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Published on November 4th, 2017 | by Cynthia Shahan


The Internet Of Water

November 4th, 2017 by  

Consider these two valuable, or invaluable, resources: 1. water and 2. credible information.

Essentially, our human brain and heart are more water than any other element — 73% water. Our human lungs are about 83% water. Every other organ, including our skin organ, compares in this range as well. And, yes, even our denser selfs, our bones, are quite watery: 31%.

Water is fascinating. It is the material of life and something that will bring death in its absence. Water is one of our most vulnerable resources. While we all know pure, clean, drinkable water is critical, there’s far too much acceptance of polluted water that leads to disease.

Actual, credible information is the second thing to consider. One way to solve water crises it to improve and share our collective knowledge of water. Water data could be more available for everyone with the creation of an “internet of water.” What if regional, state, countrywide, and private water data hubs expanded their mission and interconnections?

As it is, existing state, regional, and national data collection efforts focus on portions of the water cycle or specific geographic regions — not whole water systems. So, one of the problems with water management is insufficient coordination across impregnable information walls. The age of information could help change this. The “internet of water” could “revolutionize” water management.

“The United States is awash in water data — the power of which has yet to be unleashed,” Melissa Edeburn writes for the Nicholas Institute at Duke University.

Unleashing this information offers more sustainable management of water resources. I hope that it may well prevent loss of viable drinking water in some regions, water that children and families need in order to survive and live healthy lives. Perhaps suffering in places such as Flint, Michigan (where people still lack safe tap water) could be avoided.

Edeburn continues: “Water management is hindered by decision makers’ inability to answer three fundamental questions about our water systems in a timely way: How much water is there? What is its quality? How is it used (withdrawn, consumed or returned for different purposes)?

“To realize the dormant value of the data, say some producers and users, would require making them widely shareable in standardized digital formats, thereby allowing their real-time aggregation for a host of purposes beyond those that spurred their original collection. They believe that opening the data and investing in water data infrastructure would set in motion a wave of innovation, leading to more sustainable management of our water resources.”

The project is a pragmatic “brainchild” that came out of a gathering of representatives from government agencies, non-governmental organizations, agriculture, utilities, energy firms, technology firms, and software development firms. The’ve worked together under the auspices of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability.

“Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Aspen Institute partnered with the Redstone Strategy Group to convene the series in 2016 and 2017. The goal: to formulate a national digital water data and information policy framework for sharing, integrating, and disseminating public data to characterize and forecast the quantity, quality, and uses of water across the United States.”

“Our water world is data rich, but information poor,” said Martin Doyle, director of the Nicholas Institute’s Water Policy Program and a driving force in shaping the water data dialogue series. “If water data were shared openly and then integrated into a common digital platform, there would be game-changing opportunities ranging from private citizens’ ability to gauge the quality of local water to public officials’ ability to warn populations of water-borne public health hazards.”

We know how vital the integration of transportation data is. Federal road data integrated with state and local road data help the public road dataset to be more usable and valuable. Integrated public datasets make possible the development of private applications such as Google Maps and Waze, improving mobility for countless people. Drivers, carsharing services, and taxis rely on these data every day. “The public data provides a context within which to incorporate non-governmental data and crowd-sourcing tools. Sharing and integrating water data could similarly revolutionize how we manage water resources.”

Nicholas Institute, the Aspen Institute, and Redstone culminated with:

Three Overarching Findings that Informed the Proposed Internet of Water:

First, water is undervalued—and water data even more so. Moving water from its source, treating it, and delivering it to faucets has a cost. Similarly, collecting data, “cleaning” or standardizing them, and delivering them to an end user has a cost. But unlike water utilities, most public agencies know neither the full cost of their data infrastructure nor the water and cost savings of putting the data to timely use. This blind spot has discouraged public agencies from further investing in data infrastructure. “If the benefits of sharing water data in terms of meeting an agency’s mission and providing a good return on investment aren’t articulated for public agencies and organizations, they won’t direct already-allocated funds to make the data available,” said Patterson.

Second, there’s a need to make existing public water data more accessible. The data’s value in decision making is diminished if the data are hard to share across platforms. Thus, it is critically important that data, particularly at the local and state level, become more discoverable and usable. The problem is that many state and local governments lack the resources to invest in data infrastructure.

Third, the appropriate architecture for an Internet of Water is a federation of data producers, hubs, and users—entities often isolated from one another. Initially, some overarching governance structure is needed to intentionally connect data hubs and to help coordinate the adoption of shared metadata and data standards to ensure that data hubs can talk to one another.

Consider a career in water — and help bring about or use this new internet of water.

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About the Author

Cynthia Shahan started writing by doing research as a social cultural and sometimes medical anthropology thinker. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education. Eventually becoming an organic farmer, licensed AP, anthropologist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings born with spiritual insights and ethics beyond this world. (She was able to advance more in this way led by her children.)

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