Water Conservation with IoT Technology

Norman Miglietta



Have you ever done a Google news search on the term “water shortages”? If you haven’t, you may be in for a rude awakening. Based on the number of stories, it seems as if there is news about a municipality, county or entire region of the country dealing with an emergency-level water shortfall.

And it stems from all sorts of causes, not merely the well-documented drought conditions in the West and Southwest, but by frigid temperatures brought on by the influx of polar vortexes, as well as prolonged hot and dry cycles.

The bottom line is that readily available potable water is not something we can just take for granted anymore.

So what, you may ask, does M2M/IoT have to do with water shortages? While M2M/IoT may not be able to change weather patterns or solve acute, unexpected events such as water main breaks that lead to an outage, there are some very specific ways it can and already is doing in playing a role to keep the wheels on the track, in everyday water management and conservation.

In short, this is a post about doing the little things; the things that are ideally suited for M2M/IoT.

The first is in making sure the water assets we have stay clean. In order to do this, solid waste management and wastewater treatment facilities must maintain constant guard to ensure there are no adverse events where contaminated water would leach from these facilities into groundwater supplies, and cause a widespread environmental and health hazard. The real challenge here is that the times when overflows are most likely to occur coincide eerily with the times when mechanical systems are most likely to fail (i.e., during severe weather events). Every storm is, quite literally, the perfect storm for things to go haywire.

It’s in these extreme conditions that KORE customer OmniSite is at its best. The OmniSite pump station and landfill runoff systems are trusted by more than 1,300 government, municipal and private waste processing organizations across the US and Canada. By providing cellular-based IoT monitoring and control to these ultimate high-priority systems, OmniSite acts as a reliable (and coffer-conscious, btw) mechanism to keep personnel in the loop about all kinds of functional data such as pump run time, pump cycles, drawdown times and inflow. It also monitors each pump’s power current and is able to take control of the pump automatically if the main controller fails. Like the sophisticated computers that keep airplanes in the air and on course, IoT  has become the called-upon technology to ensure dirty water stays well away from clean water in our highly-engineered waste treatment infrastructure.

But water is more than just for drinking, we need water for another critical need – food. And here’s where another KORE customer shines. PureSense deals in extremely precise water management for the farming industry. IoT sensors in the field gather ongoing data about a host of factors such as leaf wetness, soil dampness, ambient air, plant response and expected rainfall, then feed that data into the irrigation management system. From there, the system delivers the correct amount, and only the correct amount, of water directly to the roots of crops to optimize the plant’s production throughout its growth cycle.

PureSense is used by more than 1,400 farms and, on average, these users report a 16 percent decrease in water consumption. But here’s the kicker: Even with that decrease in water use, they see a 20 percent increase in crop yield. Clearly, irrigation is not merely about making sure plants “have enough” water. There is much more precision to it.

Overall, PureSense estimates it has saved about 87 Billion gallons of water from California growers alone. That’s enough water to supply an average suburban California community with water for an entire year!

Soon, however, we may see IoT asset security come into play, in this case to prevent the “theft” of scarce water resources. Feel free to file this under news of the bizarre, but it appears California authorities are having to deal with “water bandits” who’ve been tapping unmetered fire hydrants to get around having to pay for their water. This is actually an understandable by-product of the extended drought, since water commands such a high premium in those areas; oh, the lengths to which humans will go when the laws of supply and demand get stretched to their limits.

It would be a relatively simple process to retrofit fire hydrants in “high crime” regions with IoT-enabled tamper alerts. Such an application in fact demonstrates extreme versatility of IoT for connecting highly dispersed assets to a central control center, even when those assets were not built with such controls in mind as a future potential. We may be calling upon the California water district managers shortly with the suggestion!

It is easy to get excited by the futuristic implications of the Internet-of-Things, but just as important is to keep in mind that right now, the IoT technology is out there working to safeguard the most basic of human resources. It’s all about the little things.

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