For the past five years, I have kept a keen eye on World Water Day events and media coverage.
As the event gets more press coverage and social media recognition each year, it’s always interesting to see what themes and trends permeate the day’s news feeds. I’m not only interested as an average citizen—I’ve devoted the past half-decade of my life to acutely understanding the challenges of today’s water infrastructure and how we will be able to sustain our water supply for generations to come.
Most of Canada’s population interacts with water on a daily basis in the same way that their parents did: from the tap at home. To be honest, it’s rare to hear anyone outside of the water sector—or the “water bubble,” as I like to call it—put more than a few thoughts toward where their water comes from and how long it will stay that way. Certainly there are far fewer Canadians who consider our water supply than there are who have dedicated their time to discovering the next oil reserve or copper mine.
But how can you really blame anyone who lives in the shadow of the Great Lakes? We have an embarrassment of water riches and it’s both a curse and a blessing.
The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater lake system in the world and they are landlocked by the world’s friendliest international border and protected by a strong water-quality protocol. They are definitely a blessing for those living in the Great Lakes watershed. However, with this cheap, abundant water supply for homes, farms and industries alike, also comes apathy and inefficiency.
The level of the tracking and the transparency of how our communal water is being managed, distributed and even sold off to public and private entities is subpar. Poorly managed and aging infrastructure, leaky pipe distribution networks and large pools of freshwater reserves being sold to large multinational corporations are the stories that will garner a lot of attention this time of year. However, these are not the water issues that most of us should be interested in hearing about every March 22.
The emerging themes that should be more carefully followed include: the visibility into the current quality of our water systems; the transparency into the management of the treatment and distribution sides of these systems; and the more effective plans and predictions that will follow.
Big data and the Internet of Things have been talked about in many other regulated industries, like the energy industry, and we’re already starting to reap the benefits of better operations, greater transparency and a deeper public conscience around our energy consumption and future supply. I see a time in the not-so-distant future where the same can be said of the water sector. It is a necessity in order to avoid economic stagnation or, even worse, regional catastrophes and water conflicts. It’s hard to conjure the name of a growing industry that doesn’t need vast pools of water to thrive. Integrated circuits, massive farming operations and power generation industries all depend on water. So why aren’t we paying closer attention to our economy’s real lifeblood?
This March 22 I will be looking for new opportunities to use big data and prediction and sensor technologies to start the deluge of dialogue around how to start addressing our water system needs today and for the future.