5 Smart Tech Solutions to Water Challenges Around the World

More than a billion people live in areas where water is scarce, according to the UN, which can make farming difficult. (Photo: Shutterstock)

When it comes to freshwater resources, humans are slowly but surely running out, due to contamination, seawater intrusion and drought. Water scarcity is already an issue on every continent, and according to the United Nations, more than 1 billion people (almost one-fifth of the Earth's population) live in areas where water is already scarce. Another 1.6 billion people "face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers)."

Since the human population continues to rise while freshwater resources become limited, it's incumbent upon us all to figure out how to use what we have more efficiently. Since 71 percent of water goes to agriculture and 16 percent to industry, those areas receive a quite a bit of scrutiny. But consumers saving water at home matters, too — and can save us money. Here are some of the technologies that will help us waste less in the future, wherever that water is used.

Making it simple

As the Flowius video above points out, millions of people have to walk long distances to get clean, drinkable water. That's time they could be spending doing other things, like growing food, working to increase their income or advancing their education. Building water infrastructure tends to be expensive, and many communities don't have the money to pay for them. Flowius both simplifies the process of installing freshwater supplies and provides a local system of microfinance loans to pay for them. Systems that deliver water directly to homes both conserves water resources and improves the health of the communities using them.

Watching from above

Utlilus graphic of a map with water lines.
Leaks are a significant source of wasted freshwater resources in the world; tracking them more effectively is one way to find them before they waste too much water. (Photo: Utilus)

Utilus harnesses the growing surveying power of satellites to find leaks — from space. How does that work? Satellites can be programmed to spot leakage in underground water pipes. "The raw imagery is then overlaid on GIS systems and is processed by Utilis’ unique algorithms. The Utilis algorithm detects treated water, by looking for a particular spectral “signature” typical to drinking water. Eventually, the user is presented with a leakage graphic report overlaid on a map with streets, pipes and size information," according to the Utilus site. So far, they've used the technology to find leaks in Knoxville, Tennessee; Romania; Italy and the East Bay of San Francisco.

Enabling smarter decisions

The Pulsepod by Arable at use by a farmer in the field.
A device that lets farmers keep track of measurements such as rainfall and water stress over a large area means they can make smarter decisions about their crops and land. (Photo: Arable)

The Pulsepod was designed for farmers so they can measure rainfall, crop watering demand, water stress, microclimates, canopy biomass and chlorophyll levels across their entire farm. The device is solar powered and portable, and it sends real-time data to those who are making decisions like when to adjust watering. More accurate readings mean less water is wasted, since different areas of a farm can have different microclimates that affect moisture levels. Using a device like this means a farmer can "see" much more of his land and what it needs at a glance.

Tracking potential problems

Aquifers around the globe are at risk from a number of factors, including drought, salinization, overuse and contamination from a variety of sources. Hydromodel Host tracks these potential problems and allows aquifer managers to get quick, up-to-date information on the state of their water supply so they can better manage it. It also allows multiple users of an aquifer (say, a group of farmers or several city managers) to communicate with each other openly about who is using what. The most interesting part is that those in charge of managing water supplies can run "what if" scenarios to see what "complex climate change, future demand, sustainability, contamination, artificial recharge and other scenarios" would do to their aquifer with just a few clicks.

Limiting water use at home

Dropcountr's display where users can keep track of water use.
Being able to see all your home's water-using data means you'll be able to know if there's a leak or someone in the house is taking too-long showers. (Photo: Dropcountr)

Dropcountr is an app for anyone who owns a home or building and wants to keep track of water use, which can save water resources — and money. It hooks up to your local water utility, so the big caveat here is that whoever provides your water has to be working with Dropcountr. But as long as that's the case, the rest is pretty easy: It's a downloadable app that takes the data from the water utility and lays it out for you in a really simplified format. You can set water-use goals, track use month-over-month, and compare how much water your house and property use with others that are similar. Some utilities even offer rebates and other incentives for saving water.