From Corporate Service Corps to Smarter Water
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  ibmsoftware information-insights smarterplanet
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Talk about timing: no more than three days after my assignment in one of the driest places in the world does IBM announce another successful solution for Smarter Water.
Last Wednesday, IBM announced that Arizona’s Desert Mountain Community will use IBM analytics software to manage irrigation of its championship grade golf courses for a 10 percent reduction in water usage. Three days before, I had returned from an IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) assignment in Antofagasta, Chile, where the annual rainfall is about four millimeters – about one tenth of an inch.
Fresh water is one of two critical resources in Antofagasta, copper being the other. The former is in short supply; the latter most certainly not. The region is home to the Escondida (below) and Chiquicamata copper mines, the world's two largest. Last year, Escondida alone produced 569,000 tons of copper. All told, mining accounts for 97 percent of the region’s exports and supplies 53 percent of Chile’s mining output.
Water and copper: a critical link
Water and copper are inextricably linked. An open pit mine can use up to 15 percent of its water resources each day simply wetting the roads to keep the dust down.1 Refining is also a thirsty process. In 2006 the reported average usage rate stood at 11.9 m3/s2, though innovations are making the process continuously more efficient.
Historically, Antofagasta sourced water from the Cordillera – the foothills of the Andes mountains. But a decade of intensive mining activity and the resulting influx of nearly 60,000 thirsty new inhabitants has put a severe strain on the system. Agricultural activities, too, contribute to the challenge. A desalination plant built in the 1990s has eased the burden somewhat and a second plant is in the works. Also to its credit, Antofagasta has cut its water waste rates significantly over the past few years.
Balancing supply and demand
Demand for copper means economic growth; successful water management will mean a higher quality of life. Fortunately, Chilean authorities also recognize the need to smartly balance supply and demand. A 2008 report by the Chilean Copper Commission Cochilco states:
The limited availability of water resources in northern Chile has become one of the most important topics in the country’s agenda due to the importance of the resource for the development of all economic activities, care for the environment and the quality of life in the communities.
Antofagasta not alone
Nor is Antofagasta is alone in seeking a solution. Nearly half of the world’s six billion people live in water stressed areas. Eighty countries already have water shortages, and the World Bankreports that the demand for water doubles every 21 years.
The solutions are out there
All of this underscores the need for city leaders, scientists and technologists to work together to create smarter solutions to managing our water supply. Antofagasta is on the upswing but its rise is not without risks; its leaders would do well to study the analytically driven examples of places such as Arizona’s Desert Mountain Community.
What CSC meant for me
The CSC is designed to increase IBMers’ understanding of the opportunities within emerging markets and the challenges that accompany their rapid growth. That was certainly true for me.
My CSC assignment didn't deal specifically with mining, but the industry plays such a large role in the region that nearly every facet of life there is affected by it. Before coming back I had thought that integrating what I’d seen and learned on assignment into my regular responsibilities would be a challenge. But after seeing more evidence of our emerging Smarter Planet - not to mention seeing opportunities to contribute to it - I’m happily being proved wrong.
To read more about my experiences with the CSC, check out my Letters from Antofagasta series on Storify or the CSC Chile 3 page on Facebook.
Photo of Escondida mine courtesy of BHP Billiton