Advanced technology could help Canada and the world stop wasting water
Canada's water infrastructure needs a makeover. Although the taps turn on, the system is plagued by leaks, with losses in some municipalities as high as 45 per cent.
This isn't as bad or as costly as the losses in developing countries; the World Bank estimates that $14-billion goes down the drain globally each year. Nevertheless, Canada's losses cost taxpayers a fair share; it's better to be part of the solution.
Fixing it will be costly. In 2007, before the last recession, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and McGill University estimated a $31-billion cost just to repair Canada's aging water infrastructure, and another $57-billion to meet growing demand.
Costs can be kept down using new detection technology and by wider sharing of information via the industrial Internet. Leaks can be detected earlier and faster. Ultrasound meters using sensors instead of moving parts can measure water flow accurately and cheaply, detecting small leaks that would not otherwise be noticed right away.
Smart meters that track flow precisely can also share data with each other, signaling when something is wrong, so maintenance crews can be sent out sooner.
Thanks to cloud computing, the cost of data sharing keeps coming down. This lets utilities analyze more data, and use it. TaKaDu, an Israeli start-up, leverages big-data analytics to fine-tune water systems and track anomalies in use.
Locally gathered data can be combined with outside information. For instance, a public-private partnership entered into by the Netherlands' Ministry of Water looks at levee pressure, water levels and weather data for better disaster planning and risk management against floods.
Big data can also help agriculture. Solar-powered monitors can track and transmit information about weather, moisture levels and how these relate to crops and water supply. People can pay their water bills by mobile phone; in cities that bill customers based on water use (instead of a flat rate), a bill that's way higher or lower than normal can trigger a warning of leak or a blockage.
Clean tech and big data won't completely address our financing and infrastructure needs — the pipes need fixing too. But better-flowing knowledge can go a long way.
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This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with GE. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.