Water Management

E-mail Melanie Martella

For all the fuss and attention around oil, water—and its management and conservation—doesn't get anywhere near as much press. And it should. Although Earth has a lot of water, (71% of its surface is covered by the stuff), only a tiny fraction of it can be classed as water we can use (a mere 0.3%, according to the USGS). As such, monitoring and managing this critical resource is important. IBM thinks there's money to be made in water management and I think they're right.

The company made the announcement at the World Water Forum, a meeting held every three years and organized by the World Water Council. The aim is to gather international decision makers and other stakeholders to collaborate on how to preserve and protect the world's water supply, to solve water-related problems, and to poke and prod world administrations into giving water security a higher priority. The forum ends on March 22 which is, not so coincidentally, World Water Day.

IBM Wades In
During the World Water Forum, IBM announced a suite of water management products. They think water management is important (duh) and a possible growth market (not so duh). As a species, we've been pretty darn profligate with our use and abuse of water. We're wasteful and we're sloppy, and we keep thinking that as long as the stuff we dump into the water supplies gets sufficiently diluted, we're all set. When the population was somewhat smaller, we were probably right. Now? Not so much.

However, to be frugal and careful with our water supply, we need to know what we're doing with it, and that's where the sensors and the data they produce come in. You can't manage what you can't measure: and that's what IBM is counting on. The projects they're currently involved in are pretty amazing (you can read about some of them here).

I think that this comes at a time when we have both a much greater awareness of water issues and technology capable of the kind of monitoring required. You need to be able to create and network large numbers of sensors. You need to handle vast quantities of data from disparate sources. Ten years ago, I don't think you could have implemented such large-scale projects as Ireland's SmartBay or the Beacon Institute's River and Estuary Observatory Network. Water management isn't just about answering technical questions, but we can't address our water conundrums without those answers.