Monday, March 25, 2013

IBM Taps Big Data to Help Solve Water Challenges Across South Africa“WaterWatchers,” a new mobile app, harnesses the power of crowdsourcing

IBM (NYSE: IBM) marks World Water Day with the launch of a crowdsoucing project to help capture, share and analyze information about the water distribution system in South Africa. The project, called “WaterWatchers,” is driven by a new mobile phone application and SMS capability that will enable South African citizens to report water leaks, faulty water pipes and general conditions of water canals. Every update will provide vital data points to an aggregated “WaterWatchers” report to create a single view of the issues challenging South Africa’s water distribution system.

IBM's new WaterWatchers app helps citizens contribute to the health of their local water supply
The free app, currently available for Android download at, and the SMS capability* together provide an easy way for anyone to collect and report issues on local waterways and pipes to a centralized portal. After taking a photo and answering three simple questions about the particular water canal or pipe, the data is uploaded in real-time to a central database. After 30 days, the data will be analyzed and aggregated into a meaningful “leak hot spot” map for South Africa.
IBM began exploring crowdsourcing to address water related issues in the city of San Jose, California, with its CreekWatch mobile app, which is still available and currently being used in more than 25 countries. WaterWatchers was adapted from the CreekWatch concept to include additional capabilities such as SMS and the ability to share photos on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

... South Africa has seen the department of water affairs increase spending by 20% to R9 billion ($900M USD) in 2011- 2012. Similarly, spending on water sector management has increased by 28.8% year on year over the same period and spending on water infrastructure management has risen by 13.2% year on year. But the pressure of urban population influx continues to place more strain on ageing water infrastructure. According to the 2011 Census, ninety-three percent of South African households had access to safe water in 2010 but only 45% of those with access to water actually had it in their homes.

A WaterWatchers report will be made available to local municipalities, water control boards and other water system stakeholders once the data is filtered appropriately.  This could help local municipalities vizualise and prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure.

The WaterWatchers platform holds enormous potential for similar applications that can be used to monitor and report on just about any aspect of one’s environment: city services (report potholes, late buses), wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.
For more information about IBM Smarter Water, visit

The IBM Smart Water site offers an October 15, 2012 white paper from the IBM Institute for Business Value by Mary Keeling and Michael Sullivan and available free of charge at entitled "Fixing the future: Why we need smarter water management for the world’s most essential resource" which  highlights the vulnerability of the world's water system and outlines why cities, utilities and businesses "must take immediate action to deploy a smarter approach to water management to solve the world’s water crisis."  This white paper highlights the vulnerability of the world's water system and outlines why cities, utilities and businesses "must take immediate action to deploy a smarter approach to water management to solve the world’s water crisis."

The report notes that according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), US$68 billion of the $121 billion of economic activity generated by the water industry is provided as inputs to other activities. This underestimates the true value and importance of water in supporting economic activity as the price paid by users for water in many countries does not reflect the true cost of supply. Water is needed to produce a host of goods and services.

An alarming percentage of the world’s water is going to waste. For example, nearly 35 percent of all the water used each year in agriculture is frivoled away by poor resource management. according to “The world’s 4 trillion dollar challenge: Using a system-of-systems approach to build a smarter planet.” by Peter Korsten Peter and Christian Seider also of IBMs Institute for Business Value available at
The link between water and health is significant – more than 50 percent of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water-related diseases, and 80 percent of diseases in developing countries are attributed to poor quality water.
Irrigated agriculture accounts for 80 percent of global water use and 40 percent of the world’s food production.
The world’s energy system is heavily reliant on water. Energy accounts for 49 percent of total water used in the United States and 44 percent in the European Union (EU). As energy needs grow, water consumption will increase accordingly. Compared to usage in 2000, the United States will require 165 percent more water by 2025, and the EU will need 130 percent more by 2030. Issues with water availability are already restricting energy production. Central and South China experienced severe drought in 2011 that resulted in power shortages. The severe drought in 2012 in the United States led to reliability problems and price increases for electric power in California. Energy also affects water quality. The U.S. oil and gas industry produces 60 million barrels of wastewater daily. In Africa, 260,000 barrels of oil spill into the Niger Delta every year.16 Concerns over the impact on water quality from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), used for extracting oil and gas, has led to increased regulation concerning disclosures of chemicals used, as well as its ban in many places, including South Africa, Australia and France.
Considerable energy is required to extract, treat, distribute and heat water, as well as collect and treat wastewater.
Water stress problems will become even more pervasive as the number of people living in areas of severe water stress increases. Between 2005 and 2030, this number is expected to have increased by almost 40 percent, from 2.8 billion people to 3.9 billion.

