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Information and Communication technologies to manage growing water scarcity

The role of ICT to strengthen water resource management in a context of projected scarcity and urban concentration is widely acknowledged by the scientific community and water practitioners. AS IBM put in its Global Innovation Report on Water (more), the need for better understanding applies not just to the layperson who unquestioningly consumes water, but also to the scientists, academics, business people and policymakers who study water for a living

Here are some key challenges a water smart society will have to deal with in the next future:

  • overall decrease of water consumption, and consequently weakening of the traditional economic model based on volumes sold to customers;
  • increase of water reuse, and even of cascading uses;
  • notion of “circular economy of water” – major change compared to the traditional “open cycle” management of water
  • extension of the responsibility of water utilities to ensure long-term conservation of aquatic eco-systems;
  • integration of smart water management in future green / smart cities / buildings;
  • water – energy nexus. Meeting future energy needs depends on water availability and meeting water needs depends on wise energy policy decisions;
  • increasing concerns on the huge investments in water infrastructure.

In this context, one should note that the energy smart grid model cannot be easily replicated for water distribution because of fundamental differences:

  • Once it has been used, waste water must be collected and treated
  • Energy networks can connect a diversity of micro and macro sources. This is impossible for drinking water supply because of the obligation to meet stringent quality standards.
  • Conversely to energy, water can be easily stored. This makes it easier to balance the supply and consumption flows.

In 2011, a Thematic Network, named @qua (more), was established under the CIP-ICT PSP Programme. It reviewed the current use of ICT tools in the water industry, highlighting the limitations of stand-alone applications and the lack of integrated approach. Final deliverables are expected in June 2013.

In order to pave the way for future research to be supported by the forthcoming Horizon 2020 program, the European Commission DG Connect organized in 2013 an expert consultation to increase efficiency of water management and foster EC investment in research (final report).

This consultation resulted in the identification of three general objectives

  • Substantial consumer water and energy savings
  • Peak –period reduction of water and energy distribution loads
  • Reduction of GHG emissions

And three ICT domains to be considered for future development

  • Standards and interoperability through dedicated information system for water management
  • Dedicated application for water management (supply, customers management, life cycle assessment)
  • Prospective technologies (sensors, wireless communications)

As conclusion, the report proposes a classification of the  water challengers which can be better handled thanks to ICT

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