Every Drop of Water Comes with Data
Our planet’s systems are more interrelated than we previously imagined. Some connections have always existed, while others are just now being discovered thanks to human ingenuity and the creative application of technology.
With high powered computing and advanced information analytics, what were previously overly complex demographic and environmental datasets can be defined, abstracted, or modeled and optimized. What we can better measure and assess, we can better understand and manage.
Perhaps the challenge of complex systems and overflowing data is best understood by those charged with managing one of our most complex of systems: the water that feeds our cities. As urbanization becomes the norm globally, understanding how much water we have and how we use it has never been more important.
Our ancestors could scarcely have imagined a three-fold population increase in 70 years, nor could they have foreseen the associated spike in demand on our water sources and networks. For instance, global water usage has increased six-fold since the 1900s—twice the rate of human population growth—while municipalities commonly lose 20 per cent of their water supply due to infrastructure leaks.
Our current city infrastructures were not designed to accommodate these dramatic demographic shifts. With rising populations and service demands, we need smarter solutions to layer on, and provide relief for, our strained physical systems. The good news is that new smart technologies are available worldwide to help city decision-makers take the proper steps and address levels of complexities.
The City of Cambridge has begun the journey to embrace analytical technology in a big-picture approach to managing water resources and assets. Using Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO) algorithms and techniques, city officials are working with IBM Research to develop and implement unique-to-IBM solutions that optimize data, operations, assets and hence cost, around major city functions.
Cambridge can now analyze city assets (pipes, streets, equipment) and life cycles to facilitate more economical and efficient operational cost planning. The Planning Analytics for Life Cycle Management (PALM) project strives to maximize and synchronize asset service life while reducing the backlog of operations and maintenance. With such technologies, Cambridge can better manage the significant cost of asset failures, prioritize maintenance work with more confidence and efficiency, and better serve citizens and businesses, who are often affected by asset repair and replacement works.
This situation illustrates that the complete water environment—the municipal water infrastructure, surrounding watersheds and the overall hydrosphere—must be considered when addressing water challenges in cities. If previous generations believed they had so much supply that a holistic water management strategy was not deemed necessary, we now understand that that our water resources have changed dramatically. We must now account for our water usage with an unprecedented diligence and speed.
Complex systems analysis also demonstrates that system sustainability is enhanced through diversity, which facilitates innovation, specialization and robustness. The Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC) is an ambitious multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary project that embraces this concept and promises to demonstrate the synergistic benefits of integrating existing water management systems.
SOWC is a collaborative project spearheaded by eight universities and draws upon the knowledge and specialized expertise of municipal, not-for-profit and more than 70 private sector partners and supporters, including IBM as its primary corporate investor. The objective is to build a “‘collaboration platform” for research, development, testing and demonstration of water and wastewater technologies and services. IBM’s software, hardware and information management expertise will facilitate end-to-end water data system analysis that will aggregate the data from the instrumentation of the Grand River and Mimico Creek watersheds.
Cross-pollinating knowledge from these diverse organizations, by integrating the instrumented natural (water) networks they already monitor, will facilitate new insights and actionable intelligence.
This evolution of cyberphysical systems management and collaboration will not only drive new and more sustainable environmental practices and policies, but it will also promote economic and social benefits, from better watershed-related services, to more reliable water-centric health and safety.
The “full-cost” accounting of resources and needs extracted from optimized data is already being implemented in forward-thinking institutions across the country and around the world. Progressive-minded local and national leaders are adopting advanced analytical techniques to digitally address the issue of water reserves. Optimized systems and actionable intelligence will become essential to implement smarter water policy and decision making models.
Transformative/disruptive technology will enable the workforce to become responsible, informed stewards of the new integrated physical and digital infrastructures. Predictive analytics, prescriptive maintenance, modeling and simulation will replace brute force and reactive practices. New insights gleaned from cloud-based collaboration and networked sensor arrays will expedite science-based policy development and more responsible water resource management and investments.
This paradigm shift toward data integration and analytics for smarter water management requires courage, collaboration and innovation. Canadian cities and their leaders are realizing that those who inherit our legacy will benefit most if we can integrate our technology innovations into the natural systems and physical foundations, we rely on.
Water is the pillar of human survival. Data, and the intelligence within, will help us address this challenge, if it is managed wisely.