Many people take for granted how easy it is to turn on their faucets and instantly get fresh, clean water. However, others are constantly aware water is a precious resource that’s becoming increasingly scarce. Big data involves analyzing massive quantities of information with tools that can process it much faster than humans could without that technological assistance.
Industries ranging from health care to retail depend on big data to make decisions and learn more about their customers. However, there’s also a move toward using big data to solve the water crisis.
Studying Satellite Images to Spot Leaking Pipes
Leaking pipes lead to higher operating costs for utility companies, in addition to wasting resources. Moreover, some leaks persist across long spans of time, especially those that are hardest to detect. An Israeli company called Utilis offers an innovative way to spot leaks within less than a 100-meter buffer.
It involves combining algorithms with microspectral satellite imagery, thereby using technology to assess thousands of square kilometers at once. In addition to informing utility providers about the location of leaks, the software also provides details about the severity, allowing field personnel to prioritize their workdays.
Leaking pipes alone do not cause the water crisis, but they are a contributing factor. When the government of Victoria, Australia, engaged in a trial of this leak-detection technology, a representative confirmed leaks cause the loss of 160 liters of water in Victoria every day. After only four days, the Utilis technology identified 18 faults.
Helping Utility Companies Manage Their Operations
India is facing a chronic water shortage that’s forecasted to get worse. But, in that country and others, utility providers are turning to big data platforms to become more aware of water usage and other critical statistics.
For example, in Bangalore, water companies can measure usage at any point and make access to water as equitable as possible. While looking at a single control panel, it’s possible to monitor the performance of more than 250 water meters, plus focus on an individual unit.
Similarly, in Kerala, companies depend on water meters and sensors from IBM to keep tabs on water consumption — including to spot irregularities that could indicate instances of unauthorized usage. One advantage of big data platforms is that they can look for deviations in patterns that might otherwise remain hidden.
By relying on big data to streamline operations, utility companies can lead the fight against water scarcity in various ways. They could examine statistics to discover ways to recover water or save money when carrying out repairs that exacerbate water shortages.
Making Water Safer for Everyone to Drink
Anyone who has ever traveled to a country associated with impurities in the water supply knows that even when water’s available, it’s not always drinkable. Fortunately, utility providers must follow specific requirements to ensure their sources are free from contaminants like Legionella. One type of that bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease, which presents with pneumonia-like symptoms.
Legionnaires’ disease is often associated with non-potable sources of water, such as mist from air conditioners, but can also show up in drinking water. Effective protection against the bacteria involves having a water management plan that encompasses surveying all sources of water and reacting to problematic findings. Big data could assist with both establishing baselines and giving alerts about abnormalities.
This approach could be particularly advantageous in detecting problems affecting multiple utility companies in a region, especially if they agree to share the data platform results safely. For example, one report showed 10 million Texas residents were using water supplies contaminated with an herbicide called atrazine.
Moreover, the utility companies tested for the substance during times when farmers weren’t actively using it, meaning the levels could be much higher during other times of the year. If a big data platform gives a notification about contamination in the early stages, the likelihood of minimizing the damage and overall reach of the contamination increases.
Also, in Puerto Rico, which is known for poor water quality and overall distrust in water sources, researchers began testing for bacteria in water, but found elevated levels of copper and lead, too. If big data platforms look for multiple contaminants early and often, more people could take advantage of nearby water sources without worry or suspicion.
Helping Customers Reduce Wasted Water
Even people who are very conservation-minded waste water without realizing it. For example, if a person has a small leak in an automatic irrigation system, that problem could lead to 6,300 gallons worth of unnecessary water usage. Things like constantly running toilets also waste water, causing extra-high bills.
Unfortunately, individuals don’t always understand the information their water bills contain, so they may blindly keep paying them because they can’t spot discrepancies. However, a company called WaterSmart Software offers a Bill Explainer tool that examines collective data associated with customer usage and helps people identify issues.
This approach allows utility companies to save on customer service costs because people can get answers about their water bills without having to contact their respective providers. Plus, the platform uses artificial intelligence to spot trends that empower users to cut down on their consumption from month to month.
People can get notifications of unusual water usage statistics associated with their households, too. Then, it’s possible to be proactive and take corrective action before people receive higher-than-average water bills.
Another company called Banyan Water reportedly saved 84.8 million gallons of water through a smart interface that reminds customers they can bypass watering their lawns due to a recent rainfall or tells them there are potentially undetected leaks in their apartments.
Water Conservation Requires Collaboration and Cooperation
Conservation methods solve water scarcity problems, but it’s often challenging to know how and where to start. Big data solutions bring clarity to the issues and give information about what to do for positive impacts.
No matter if utility companies, individual customers or entire countries use big data to tackle the issue, making progress becomes possible when people work together for the greater good and deploy advanced big data technologies.