Innovators are excited about what they do. They have to be. Excitement helps fuel the ride on the entrepreneurial roller coaster. It’s what makes them both endearing and frustrating for water utilities. Utility directors love the passion, but with tight budgets, they have to ask the age-old question, “what does this have to do with me?” How does your solution solve a real problem I have right now?
Answering this question becomes the focus. It has to be or you’re out of a job. There are water tech companies around the world solving real problems for real communities. While laser focus is key to achieving goals and moving companies forward, it’s fun to stop and look around for a moment. We stopped and asked ourselves, how is data doing more for the water industry than addressing the problem our business model seeks to solve?
In May 2017, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University released a report called the Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability. The report was a summation of findings from two roundtable discussions called the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability.
The purpose was to discuss how better sharing and managing water data can help water professionals around the country make more informed decisions related to resource management, water quality issues, and public health concerns. The audience was comprised of experts and representatives from the federal, state, and local government agencies, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations. The water representatives consisted of districts and federal entities like the EPA, with familiar names such as Metropolitan Water District and DC Water around the table.
The internet of water is less about knowing what your “neighbors” are doing and more about the idea behind Big Data. Big Data provides more data and a wider perspective with which to make better decisions related to system optimization, both on a macro and micro level. It means a better way to manage issues that don’t always follow jurisdictional boundaries like natural disasters, population growth, and source water quality concerns.
The same issues that plague the infrastructure that conveys water and wastewater also impacts the data infrastructure in the water industry—overworked and understudied. There is substantial data produced but collection and management of that data remain fragmented. Limited funding opportunities limit the ability to innovate in the eyes of many water utilities. However, people across the industry are making the case that technology and data management may offer the customer experience needed to earn more public buy-in—dollars and cents—that will move the industry’s needle of progress in the right direction.
While you can debate whether the internet improved society or not, it’s undeniable that opening up access to data and information changed the face of humanity. What would the world look like with an internet of water? Would it create a more efficient, sustainable mindset around Earth’s most precious resource? The conversation is ongoing and the jury is still out, but it’s one that gets both the water nerds and the data nerds equally excited.