Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Using technology to cut water wastage: IBM


According to a United Nations report from 2021, 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries, which the World Health Organization predicts will be exacerbated in some regions due to climate change and population growth.

To sustain life on Earth, we must protect the health of its water resources while also being efficient in our consumption, including reducing waste in water distribution. These tasks require a wide range of equipment, assets, and people, and IBM has extensive experience in bringing together data and systems to assist. We understand how to connect and contextualize information from various sources, as well as how to use AI to turn such data into actionable insights—insights that can make a real difference in addressing sustainability challenges like these.

Our sustainability solutions enable organizations to combine data with AI insights to better manage and optimise operations. We can use data-driven technology to assist organizations in reducing waste and protecting our precious water resources in order to meet the needs of current and future generations.

Cutting Non-Revenue Water
Unaccounted-for or non-revenue water (NRW) is one type of waste—water that has been produced but is "lost" before reaching the user. The World Bank estimates that 45 million cubic meters of water are lost daily due to leaks and pipe bursts, amounting to more than US$3 billion per year. Simply reducing NRW in developing countries by half would provide enough fresh water to serve approximately 90 million people.

The first step in reducing NRW is identifying where it occurs, which is where IBM's sustainability solutions can help. For example, the IBM Maximo Application Suite combines data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, and visual inspection data to detect anomalies in pipes or pumps. If system pressure drops and flow levels increase, operators will be notified in real time that a pipe burst has occurred. Maximo is also capable of detecting minor changes in pumping equipment that indicate minor leaks or malfunctions.

Another way to reduce NRW is to improve the overall health of water distribution systems. Many municipalities and businesses rely on ageing infrastructure. Even in developed countries, water and sewer pipes can last for more than a century. Organizations will frequently schedule routine maintenance work based on the age of components to maintain these systems. However, the oldest pipes in a system are not always the ones in the worst condition.

Maximo and the IBM TRIRIGA Application Suite can assist in monitoring and managing water infrastructure, as well as providing predictive insights that allow for more informed decisions. Maximo includes out-of-the-box tools designed specifically for the water industry to predict where problems are likely to arise based on KPI analysis. Engineers and operators can improve visibility into the integrity of their infrastructure and reduce NRW events by using a variety of custom predictive analytics tools. Utility companies can also avoid costs associated with unnecessary maintenance on infrastructure that is in good working order.

IBM is committed to continuing to offer our technology to support this cause in order to help improve access to safe drinking water for all. This year, the new cohort of our IBM Sustainability Accelerator—our global, pro bono social impact program—will scale innovative water management solutions using IBM technologies and expertise. IBM will seek to support projects that, among other things, help improve equitable access to safe drinking water for all, improve water quality by reducing pollution, increase water-use efficiency across all sectors, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, improve sanitation management, and reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

Protecting the quality of water resources
We must not only reduce water waste, but also protect the quality of our water resources. For example, IBM has been collaborating with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Lake George Association, a non-profit lake advocacy group, at Lake George in upstate New York for the past ten years. Our common goal has been to track anthropogenic changes to the lake, or environmental changes caused directly or indirectly by humans. To paint a detailed, real-time, and ongoing picture of the water's quality and movement, the project employs a sophisticated system of IoT sensors, AI, analytics technologies, and predictive computer models.

This project assists us in understanding the cause of a health and public safety issue, such as a harmful algal bloom (HAB), which can render water unfit for humans and animals.

Scientists and engineers from IBM Research created an integrated platform at Lake George to perform visualization and analytics on nearly every important aspect of the lake and its surrounding watershed. This platform retrieved detailed weather data from IBM with a 330-meter resolution and 10-minute intervals, including temperature, precipitation, wind speed, air pressure, and solar radiation.

The data is then fed into a hydrological model, along with information on rainfall and snow melt, to help the team understand the rate and direction of water flowing into the lake. This combined data is then fed into a hydrodynamic model, which describes how water moves within the lake.

The end result is a picture of how the lake's physics, chemistry, and biology are changing—from an increase in chloride levels caused by anti-icing salt runoff from surrounding roadways to the presence of nutrients from septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, and fertilizers that could be contributing to HABs.

The team then runs computer models to determine how these changes can be reversed through improved controls and advises the local municipality on best practices for remediation. The Lake George Association launched The Lake George Road Salt Reduction Initiative in response to models that showed the lake's resiliency, or its ability to return to more pristine conditions if salinated runoff was reduced.

The open-source technology has already been applied to other lakes across the country, including Chautauqua Lake in Western New York and Skaneateles Lake in New York's Finger Lakes district.

Assessing progress
Significant challenges exist in meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of providing safe drinking water and sanitation to all by 2030, and achieving these goals will require all of the good ideas and collaboration we can muster, aided by technology. Fortunately, gathering the underlying data required to assess our progress towards sustainability goals is becoming a higher priority for businesses and governments, and technology has enabled not only improved insights from, but also greater data transparency. These new insights and transparency have enabled businesses, governments, and local communities to collaborate in new ways by making more holistic decisions that meet their collective needs.

For example, in Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne Water, the government-owned authority that protects and manages the city's major water resources, treats approximately 90% of sewage at their Eastern and Western Treatment Plants. Energy consumption, which is required to support water management activities, is one of Melbourne Water's primary expenses. Their energy consumption accounts for roughly half of the state's total carbon emissions from the water sector. Aware of the water-energy nexus, Melbourne Water is utilizing the IBM Envizi ESG Suite to help proactively manage its portfolio of transactional energy data and eliminate data retention and reporting challenges that are impeding improvements in operational efficiency and progress towards sustainability goals.

Stakeholders at Melbourne Water now have direct access to a single source of data for all of the organization's energy and emissions metrics. Melbourne Water has been able to focus on protecting the public water supply and meeting the needs of its customers while lowering its operational impact on climate by utilizing Envizi reporting tools and leveraging the value of data to support its sustainability efforts.

While there are numerous pressing issues confronting communities around the world, IBM has been committed to environmental stewardship for more than 50 years. As stated in its 2021 ESG Report, IBM sees environmental leadership as a long-term strategic imperative, as evidenced by our continued setting of ambitious goals and application of our technologies to accelerate solutions to global environmental challenges. For example, one of IBM's 21 environmental sustainability goals is to achieve year-to-year reductions in water withdrawals at larger IBM locations in water-stressed regions.

This World Water Day, we are highlighting these examples to demonstrate how using technology to solve the most pressing challenges, such as the global water crisis, can help us make meaningful and demonstrable progress towards our sustainability goals.