KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Cutting down on leaks can save millions of gallons of water.
  • Smart water sensors play a crucial role, and can also ensure that water supplies have not become tainted.
  • Investments in this smart cities technology are crucial right now, ahead of an expected surge in urban population growth.

A series of vast reservoirs in New York State’s Catskills region help provide fresh drinking water to New York City’s 8.5 millioninhabitants.

Trouble is, not all of the water completes the journey through the network of aqueducts. In one section, near Newburgh, New York, an estimated 15 million to 35 million gallons of water escape through the cracks every day.

In response, civil engineers have been deploying thousands of specialized sensors to help spot the precise location of these leaks. And sensors like this are now in strong demand across the globe.

“One of the best practices in small cities is to deploy sensors throughout the whole of the water supply chain,” says Matthew Bailey, a member of the Smart City Advisory Council. These sensors play multiple roles. They can gauge how water is being delivered to each household, flow rates from various reservoirs and other sources, and gauge the health of the entire water infrastructure. “That helps ensure we’re delivering high quality water to consumers,” says Bailey.

Water sensors are just one small part of the broader smart cities technologies market, which will swell in value to $1.2 trillion by 2023, notes Bailey. That encompasses an entire “smart grid,” which will take data input from smart sensors and other beacons of information. Much of the information gleaned from water sensors can help provide a positive feedback loops to civil engineers as they strive to meet regulatory standards for water quality. “Data-driven insights have great potential to transform the way consumers, the government and utilities think about water as a resource and how the industry plans, invests and manages water infrastructure in the future,” noted strategists at Deloitte & Co. in a recent report.

Bold smart cities investments will be crucial in the face of rapid growth in urban environments. Bailey predicts that cities will be home to another three billion inhabitants by 2050. And that’s going to put a huge strain on resources like water, according to Bailey. “We need to get our water quality right to deploy the sensors now in order to have an infrastructure that will serve for the growth we’re going to have in smart cities,” he says.

Oftentimes, it’s not the quantity of water supply available, but the quality. Certain types of water sensors are deployed solely to monitor nearby industrial and agricultural runoff to alert water treatment plants to a possible contamination event. You’ll find the most advanced networks of water quality sensors in places like Singapore and Israel, which are vulnerable to fouled water due to geographic or political reasons.

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