Smart cities need to have smart water management systems

Smart cities need to have smart water management systems

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Smart water management system is the need of the hour to achieve three main goals: coordinated management and distribution of water resources; enhanced environmental protection; and sustainable economic development and public-service provision

According to United Nation’s estimates, 85% of the world’s people live in the driest parts of the world, around 783 million people do not have access to clean water, and almost 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. This highlights the necessity and scarcity of water worldwide. Though water is the most essential natural resource needed for the sustenance of life, large percentage of the global population do not have access to clean water. A reliable supply of clean water is fundamental to human life, the operation of our economies and political stability.

Situation is only going to aggravate in the coming years as urbanisation gains further momentum and more and more people migrate to cities. We need smarter cities and even more and better water management skills. Smart water management will be crucial in protecting the quality and consistency of the water supply, ensuring food security and life-sustaining economic activity.

Part of the problem relating water scarcity is man-made and is due to mismanagement of water resources. In Indian cities water problems are mostly the creation of politicians who are hand in glove with local tanker mafia.

Securing access to water is a social challenge regardless of the stage of economic development, the location or the resources available. Availability of water is human development driver and its absence will have opposite impact and therefore, water problem deserves a privileged place in the policy agenda.

Traditional water-management practices were based solely on mechanisms to control and monitor water supplies, reserves and quality. In the absence of well managed telecommunication network and also lack of technological support, traditionally authorities responsible for the management of water resources were somewhat isolated from their potential sphere of impact and influence.  With the better information and communication technologies one thought situation would improve substantially but nothing of that sort has happened. In the initial stages of making our cities smarter, authorities are mainly concerned with bringing about superficial changes which may not make much difference to quality of individual’s life.

Smart water management system is the need of the hour to achieve three main goals: coordinated management and distribution of water resources; enhanced environmental protection; and sustainable economic development and public-service provision.

But remember “Smart” automation technologies or computerized systems cannot, in themselves, guarantee smart water management. These innovations are valuable components of the water-management process, but the collective benefits of these innovations are far greater if they are implemented and managed as part of an integrated, holistic system for smart water management.

It is interesting and also unfortunate to note that people who design cities and the people who manage water haven’t always worked together. Perhaps this partly explains the water mess created in our cities. Currently making cities water efficient is not at all on the main agenda of the planners. In order to design and build cities to be more water-efficient, we need to have more collaboration between water agencies and those who manage how cities are developed. Complete integration and coordination between water department and urban planners is a must for increasing the efficiency of the city water management system.

Smart water management system should employ all modern communication and information technologies to build a water-management system that exploits aquatic ecosystems in a way that does not compromise social, economic or environmental sustainability.

Data collected should be used to analyse consumers’ water-use behaviour and the same should be shared with all the stakeholders to encourage consumption-oriented water use that minimizes costs and maximizes economic and environmental efficiency. Technology should be used to provide protections against pollution, quality tests and control of wastewater. Smart water pipes or resource geolocation should be part of the smart city plans on a priority basis as that kind of system can provide information on the status of the water network which in turn help in allowing decisions and corresponding actions to be taken in a faster and more controlled way. This will also help in allocating resources wherever necessary and saving resources wherever possible.

Access to quality water is as essential as food and it should be treated as our fundamental right. To fulfil this fundamental right all available modern technologies and techniques – Geographical Information Systems (GIS); Big Data analytics; Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and applications; and ICT tools for stakeholder collaboration and engagement – should be employed. Policies aimed at encouraging smart water management should encourage coherence in the application of standards and technologies. The development of such policies, as well as underlying standards and technology strategies, should be undertaken in collaboration by all concerned stakeholders.

There is an urgent need to apply holistic decision-making mechanisms that consider the impact of authorities’ decisions on the quality and quantity of our limited water reserves. Properly functioning efficient water network is as essential as road and metro networks in the cities. Therefore, there is urgent need to mainstream the consideration of water issues in decision-making processes.