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How The Internet of Things Saves Water


By Chris Spain

As much as we all agree that knowledge is power, we often forget the opposite; that blind spots can be the beginning of our most expensive mistakes. Of course the most dangerous blind spots are the ones you think about the least. The perfect storm is when the subject being ignored is very inexpensive for a long, long time. And then the world changes.  

Water Fact: Price of Water 2015: Up 6 Percent in 30 Major U.S. Cities; 41 Percent Rise Since 2010

  A decade and a half into the 21st century and one of modern America’s most ironic collective blind spot has been water. For both society and business water has been the Bermuda Triangle for intelligent end-to-end management. Good ideas and earnest intentions get fired up in a flurry of drought-driven urgency only to be washed away with the next storm and weather change.  But water’s accelerating problems can no longer be overcome with just a good rain shower.  

Water Fact: Over the next 20 years, America will need to spend an estimated $3.8 trillion to upgrade our outdated water and waste water infrastructure.

From 40,000 feet up America’s byzantine and hyper political water landscape simplifies into three main segments; supply, end use and treatment.  Each segment is now under wide array of new threats and costs.  The GAO estimates that the US water infrastructure will require $3.8 million to upgrade our water infrastructure. Increased introduction of complex chemicals and pharmaceuticals have placed water treatment centers into a new challenge. Regional droughts have resulted in water agencies being authorized to issue $10,000 a day fines for non compliance. While the future of water is filled with large unknowns one fact is certain, water end users will pay more for water than they ever have before. And wasting water is no longer economically, legally or politically sustainable.  

Water Fact:  97.5% of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5% as fresh water. Nearly 70% of that fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland. Only 1% of the world's fresh water is accessible for direct human uses.

American business has only recently realized the rising cost and risk of ignoring water use and waste. But once they focus on this neglected issue the true compounded cost of water waste gets everyone’s attention.  A perfect example of water waste that has multiple downstream costs associated with it is outdoor irrigation and the proven ability of an IoT solution called smart irrigation. Smart Irrigation solutions have helped a wide range of Fortune 1000 companies and municipalities across the country to save billions of gallons of water annually and realize millions in savings.  

Water Fact:  40% to 60% of all urban water use goes to outdoor landscape irrigation.

Why ‘smart’ irrigation? Commercial landscape irrigation systems require the use of an irrigation controller which controls which valve and region of the landscape is irrigated and for how long. Historically these irrigation controllers have been nothing more than just timers; they apply the same amount of water, day in and day out, regardless if it is raining or sunny, summer or winter, the plants are dying or water is overflowing everywhere.  Because it takes time to manually adjust these controllers they are frequently adjusted higher as the landscape suffers from increased heat in the summer and left that way throughout the year.  Consequently, today we have millions of these ‘dumb’ irrigation controllers indiscriminately applying water to sites across the country, whether the landscape needs it or not.  This overwatering is responsible billions of wasted dollars in unnecessary water bills, but that’s just the most obvious expense. Because excess water by definition has to go ‘somewhere’ (usually where one wants it the least), overwatering causes a host of compounded downstream costs; accelerated hardscape wear and damage, soft-scape erosion and slope slippage, structural and plant damage, compliance violations and in times of water restrictions, brand damage to your business when your site is featured on the local news covering ‘water wasters”.  

Thanks to IoT, dumb timer-based systems are now being replaced, by leading companies and municipalities, with advanced cloud-based smart irrigation systems that irrigate based on the controller’s site specific weather. Today’s cloud-based smart irrigation systems are changing the entire world of outdoor water management by saving their users’ sites millions of dollars each year. These new solutions not only automatically eliminate overwatering each and every day as the weather changes but also provide a level of real-time, two-way visibility never before possible.  Now landscape contractors can from anywhere with an internet connection, remotely control hundreds or thousands of controllers and valves and track real-time flow data which can be used to help identify leaks, and system breaks. Site managers can be automatically alerted when a leak occurs or a system issues arises and can remotely test, verify the problem and even shutdown the system before making a trip to the site.  

Water Fact:  As of 2014, Walmart U.S. has deployed and is managing smart irrigation systems at more than 1,000 stores and clubs. These cloud-based management systems include real-time weather and site-specific watering instructions. Over the past five years, we’ve reduced water consumption by an average of nearly 33 percent per site.  

More exciting than the technology is the economics IoT has brought to our commercial landscapes. Typical existing sites have widespread systemic water waste due to the historic blind eye that has ignore water use in general, consequently today’s advanced cloud-based smart irrigation systems can save substantial amount of costs very quickly, often realizing a payback twenty-four months or faster.  The proven results and multiple benefits from these IoT solutions has companies like Walmart to now specify smart irrigation solutions for all their new stores and they are making it a standard item on all retrofit projects.  IoT technology has transformed the lowly irrigation controller into such a smart green technology that Walmart saw fit to highlight their proven irrigation savings in their 2014 Global Responsibility Report proving that IoT can bring visibility and meaningful benefits to even the most neglected of issues; outdoor water use.

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