The importance of data in the efficient and effective long-term management of resources can’t be overstated. Water is already drastically important to economic development, business growth and social well-being. Current projections don’t have that reality shifting any time soon.

A water-stressed future

Nearly a billion people currently lack access to safe water supplies and almost 4 billion people live in water-scarce or water-stressed regions. A May 2016 World Bank report (High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy) estimated that, by 2050, regions and nations could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6 percent of GDP due to water-related impacts on agriculture, health and incomes.

The effect of increasing populations, rising incomes and expanding cities will result in increased demand for water, along with more erratic and uncertain sources of water supplies.

Improving data collection

Unfortunately, water data acquisition, analytics and visualization tools are not aligned with the needs of the private and public sectors. There are too many examples where water data is collected manually, stored on spreadsheets and not utilizing even the most basic visualization tools.

However, there is hope. Information, communication technologies (ICT) and visualization tools have the potential to transform the water sector. Fortunately, we also have our experience in the energy sector as a guide. For the past several decades the energy sector has invested in collecting and aggregating data into actionable information.

“For the past several decades the energy sector has invested in collecting and aggregating data into actionable information.”

Diverse stakeholders, such as utilities, consumers and public agencies have data available to understand energy consumption and trends in the power sector. In this manner, stakeholders are better positioned to manage energy production and use.

Benefits of ICT

There are numerous benefits of deploying ICT in the water sector. These benefits were discussed during a recent “One Day for a Digital Water Future” gathering of leaders from a diverse set of industries shaping the digital future of water. These benefits are summarized as follows.  

  • Water quality. Next generation sensors at the tap and at the wellhead to track water quality in real time.
  • Water usage. Consumer and industrial or commercial usage data communicated to drive customer education and behavioral change.
  • Asset management. Network sensors to improve leak detection, energy management and storm water overflows.
  • Operating and Financial Management. Integration of operating and reporting data to improve utility automation and financial management.
  • Water supply and pricing. Track supply-side knowledge on wholesale sources and prices of supply, to help drive trading and reuse markets.
  • National data aggregation. Develop consolidated national water database using real-time tools to aggregate and constantly update these various analytics on water supply, quality, usage and pricing, providing access for public and private use in developing decisions support tools.
  • Predictive analytics. The ability for utilities to proactively identify failures in their assets to minimize downtime and reduce operational and maintenance costs.

A vision of tomorrow?

Taking this thinking further, imagine a world where water data is democratized for all stakeholders. The value of universal access to water data includes the following:

  • Smarter policy. Public sector with integrated (local, state, regional and national scale) water data to drive innovative public policy decisions.
  • Wider awareness. Civil society (homeowners and anyone with a mobile phone) with the ability to access data without the need to rely upon public sector databases, utilities and agencies.
  • Smart infrastructure. Investors with access to data to make more informed decisions (imagine having the same confidence in water data that we do with financial data) on investments in 21st century infrastructure — "smarter" centralized, distributed and decentralized systems.
  • Scalable initiatives. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with water data, so they are better-equipped to drive collective action initiatives within watersheds, regions and nationally.
  • Teamwork. Opportunities for cross industry collaboration on addressing the energy-water-food nexus challenges.

While our water challenges are daunting, we now have the tools to not only understand their complexities, but craft long-term solutions based upon readily understandable information.