Over the last year, there has been an intensive focus on saving water in the Western Cape, particularly in Cape Town, due to one of the worst droughts in the city’s history. “Day Zero”- the name given to the day when municipal water sources will be shut off- has been pushed out to 2019, but that doesn’t mean that the water crisis is over yet.
While there has been a massive (and successful) drive to cut down on household water consumption and come up with solutions to better manage municipal water resources (through creative problem solving events like hackathons), water scarcity is a problem that is being dealt with all over the world, and in other parts of the country, like the Eastern and Northern Cape.
To get some perspective on a global water conservation problem, and how technology can help to solve it, here are some examples of different water-related applications that are being used both locally and abroad to conserve one of our planet’s most precious resources:
1. Water Monitoring Technology
One of the biggest problems facing water conservation is infrastructure, in particular when it comes to maintenance and making sure that there aren’t any leaks in pipes, and that these pipes can support the pressure necessary for distribution.
(The monitoring of the water flow through this infrastructure then needs to be simultaneously monitored, so the two go hand in hand.)
In agriculture, farmers in the Eastern Cape are using technology to track how much each of their plants need, and to supply them with water accordingly, using applications like exact drip irrigation. In farming areas like Kouga, these kinds of technologies have lead to a 60% reduction in water consumption.
In the United States, where drought is also a big problem, Water Pigeon uses automated monitoring technology to monitor water consumption, and MIT Innovation Award winners Pipeguard Robotics use specially designed robots to detect leaks in municipal piping. Both of these companies are part of a national accelerator called Imagine H20 that works specifically to address water scarcity.
Innovative water monitoring applications have also been implemented in other water-scarce countries like Brazil. Stattus 4 in particular is a Brazilian application that uses AI and IoT to better manage water distribution in cities all over the country.
2. Water Conservation
Apart from limiting consumption, there are a lot other innovative ways to use the water that is already in our environment.
Two applications that the Department of Public Works is investigating in Cape Town are the use of condensation to ventilate and provide air conditioning for government buildings, and the use of bioretention to capture stormwater and then recover this water with boreholes.
3. Water Purification
Saving water is one part of the picture, but being able to reuse and recycle water wherever possible is also an important part of water conservation.
I-Drop is a local company that purifies grey water, borehole water and rainwater using nanotechnology. Accessible through refilling stations at local shops, I-Drop also encourages people to refill bottles instead of creating plastic waste with single-use bottles.
With so much of the earth’s surface made up of water, the ocean is an obvious resource to turn to in times of drought, but processing salt water and making if fit for consumption can be a capitally-intensive exercise.
Countries like Israel, which receive very little rain on average, have become world leaders in desalination technology, a solution which is being applied in the Western Cape with temporary desalination plants in areas like Strandfontein and the V&A Waterfront.
5. Water Harvesting
Although it is only considered a small-scale solution, with the use of an atmospheric water generator (AWG), water can be harvested from air through condensation. This condensation is then collected, purified and sold as drinking water.
One local company called Air Water, currently sells a machine that can produce 1500 litres per day at full capacity.
6. Water Treatment and Sanitation
Drought is also a serious problem, particularly in areas like Brazil, so innovative water management applications are still very relevant.
One innovation to come out of this crisis is Piipee, which speaks to the excessive wastage of drinking water in sewage and sanitation. Instead of flushing, Piipee uses chemicals to break down urine instead, with no need to use any water at all.
What is the future of water conservation?
The way that Cape Town residents were able to halve their consumption over the last year shows how much we have been taking water for granted before, but also what is possible when people come together to make a plan out of necessity. While the water crisis is still of great concern, it’s encouraging to know that people all over the world are coming up with innovative solutions, and that we do have the skills, technology and ability to cope with this global reality.