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Thirsty for answers: Analytics at the heart of smater water strategies
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  smarter_planet spss business_analytics cognos smarter_water
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Quick note: every Monday starting today, we'll be kicking off the week with a feature article exploring a specific aspect of the IBM Business Analytics solution (hence the footnotes). Next week, we'll look at the keys to rolling forecasts. Today's feature looks at the role of business analytics writ large working in conjunction with sensors and forward-thinking government authorities to drive smarter water initiatives.
Because water is used for just about everything – from domestic use to industry to transport – it’s not surprising that in the last 100 years, global usage has increased at twice the rate of population growth.
This is a problem. UN figures show that less than one percent of all the world's fresh water is readily available to humans and the earth's ecosystems. And the upward trend in usage shows no signs of stopping. Harvard Business Review suggests the gap between water supply and demand will likely increase by up to 40 percent in 2030. With that will come an expected increase in water rationing, shortages and droughts. “Numerous industry sectors should expect decreased water allotments, shifts toward full-cost water pricing and ever-more stringent water quality regulations.”1
Management and lack of coordination add to the problem. “In the world of water resources, economic data is inefficient, management is often opaque, and stakeholders are insufficiently linked,” notes McKinsey.2
A case in point: there are nearly 53,000 water agencies in the U.S. Yet there is no coordination among them. Meanwhile, a recent U.N. report says an estimated 2 billion tons of wastewater – such as fertilizer run-off and industrial waste – is being discharged daily.
“If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive on a planet of 6 billion people heading to over 9 billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste, including wastewaters,” says Achim Steiner, U.N. Undersecretary General and executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program.3
Technologies and smarter systems
Events like last month's World Water Day can raise public awareness of the need for better water management. At the same time, new technologies are coming online that make it possible to improve water management: everything from smarter irrigation systems to waste water treatment to desalination.
In effect, the goal here is to find tools that provide more food, energy, income and jobs – per drop of water.4
In Israel, for example, the agriculture industry has fed a population that has nearly tripled since 1964. Yet water consumption has only increased by 3 percent. How do they do it? An array of technology includes automated drip irrigation systems that can determine the exact times when plants are absorbing water into their roots.5
Just as essential is having the right information. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says water resource management expert Doug Miell. “We need all kinds of data collection, including real-time, because it is lack of available, viable data that’s holding us back.”6
In addition to raw data, to get the job done, next-generation water management systems must also provide robust real-time analytics, modeling and decision support capabilities.
Monitor what matters
With sensor networks, smart meters and analytics, organizations can measure and analyze water ecosystems – from rivers and reservoirs to the pipes in people’s houses. This critical content in turn can feed predictive models and other kinds of assessments to inform smarter water management programs.
Smart metering, for example, can give households and businesses insight into their own water use, locating inefficiencies and raising awareness. IBM collaboration with the city of Dubuque, Iowa, continues with the rollout of a smart water meter pilot that shows customers trends in their water consumption – which in turn will help them to conserve more of it.
The SmartBay project in Galway Bay, meanwhile, uses IBM real-time monitoring technologies, data analytics and next-generation content delivery. The idea here is to provide scientists, commercial fishing and the public with access to environmental information – water temperature, currents, wave strength, salinity and marine life – and apply algorithms that can forecast everything from wave patterns over 24 hours to the right time to harvest mussels.
Collaborators include Dublin City University, University College of Dublin, and the Tyndall Institute at University College, Cork – all working with a goal to improve water quality and water system policy and performance.
The growing gap between water supply and demand is not about to change anytime soon, but there are opportunities for better management. Better information can serve as a keystone to help people understand what is happening, how water and human systems are interrelated and how these relationships can be improved through better, more informed decisions.