Mobile Phones and Mapping Are Next Big Tools for Water Sector

cell phone lake photo

Photo by Robert S Donovan via Flickr Creative Commons

We're quickly approaching 7 billion people on the planet. And as the number of people goes up, the amount of fresh water we have access to is on the decline. The water sector is one area where intelligent use of technology will go a long way in helping us maintain stable supplies. We know that smart meters for water supplies will help us avoid a water crisis -- New York City and California are already testing out this new technology -- but there are other, cheaper technologies that can help too: cell phones and maps.
Circle of Blue reports, "Among the most popular and effective new tools are mobile phones and mapping technologies that rely on rising access to wireless Internet connections and cloud computing to facilitate the flow of information... By deploying this and other new technologies--including data monitoring and water quality testing--water advocates and service organizations are taking a serious look at project outcomes in order to learn from their failures."

The tools help governments and aid groups improve their performance in getting water to those who need it, and the customers gain access to information about their water supplies. Indeed, while much of the developing world doesn't have access to some of the basics we've grown to think of as essential as air, like internet connection, they do have access to one of the over 5 billion cell phones on the planet. We've noted often how cell phones can now help people accomplish everything from farmers avoiding conflict with wildlife to checking market prices that day for their harvests, and yes, even better irrigation practices. While smart water technology is set to be an over $16 billion market in a few years, utilizing these devices is proving to be a perfect way to watch supplies and reach customers.

Circle of Blue notes several groups that are working on technical solutions to water supply problems:

* NextDrop, a start-up company formed by graduate students at UC-Berkeley, is attempting to use data gathered from cell phone users to predict when water will be available in cities with intermittent supplies.
* Water for People, an NGO, is using data-tracking technology from Google to show, in real-time, how its water supply projects are performing.
* The H2.O Initiative, a group of water aid organizations, is highlighting a bundle of water monitoring and evaluation tools.

Ari Olmos, a NextDrop project member, told Circle of Blue, "A service like this wouldn't have worked five years ago," he said, "but now there are so many phones in urban areas that the service seems feasible."

What's wonderful about the proliferation of cell phones is that they've allowed us to connect people to one another, no matter their status level. And we can also, as odd as it seems, better connect to our environment thanks to the tiny devices. Citizen science projects utilizing cell phones for monitoring and tracking things from plant life to pollution levels to the impact of roads on wild animals are also allowing us to track water use.

Through cell phones, and open-source software like Google Maps, non-profits can track how well their efforts are working and improve their services, and providers can show real-time information about how much water is available, and when it will be available, allowing consumers to better budget their supplies. Eventually, cell phones and mapping software could play an incredibly significant role in ensuring everyone has access to water.

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More on Clean Water
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