Before we look at specific targets for the water responsibility, let’s quickly consider four realities that affect when, where and how a city should approach the transformation of its water system.
- Smart cities “close the loop” around local watersheds.A watershed is the land area that drains into a particular river, lake or ocean. “Closing the loop” refers to reducing (or even ending) the import of water from other watersheds while taking full advantage of the water available within the loop. Giving preference to locally available water allows a city to be more confident in the sustainability of its water program.
ICT helps cities close the loop by maximizing the potential of non-traditional sources. The idea is to supplement traditional water sources such as reservoirs and aquifers by capturing storm water runoff, gray water and purple water and by tapping natural systems like wetlands, rivers and lakes. ICT can oversee and optimize the capture of water from these sources. Closed-loop systems also use different grades of water for different needs. For example, treated wastewater isn’t suitable for drinking but may be perfectly suitable to water crops.
- Smart water requires collaboration. Perhaps more than any other city responsibility, water is a regional issue. The water source that city residents use to quench their thirst may be the same that a factory uses for its operations or a farmer to water his crops 100 miles away. Water is tied into vast watersheds that link many population centers. Because of that, a smart water vision requires a collaborative approach between cities and a lengthy list of stakeholders. The list includes other cities in the watershed, regional or national government entities that may have regulatory authority, utilities, the private sector, agricultural organizations, citizen and community groups, etc. In some cases, international collaboration may be necessary.
- Smart water requires smart policy.There are many ways that local, regional and national governments can enhance the prospects for smart water. One instance: policy improvements that clear the way for public-private partnerships to help with the financing. Another is mandates for efficiency, conservation, leak reduction or water quality. Yet another is working with suppliers to craft a careful business case that demonstrates the return on investment.
Whatever steps a city takes, it should NOT mandate a specific technology. Rather, it should mandate the results it wants, and then work with advisors and suppliers to determine the best way to achieve that result.
- Smart water may need creative financing and staffing.Many city budgets are under great pressure. Even if a city can make a strong business case for rapid payback, it may not have the funds to finance the project. Fortunately, several alternative mechanisms have arisen to lighten that load. For instance, some suppliers will sell software-as-a-service (SaaS) on a monthly fee basis. This eliminates the need for the city to make a big capital purchase and install, maintain and update all the hardware and software on its own. Instead, the supplier handles all that in the cloud, and the city simply pays a monthly charge. In many ways, this is similar to leasing a car instead of buying it.
Another option is a risk-sharing contract. The city pays a reduced fee to the supplier, and then shares a portion of the saved costs or additional revenue back to the supplier.
It is worth noting that some developing countries have funding available for infrastructure projects, often thanks to grants and programs from development banks. Utilities in those regions have the chance to leapfrog the developed world by jumping straight to a state-of-the-art smart water system.
Even cities with adequate funding may lack adequate in-house ICT skills and personnel to run a sophisticated smart water system. Here again, SaaS offers a solution, since the supplier provides the bulk of the needed personnel and spreads the cost by making the service available to many cities at once.
Dependencies for water and wastewater
Planning improvements in water and wastewater infrastructure will need to take into account dependencies on other city systems and services. Looking at just a few of these dependencies, it is easy to see how smart water services are heavily influenced by local government policies and how closely they are aligned with communications and energy systems in a smart city context. Contaminant warning systems rely on communications and energy systems. And pumps that move water throughout a city infrastructure require power. Flood control systems (e.g. pumps or gates) require resilient energy systems to operate.