Hands cupping water. Text on image says "Smarter Water Management with IoT"

Smart Water Systems with the Internet of Things: What You Need to Know Now

Water Decline Numbers | Avoiding “Day Zero” | Supply and Demand with Smart Water Systems | Smart Water Systems in Barcelona | How Temboo Can Help Make Your Water System “Smart”

The issue of proper, smart water management truly affects every single human on this planet.

Water underpins every sector of the global economy be it commercial, industrial, or agricultural. It is one of the most important natural resources on earth and yet today, populations are sprawling and climates are changing, causing a rapid depletion of available freshwater around the world.

Water issues are a global socio-economic and environmental crisis that governments, the private sector, and NGOs are struggling to manage. Given the multi-faceted nature of water management, I’ve decided to make this topic into a series of posts that will be published over the upcoming months.

To give some context, my educational and professional career is rooted in understanding and managing water systems. I come from the world of stormwater consulting where I worked with the private and public sector to reduce pollution into water bodies. I then received my Masters in Sustainability Management from Columbia University with an emphasis on water management. After that, I worked with the World Economic Forum’s Global Water Initiative team to advanced the dialog of how to improve water management by integrating disruptive technologies – including IoT.

Because the topic of water is all-encompassing and complex, and the fact that there is new data accessible through IoT systems, we now have the opportunity to impact the water management in a positive, sustainable way. I look forward to providing some insight to this world and the new technologies that can help shape it.

Water Decline by the Numbers

Illustrations of various water testing mechanisms

If we do not extend the “life” of a water droplet into many “lives”, we will continue on the path towards global water depletion. The numbers below show just how drastic this issue has become:

  • Of the world’s 37 largest aquifers, 21 are in decline, and 13 are in critical stress.
  • By 2030, water demand may exceed water supply by 40% – reducing water accessibility for citizens and agricultural production, and stunting global economic growth.
  • Agriculture accounts for the use of 70% of the world’s total freshwater supply, and demand may increase by 40% – 50% in the future.
  • Well over 80% of the world’s wastewater is untreated before discharging into receiving water bodies making water the deadliest killer.
  • According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, each year, “85,7000 children under the age of 15 are dying from diarrhea linked to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities compared to 30,900 dying from conflict. “

Water management actions taken today will determine the sustainability of our quality of life, the global economy, and our ability to adapt to a changing environment.

Given the severe circumstances and urgency for change, IoT technology can bring forth a new era of 21st century Smart Water Management.

Avoiding “Day Zero” Through Smart Water Systems

Water tap

In January 2018, Cape Town shocked the world when officials announced that the city would run out of municipal water in 90 days.

The story went viral and was splashed across every headline from New York City to Beijing. Why? Because at no time in modern history has a city ran out of water.

Suddenly, water issues that were pushed aside in the past, vividly grabbed people’s attention. If it could happen in a metropolis such as Cape Town, a city of 3.7 million people, it could happen anywhere.

In response, the City of Cape Town barely avoided Day Zero by enacting a variety of data collection, policy, and education initiatives (and some well-timed rainfall).

As part of the contingency plan, the entire population was forced to wait in lines at water centers to collect water for everyday use – including water for their maximum 2 minute showers.

Can you imagine working an 8-hour day and having to wait in line to collect 1/3 of the water usage you normally have for you and your family?

In particular, the City of Cape Town’s awareness campaign was a huge success. Data regarding regional dam levels and consumption was displayed on freeways and in weekly newsletters. As Day Zero aggressively approached, the City went a step further and published a water map showing water consumption per household.

At the policy level, the local government enacted tariffs enabling them to fine water intensive users. At the federal level, South Africa diverted water from the agriculture sector to the City of Cape Town. Farmers also decided to send additional stored water to the city.

Day Zero spurred world wide panic, and fortunately, the City of Cape Town and their residents barely sidestepped a crisis. Cape Town is still in a state of moderate drought and as a result, strict water restrictions are still in place. However, through the urgent need to intelligently manage a crisis through their partnerships and strong government, they were able to overcome this potentially devastating event.

Cape Town is not alone in this fight. Global water scarcity is putting 14 of the world’s 20 megacities at risk of also running out water.

With almost 3 million people moving to cities every week, water managers are struggling to find insight to their current, new, and growing water demands with a limited supply of freshwater.

To help cities better understand their water systems, IoT applications can provide continuous data that allows water managers to measure better, communicate easier, analyze faster, and improve the revenue of a system.

River running through a city.

Managing Supply and Demand with IoT Smart Water Systems

The solutions to climate change are within reach.

Al Gore, Chairman and Founder of the Climate Reality Project.

Managing supply and demand is of the utmost importance in building a sustainable water network, and IoT applications are uniquely well-suited to address this exact issue.

IoT devices are more flexible than ever before – both financially and physically. Over the past few years, the cost of IoT sensors has drastically decreased due to an insurgence of internet-connected devices in the market place. By 2020, there may be up to 30.7 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices globally, nearly triple the human population.

IoT systems enable data to be collected in any aspect of a smart water system that can be measured with sensors. Typically, the data is then stored on a “cloud” and is available to the water manager by logging into a software platform on any device with a web browser.

Additionally, water data in conjunction with machine learning technologies can determine predictive maintenance of pumps, distribution networks, or storage cisterns. Through these types of solutions, water managers can gain the ability to repair breaks within a smart water system before incidents occur, saving capital and material cost and increasing ROI.

