By Klaus Reichardt
Two terms we are going to hear more and more frequently in coming years is “smart cities” and “smart water.” Today, these terms are most often used by urban planners and city governments, but expect them to be used more frequently by all of us in the years ahead.
They have been coined to reflect a significant population shift that has evolved over the past few years. As of 2014 and for the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) says more people are living in cities (urban areas with 500,000 or more people) than in small towns, farming, and rural areas. These less populated areas typically have 100,000 people or less.
What is more, by 2050, WHO projects that more than 70 percent of the world’s population will be city dwellers. Right now, we are just over half. Toping this, the world will have several more megacities, according to WHO. A megacity has a population of 10 million people or more.
These terms were created as a result of these population shifts and population growth. As these population shifts continue and realizing that the world’s population will also be increasing, it becomes clear we are going to need some very smart people, using some very smart technologies in order to ensure cities around the globe are providing their dwellers with the water they need.
Creating Smart Cities Require a Down, Up Approach
Before exploring this further, we need to have a better understanding of what we mean by the term “smart city” and how this applies to water.
Most cities of the future will have similar goals: to make their cities as livable as possible; safe; healthy; sustainable, and efficient. To do this, they will need to have smart energy management, smart public services, smart mobility programs in place, require the construction of smart buildings that are far more efficient than those which we have today, along with smart water management and distribution.
Initially, some planners and city managers may believe that this can all be created by taking a top-down approach. By this, they believe by merely embracing new technologies, computers, and software programs, cities will not only better manage and monitor water distribution, but be able to do the same with electric power grids, natural gas, and other utility services.
However, this concept falls flat when they are confronted with the hard realities they are likely to encounter in many, if not most, major cities around the globe, including those in India and Asia, as well as North and South America. That is that many of the historically larger cities around the world – which are also those being most impacted by these populations shifts – have century-old water distribution systems. Adding high tech technologies to decades all water infrastructure will likely not produce a “smart” result. It will be more like adding fresh pudding on top of a stale cake. It won’t improve the taste.
This means, at least when it comes to smart water, a down-up approach will be necessary. Cities around the globe will have to grapple with a situation almost as old as their water infrastructure. However, this is not necessarily how to modernize and update their water infrastructure, we know how to do that. The crucial issue is how to find the billions if not trillions of dollars necessary to make it all happen. In other words, in order to have a smart city with smart water, cities will need 21st-century water delivery, removal, treatment, and storage systems. Realizing global trends, there really is no way around it.
As we can see, in order to have smart water, a city’s distribution and management system must be efficient, sound, viable, and able to address the current needs of its population and adaptable enough to meet future water needs. Once this is accomplished, city governments will be able to develop smart water programs by embracing those new technologies referenced earlier. These technologies should be able to help do the following:
- Effectively monitor water use and distribution throughout their cities and nearby communities.
- Share relevant water information instantly with all branches of a city government as well as other government administrators.
- Take actionable steps when necessary, such as rerouting water based on demand.
- Improve wastewater distribution along with watershed management.
To help better manage the energy costs related to water delivery and distribution.
This last point is so crucial it needs a bit more discussion. In some cities around the world, as much as half of a city’s total energy “spend” goes to water distribution. But urban planners and city administrators must realize that, at least in a smart city with smart water, these costs will be much more controllable. Once water infrastructure has been optimized and by using advanced technologies, municipal leaders can make more effective and faster decisions that should be able to reduce these energy costs by 15 percent to as much as 30 percent.
We must also point out one more thing. Smart cities and smart water are going to require everyone to use water more efficiently. One way this can be accomplished is through something we mentioned earlier and that is the development of smart buildings. When it comes to water, what we are discovering is that there are many ways facilities can use water more efficiently, reducing consumption dramatically. For instance, in the U.S., one of the largest sports stadiums in the world has recently opened. This stadium was built with several objectives in mind and one of the most important ways to use water as sparingly and carefully as possible.
Along with installing waterless urinals in all restrooms, to save literally millions of gallons of water, xeriscape landscaping was used, mechanicals such as boilers, HVAC systems were all selected because they use water more efficiently than comparable systems and a nearly 700,000-gallon cistern was installed to collect rainwater, which can then be used for cooling the facility and irrigation. This stadium is the first in the world to earn LEED Platinum certification and much of this was accomplished by reducing water consumption.
For our discussion here, we could call this a “smart stadium” and it tells us smart cities and smart water are possible.
About the Author
Klaus Reichardt is CEO and founder of Waterless Co, Inc, Vista, California, USA. Klaus founded the company in 1991 with the goal of establishing a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. Klaus is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water conservation issues.
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