce stringent water restrictions.

Nearly half of the world’s 6 billion people live in water stressed areas.  Eighty countries already have water shortages, and the World Bank warns that the demand for water doubles every 21 years. Thirty countries already get more than one-third of their water from other regions.   And treating the water we do have to make it safe for consumption requires great amounts of energy and generates as much carbon emissions as a passenger jet. Continue Reading »

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 Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, weighs in for World Water Day…and for every day.

Laurie Arthur is a farmer in the heart of Australia’s bread basket, the basin of the Murray River, who was kind enough, when I was trying to understand water, to explain how water works for farmers.

Arthur lives out in the wide open country east of Adelaide and north of Melbourne — flat, irrigated farmland where his nearest neighbor is 12 miles down the road, and where his white farm truck is often flanked by squads of kangaroos, who have no trouble keeping pace as he drives from field to field at 40 or 50 mph.

Arthur lives comfortably in a world most of us never visit, and even have a hard time grasping. He farms 10,000 acres. That amount of land is impossible to visualize, but its scale is easy to bring down to Earth.

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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.

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IBM Big Green Innovations CTO Peter Williams

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.

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