All in all, holistic and continuous data from IoT systems can unlock insights regarding supply and demand never seen before, allowing water managers to make evidence-based decisions that span beyond the reach of their plant.

These evidence-based decisions will determine how cities rezone neighborhoods, determine water pricing, and invest in infrastructure that will enable them to fulfill both short and long-term water management goals.

Smart Conservation of Water Sources

Many cities’ main water source is located outside their watershed, creating a divide in the ability to see water consumption information. However, with IoT technology, water managers can deploy a variety of sensors to determine water storage levels in lakes or reservoirs.

Smart water systems can provide a water manager with data about water quality, temperature, and flow. These systems can even map an aquifer, which is a crucial yet largely unknown data point for many water managers.

The image is of the "toilet bowl", which depicts a reservoir that has drastically depleted.

Smart Water Treatment

Every city needs to treat their water before privatizing into a network of pipes for distribution.

Smart water systems can provide insight to the exact stage of water quality as the water is going through one of the various water disinfection treatment phases.

For example, internet-connected sensors can determine hydraulic modeling to identify issues with volume, quality, or pressure within the system, enabling greater operational efficiency of a plant.

Sensors can also detect water quality, flow, leaks, and energy usage in cisterns and water pumps.

Smart Water Delivery

Non-revenue water (NRW) is water lost before it reaches a customer. Losses can occur from leaks in the distribution network, during theft, or through inaccurate metering.

Moreover, NRW is a constant source of wasted water, energy, and capital – and is ubiquitous in almost every city.

According to the World Bank, “The total cost to water utilities is from non-revenue water worldwide can be conservatively estimated at $141 billion per year, with a third of it occurring in the developing world.”

With freshwater resources depleting, saving every drop is more critical now than ever.

Smart water systems can help reduce NRW by mapping and modeling water distribution networks, identifying leaks, and helping to manage inaccurate metering.

People standing in a flooded street.

Smart Water Consumption

As developing countries become more westernized, so too does their water consumption.

With the global population expected to increase by 2 billion people by 2050, insight into water demand through IoT smart water meters will provide a critical piece of data that cities need to plan for the future.

Additionally, data on water demand data has the potential to spark smart water pricing. This could allow low-income areas to have greater access to potable water, a major socioeconomic hurdle in the water block pricing scheme.

Smart Water Infrastructure

Due to climate change, weather events are becoming more ferocious, and are eroding infrastructure in coastal, urban, and rural communities. Over the past 16 storms alone in the United States, damages are estimated to be up to $306 billion.

IoT technology can act as a critical mechanism of risk management for cities, utility managers, and insurance companies.

One example includes having IoT sensors in sewer systems that can take in data regarding water levels. When a sewer line becomes inundated with stormwater, it can signal a mechanism to divert water from one part of a sewer system to another – preventing flooding, and reducing the health risk associated with raw sewage in public domains.

Smart Wastewater Treatment Plants

Wastewater treatment plants are imperative to the overall health of a watershed, and can provide additional “lives” to a water droplet.

IoT sensing in a wastewater treatment plant can improve operational efficiency by providing real-time data for water flow, air/water temperature, humidity, water quality monitoring, bio gas distribution, energy output of assets, and more.

Smart Ocean Data Collection

It is common to discuss freshwater and saltwater in siloed conversations, however, both assets fall under one water system.

Imagine that almost every single freshwater drop will, at some point, discharge into the ocean. Without proper treatment, this run-off may contain high levels of nitrates and phosphates, causing algae to grow. The algae then remove oxygen levels from the water causing eutrophication, or dead zones, leading to massive fish kills that disrupt coastal economies around the world.

If water quality/flow sensors are deployed upstream where the contamination occurs, smart water managers can have the ability to treat the water before it enters receiving water bodies.

Sensors could also be used monitor water quality/flow downstream to determine if upstream clean water initiatives are effective.

Image of a small island surrounded by water.

IoT and Smart Water Management, Barcelona

The city of Barcelona understands the benefits of embedding IoT systems into their water management system. Currently, they’re using IoT applications to manage water fountains and irrigation systems throughout the different neighborhoods in the city.

By deploying internet-connected sensors, the city is now able to gather data and use predictive analytics to get an insight to the air temperature, humidity, and rainfall in 68% of their public spaces.

As a result, the city irrigates only when necessary, which increased their water conservation 25%, saving them approximately $555,000 USD per year.

How Temboo Can Help Make Your Water System “Smart”

Temboo is ready to work with you to help acquire the data insights you need to transition your water system into a 21st Century Smart Water Management system.

Our Kosmos IoT Platform was built with the end user in mind, empowering organizations to easily manage internet-connected sensors, machinery, and actuators. It can be easily integrated into existing systems, and can provide features such as:

  • sensor graphs of water and air quality
  • future predictions of threshold breaches or maintenance needs
  • text and/or email alerts for sensor events that are determined by the end user
  • secure connections between devices
  • remote control over machinery, pumps, and more
  • offline storage
  • and over the air updates

With Kosmos, water managers also can set sensor threshold rules based off their needs. For example, Kosmos users can set up SMS notifications to go to a facilities engineer informing them that a water pump is not working properly. The engineer can then send someone to fix the issues right away, enabling the facility to function normally and reducing downtime.

For more information, please feel free to reach out to me directly by emailing hey@temboo.com. I’m happy to help answer any questions you have around smart water monitoring and Temboo’s Kosmos IoT platform.

Stay tuned for more posts in this series on water and IoT coming soon!