Essential resource: water management

New technologies are playing an increasing role in efforts to keep global water supplies safe and reliable. Vision reports

While oil may sell for considerably more a barrel, there is no liquid more essential to life than water. It’s no surprise, then, to find that as the thirst for clean, drinkable H2O increases – the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) predicts that the period 2000 to 2050 will see demand increase by 55 per cent – new technologies are playing an increasing role in efforts to keep supplies safe and reliable.

The Al Lusaily reservoir project, which has just completed its first phase of construction, illustrates one of the ways Dubai is addressing the need for increased water capacity. Relying on the latest in desalination technology for its supply, two reinforced concrete reservoirs will have a capacity of 60 million imperial gallons each, increasing the Emirate of Dubai's total storage capacity to 790 million gallons – or 2.7 days of consumption. "The project aims to strengthen water networks to raise the amount of water flow to meet the growing demand in different areas in Dubai," says HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

According to the International Desalination Association (IDA), desalination techniques are now used in 150 countries, including Australia, China, Japan, USA and North Africa. While traditionally a process that requires high-energy usage, Patricia A Burke, Secretary General for the IDA, believes that significant progress has been made in this area. "The desalination industry has done much to lower the cost by developing technologies that reduce energy requirements, implementing practices that achieve greater operational efficiency, and adopting measures to enhance environmental stewardship."

Increasing demand

It's not just big infrastructure projects where advances are being made; technology is also playing its part in a more light-footed way. According to the World Bank, we lose 50 billion cubic metres of water a year through leaks. That's a huge hole in the world's global water networks – one that water suppliers are increasingly using technology to plug.

As the global population continues to grow, the increasing demand for water is in part driven by agriculture. According to the 2012 United Nations World Water Development Report, 70 per cent of the world's fresh water supply is used for growing and rearing food. Consequently, new and more efficient methods of irrigation are being explored, with 'smart water' networks and drip irrigation technology on the rise.

"There has been a big increase in the number of companies offering IT-based products aimed at helping businesses and farmers use more water more efficiently," says Ian Elkins, Editor of Global Water Intelligence. One such company, Netafim, won the 2013 Stockholm Industry Water Award for its innovations in drip irrigation technology.

Technology alone, however, can’t ensure safe water for everyone, believes Vincent Casey of WaterAid. Casey, Technical Support Manager (Water Security) at the international charity, cautions that for many of the world's poorest – WaterAid estimates that one in 10 people globally do not have access to safe water – new technology is not some kind of panacea.

Mapping technology

That said, WaterAid is utilising technology as it continues its work to ensure everyone has reliable access to clean water. "Recent advancements in mapping technology have highlighted the extent to which services are unevenly distributed and intermittent,” says Casey. “Advancements in resource monitoring technology make it possible to get much better data on groundwater levels over time. This provides much clearer and stronger information for decision makers who need to take action."

Meanwhile, in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, the high-tech world of water collection, purification and desalination is at the heart of the economy – this new city has ambitions to be the ‘Silicon Valley’ of water. Proof, perhaps, that while bold political decisions may be needed to ensure safe water for everyone, with a seemingly unquenchable demand for this precious resource, the business of water looks set to grow and grow.