IBM hosts Alberta Waterportal for smart water usage

IBM Corp’s Dave Steeves expects that if water continues to be improperly managed and overused in light of high industry demand, this dwindling resource will eventually prove to be a limit on business growth.

As with the use of electricity to run businesses, Steeves said water, too, will cease to be cheap and abundant. “Someday it’s going to monetize. It’s going to be a dollar per barrel of water that people are going to start watching,” he said.

The Armonk, New York-based company is involved in several initiatives to help industry better manage their water use, including working with Alberta WaterSmart to host an informational portal of timely data on water conditions, water management innovations, news, research and conservation programs.

Industries like oil companies and agriculture, said Steeves, use water sources from the Athabasca River, as well as other rivers, and smaller tributaries in the extraction of oil. Initiatives like WaterSmart, he said, help oil companies along with general industry to “know what they can do to impact positively the water flow.”

The water portal, started two years ago, is a collaborative project between IBM, WaterSmart, Bow River Basin Counsel and Tesera Systems.

Mike Scarth, with Alberta WaterSmart said the non-profit organization works to improve water management through better technologies and practices and performs consulting work with a number of clients including government, oil and gas, and property development. “It’s a real opportunity to make a difference in terms of how water, information and research are shared across the province,” said Scarth.

The portal serves as a resource that will help industry identify best practices when comes to water management, said Scarth.

For instance, the agricultural and irrigation sectors – which according to Scarth, are the largest water users in Canada – will benefit from real-time water flow data “so that farmers and ranchers have a better appreciation in exactly what the water supply and water resources are at any particular time throughout the growing season.”

But the portal doesn’t just preach proper water use, it actually, in a sense, runs on water, because the portal is hosted on a web hosting centre that is entirely hydro-powered.

IBM’s other smart water initiatives include working with New York-based Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries to deploy a new network of floating sensors in the Hudson River to understand, in real time, how the river responds to storms, droughts and human interaction, among others.

IBM is also doing work at Ireland-based Galway Bay to gather a steady stream of real-time data on water temperature, marine life, wave strength and tidal movement. And, in Malta, IBM is helping build a water smart utility system to individuals and businesses can monitor their usage.

The idea is that the research data will be turned into intelligent information that will be used to anticipate water usage, said Steeves. That said, the current benefit to industry of such technologies like smart metres and sensor networks, he noted, is more of a “softer value at the moment” perhaps because it remains a relatively new way of thinking.

“You’re going to see managing water differently,” said Dave Steeves.


But Steeves does believe that, eventually, industry will start using water like any other utility, and adjusting usage patterns for when the resource is cheaper, for instance. “You’re going to see managing water differently,” he said.

As for the Alberta Waterportal, Scarth said future plans includes working with various watershed groups to make available on the site reports on the state of the watershed, a 20-year vision of what the respective watersheds should look like.

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