In the United Kingdom, 3.4 billion liters of water are lost daily through leakage. In Mumbai, India, 700 million liters of water are lost daily through leakages and illegal connections. The average leakage rate in Latin American cities is 35 percent.  An average leakage rate of over 20 percent has been reported in more than 400 cities in China.  Inadequate water and sewage treatment facilities put more than half of Brazil’s cities at risk of water shortages by 2015.

It is estimated that between 2011 and 2025, US$1 trillion is required to fix aging water infrastructure problems in the United States, where, for example, 5,365 dams will have exceeded their design life by 2015.

China is planning to invest $128 billion by 2015 to address inadequate water infrastructure.

Globally, between 1980 and mid-2012, more than 4,000 flood disasters affected 3.5 billion people, killed 6.9 million and caused US$559 billion of damage.29 As the hydrological cycle continues to intensify, more frequent and intense episodes of precipitation are anticipated. These episodes are likely to increase flooding and storm-water runoff, causing further human and financial losses.30 By 2025, over half of the population in developing countries will be highly vulnerable to floods and storms. By 2050, the global population at risk from flooding will grow 33 percent, from 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion.

By 2070, the value of flood-exposed economic assets in 136 major ports could reach 9 percent of global GDP. Flooding impacts water quality as surface contaminants enter water supplies, aquifers and storm-water runoffs.
Two million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water every day. In the United States alone, sewer overflows discharge up to 850 billion gallons of wastewater annually. Over 780 million people worldwide do not have access to safe water. Issues with water quality have resulted in an increase of over 600 percent in the number of people using bottled water in urban areas to meet drinking water needs, from 26 million in 1990 to 192 million in 2010.36 These problems are worsening.

The number of people without access to safe water is expected to rise to 2 billion by 2025, and as the world’s urban population rises from 52 percent in 2011 to over 67 percent in 2050, this will exacerbate existing challenges managing urban water and wastewater.

All of the challenges and problems in the water system are compounded by the looming skills crisis in the water industry.

To address the challenge with water stress and optimize the balance between supply and demand, water consumption needs to be managed more effectively by users and supplies need to be better managed by utilities. Smarter water management enables this optimization by collecting data on water demand and supply from sensors and smart meter systems across utilities or industrial users’ infrastructure and networks. This data can be analyzed and visualized in real-time to generate insight on water consumption behavior and supply conditions. Users can then use this insight to more effectively manage their demand, while utilities can more effectively control supply through better decisions about what, when and how much water to store, treat and distribute. It also enables improved collaboration and more coordinated management across multiple stakeholders by enabling them to access and share data on a single platform.

In Dubuque, Iowa smart water management entails the following:

• Real-time platform monitors water consumption every 15 minutes and securely transmits anonymous data to the cloud, where it analyzed with weather and other data.
• Quickly and automatically notifies households of potential leaks and anomalies and water usage information expressed in dollar, gallon and carbon savings to improve water conservation.
• Generates insight into water consumption trends for citizens, city policy makers and the city water department, to be used for short-term decisions and longer-term planning.
• Benefits generated included decreased water utilization by 6.6 percent during pilot and anticipated annual savings over 23,000 households of 64.9 million gallons, as well as increased water leak detection of 8  percent compared to 0.98 percent citywide, a 716 percent increase.

Press Release dated March 22, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment