In many ways, our approaching "peak water" situation could have much more of an immediate effect on our lives than that of peak oil, because even if we manage to cut down our own water use, all of the food that we eat depends on the growers getting enough water, at the right times, to grow their crops.
To make better use of our limited freshwater resources, growers need to have not only an efficient method of delivering the water to the plants, but also an efficient watering schedule, so that the plants are getting watered with the right amounts at the right time.
And because a large percentage of the use of both surface and ground water is for agricultural irrigation, conserving water at the point-of-use, through efficiency efforts and optimal irrigation scheduling, can have a big effect on the rest of the water systems.
One project, called WaterBee, may be a sign of things to come in "smart" irrigation, incorporating networked sensors that can be centrally monitored and administered, letting water managers and farmers optimize their water use, right from their smartphone.
"WaterBee consists of a series of sensors that measure soil water content (or potential), environmental parameters that influence evapotranspiration, and indicators of crop development or physiological status. The data gathered from these sensors is sent across a low cost, low power consumption ZigBee wireless sensor network. These sensors are effectively distributed over the cultivated area, given that different areas of the field (or fields) have different water requirements.
The sensors monitor these parameters and send readings across a Zigbee mesh network to a GPRS gateway which sends all of this data to a central web service which uses an intelligent software application to automatically analyse the data and act upon it by selectively activating irrigation nodes only in the areas required.This data is fed into an intelligent software package that uses intelligent agents in order to act upon the information they are receiving from the sensors. The outputs and irrigation recommendations are presented to the user on a Smartphone App or Web Browser." - Waterbee
According to WaterBee, using the system gives growers more control over their irrigation by delivering accurate data on field and crop conditions, thereby lowering their costs and raising their yields (and in theory, earning a higher profit from their operations). The access to real-time data on the state of the plants and the levels of moisture in the soil, right from a smartphone or browser, allows users to control and monitor their system for optimal irrigation scheduling.
"WaterBee intelligent irrigation modelling and scheduling system goes well beyond the state-of-art, with its unique Soil-Moisture Model for optimal water use, continuously self-adapting to each user’s situation and business objectives, using machine learning approaches, and its open web-enabled architecture facilitates future integration with all environmental data in line with the European INSPIRE Directive. " - WaterBee
An operational field prototype of the WaterBee system is currently in use at 14 sites across Europe, and is said to be delivering water savings of 40%, while also enhancing the quality of the crops growing in each site.