Water Sustainability: Management Strategies

April 24, 2022

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We are all aware of the global water crisis. Droughts in California, South Africa and other African countries have been front page news the last few years.

Praying for rain can’t hurt, but the only real solution to the crisis is strategic water management that will provide water for generations to come and not just tactical solutions that “put out fires.”

Our next two blogs will talk about water management, what it is, what its short- and long-term goals are, as well as tips and strategies for good water management.

What is Water Management

Water management is basically making optimal use of your available water resources through good planning, development and distribution.

Water management should, in theory, ensure that all of our different water needs are met, from water for cooking and drinking to water for personal hygiene, handling waste, irrigating fields or gardens, and more. With climate change having a drastic impact on the supply of fresh water, however, the first step in good water management is to reevaluate our water needs and lower our water requirements to the greatest extent possible.

Where Does Our Water Go?

Only 3% of the Earth’s water is fresh water and this is the primary resource for which all our water needs compete. The current average distribution of water usage around the globe is 70% agriculture, 17% industry, 11% for household needs and 2% for miscellaneous requirements. The map below, however, shows that these proportions differ quite widely from region to region. In the United States, for example, agriculture and industry are equally dominant when it comes to water usage. On the other hand, countries with a lower socioeconomic profile tend to use 90% of their water on agriculture and only 2% on industry. [2]

Water Management Guidelines

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has established a list of criteria for countries and municipalities when forming their water management strategies. To get started the FAO suggests the following:

  • Planning and analysis—Map out all the present and future water needs: agriculture, industry, health care, sanitation and hygiene, etc.
  • Institutionalize everything: There should be clear and pragmatic rules and a board of directors to ensure that the rules are being followed.
  • Smart water usage: Economic incentives should be in place to encourage water saving measures
  • Public education: Programs and projects should be developed to educate the public about the importance of the long term water management strategies.

 

The bottom line is that water management strategies should be: acceptable and feasible for those who will have to administer them; sustainable, efficacious and efficient; have a positive environmental impact; and be fiscally responsible. [1]

What is Water Sustainability?

Water sustainability is defined as a nation’s ability to provide the water needs for the three main water usage sectors: agricultural, industrial and municipal. The water supply should stay consistent, despite drought or flooding. Additionally, water sustainability has to make economic sense. You can’t bankrupt a country or city just to meet their water needs. [3]

Ultimately this is the goal for all water management strategies. Proper water management has to be long term, for generations to come and take into account all of the external factors.

Water Strategy Objectives

Strategies will differ according to different regional climates  and unique problems like drought, flooding or pollution/water poisoning. In all cases, however, it is important to keep your water management objectives concise, precise and realistic.

Here are some common objectives:

  • Reduce water demand
  • Improve flood management
  • Increase water supply
  • Improve water quality
  • Recharge area protection—protecting our ground water sites [4]

 

The main objective for everyone in water management, however, is water sustainability, i.e., meeting our present-day water needs without endangering the needs of future generations. Only a holistic approach that encompasses climate, culture, technology, environmental issues and proper education will let us succeed in the uphill battle to achieve water sustainability.

Protect Our Water Sources

  • Groundwater— Groundwater typically accounts for more than 50% of our fresh water supply. We must take all the necessary steps to keep these sources clean and to use them wisely. Strategic water planning must include a practical plan for 100% replenishment of all water taken from the ground.
  • Surface Water—After decades of man-made pollution, most surface water today has to be treated to be used as a fresh water source. Building dams can help isolate surface water sources and keep them free from contaminating pollutants, as well as help with flood control. One consideration, however, when building dams is to reduce the negative impact on wildlife is not negatively affected since their source of water will be diverted from its natural path.
  • Desalination—Desalination has generated fresh water for many countries that have limited fresh water sources. To date the process requires a large amount of energy, but the near future promises desalination plants powered by solar energy that will make desalination an excellent source for sustainable water.
  • Reclaimed Water—Reclaimed reusable water is one of the most cost effective contributors to water sustainability today. Underused in most of the world, China is successfully reusing almost half of its water for irrigation and industry. [5]

IoT in Water Management

IoT, the Internet of Things, is one of the most useful enabling technologies in water management today. Some common applications are:

  • Water Conservation—IoT sensors used in reservoirs and other water storage facilities facilitate reports on how much water is being used at any given time on any given day. This information allows for proper water usage planning and conservation.
  • Smart Irrigation—reducing the amount of wasted water is one of the main goals in water management. With a smart irrigation system, IoT sensors allow highly precise and thrifty irrigation scheduling based on realtime weather and soil conditions.
  • Water Wastage Management—Smart water meters let users know where leaks are occurring as they occur. They are used efficiently in a wide variety of water distribution systems, from agricultural to residential, commercial and city-wide.
    In addition to the smart water meters, there are now IoT devices that can detect temperature changes, chemical leakage, and changes in water pressure—all of which are factors that contribute to water wastage.
  • Water Quality Testing—IoT technology can be used to analyze water sources, sending real time results such as levels of bacteria, chlorine, and totally dissolved solids. [6]

The Final Note

The warning bells are ringing. Now is the time to conserve and protect our water sources. Only by educating ourselves and communities around the world will we be able to sustainably provide the clean and accessible water sources that we need in order to survive.

We need a holistic approach that takes into account natural resources management and technology as we reduce our water usage and, even more importantly, reduce water wastage.

By working together today we can ensure a bountiful, thirst-quenching future for future generations.

References

[1] James Winpenny, FAO Policy Review and Strategy Formation, 1995

[2] Hannah Ritchie, Water Use and Stress, July 2018

[3] Aquatech Staff, Essential Guide to Sustainable Water, August 19, 2019

[4] California Department of Water Resources, Water Resource Management Strategies, 2020

[5] Aquatech, Our Essential Guide to Sustainable Water Management, August 19, 2019

[6] Parija Rangnekar, How Can IoT Help In Water Management?, March 12, 2019

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