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Smart Water Grids and Water Sustainability Essay

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2020

Background and History

Water is arguably the most important natural resource and it is indispensable to maintain life. This resource has been fundamental to the development of human civilisation. Human survival is dependent on the water since people need to drink adequate amounts of water or else they risk to die. In addition to direct human consumption, water is used by industries and to move human-generated waste. As such, water is necessary for the socio-economic development of the society. While humans have always needed water, the deep relationship between mankind and water started when the first permanent human settlements were built.

With the establishment of permanent settlements, humans took up agriculture to increase their food security. Early human settlements were located near freshwater supplies since no efficient water delivery systems had been developed at the time. Over time, humans realised that they needed to develop ways to move water from its source into urban areas. This would reduce the need for having to locate cities in close proximity to water supplies. The ancient Greeks were the first to develop elaborate water delivery systems. These Europeans implemented underground sanitation and water supply system that was able to deliver clean water to the cities while taking away the water produced waste from households. These advances were improved by the ancient Romans who developed aqueducts that supplied water from reservoirs to individual houses. These advances in water distribution contributed to the growth and prosperity of the Roman Empire. The Romans were able to experience social and economic development due to their water engineering projects. By building effective water supply infrastructures, the Roman society was able to thrive despite water scarcity in their geographic location.

No significant advances were made in the water supply systems until the Industrial revolution era of the 18th century. During this significant period in the history of human civilisation, great advances were made in technology. Innovative devices such as the water pump were created making it possible for large quantities of water to be moved to reservoirs and then distributed to the population. The availability of clean tap water contributed to the rapid growth of urban centres during the 19th and 20th century.

Goals and Objectives

For centuries, people assumed that the water resources were unlimited and therefore paid little attention to the water usage. Water is one of the most abundant natural resources, considering the fact that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in this substance. However, most of this water is saline and therefore unusable by humans. It is estimated that only 1% of the planet’s water reserves are fresh and readily available for human use. This shows that, contrary to common perceptions, water is a scarce resource. Humans must look for ways to improve water use and bring about sustainability. Hodson (2014) admits that a major problem with water sustainability is that this resource is provided cheaply in most developed nations. Due to the low cost of the resource, people lack an economic incentive to control its usage. The government cannot implement a significant increase in the cost of water since the citizens consider the availability of cheap clean water a human right. Technological solutions, therefore, present the best opportunity to improve water use.

Increasing human population and the growth of the industrial sector have intensified pressure on global water resources. The pressure has been exacerbated by the burgeoning of urban settlements all over the world. O’Shea, Aldridge and Steigerwald (2012) document that urban settlements have increased both in size and number over the past century. While only 20% of people in the developed world lived in urban settlements by the beginning of the 20th century, half of the human population dwells in urban areas today. Mutchek (2014) asserts that urban water systems face sustainability and resiliency challenges and solutions are needed to ensure water security for the urban population.

It can be expected that this pressure will only increase as the human population in cities continues to grow all over the world, therefore increasing the pressure on the already constrained water resources. Without a feasible solution, modern cities will soon suffer from catastrophic water shortages. Inadequate water supplies will damage the socioeconomic development of countries since adequate supplies of clean water are the drivers of modern development.

Policymakers are looking for ways to increase the water supply or decrease consumption in order to ensure water sustainability. One area that should be given attention is the water distribution system. Significant losses occur as the water is being delivered to the consumers. This paper sets out to demonstrate how improved technology has contributed to water sustainability. It will specifically focus on water-smart grid technologies, which comprise of a number of technological solutions working together to facilitate the intelligent management of water resources. The paper will show how smart water grid technology can help bring about sustainability by reducing the amount of water lost during transmission.

Literature Review

A number of authors have addressed the issue of how smart water grids can be used to improve the use and sustainability of water resources. Mutchek and Williams (2014) review the technology elements of smart water grids. They highlight how these systems can be implemented and discuss the potential sustainability and resiliency benefits of using smart water systems. The authors also look at the barriers to the adoption of these technologies in most cities. A number of new water technologies have been invented and implemented to improve water use and promote sustainability. Henley (2013) reviews some of these solutions including smart monitoring which reduces wastage. The article quantifies the waste that currently occurs during water transmission and shows how technology can help mitigate losses. While ICT has been employed in many sectors, its implementation in the water sector is still in its elementary phase. Hajebi, Song, Barrett, Aidan and Siobhan (2012) propose the development of a reference model that can be used to ensure widespread use of ICT infrastructure in water distribution. Such a model would make it possible for more cities to exploit ICT advances in water management. In the same vein, Moon-Hyun (2014) proposes the development of legally-grounded smart water grid policies by advanced countries.

Before new technologies can be implemented, pilot studies are required to demonstrate how this technology works and its potential benefits and limitations. Iseley and Hromadka (2013) discuss the pilot project to implement a smart water solution in an urban neighbourhood in Indianapolis. The project is meant to test the impacts of a new smart water grid system patented by the Global Water Technologies Company. The paper shows how smart grid systems can be used to increase distribution efficiency by using collected data to determine when water pressure can be reduced in reaction to reduced demand. The article by Hodson (2014) studies the implementation of a smart water grid solution in Singapore. The sensor technology employed enables water distributors to identify leaks through the whole mains network. The article demonstrates how using smart water grids leads to water saving.

The current water shortages are the result of increased urbanisation efforts all over the world. O’Shea, Aldridge and Steigerwald (2012) discuss the urbanisation phenomenon and the impact it is having on water resources. They note that increased urbanisation is putting a strain on water resources and the only way to deal with this is through smart city architecture. Part of the smart city infrastructure is a smart water grid that is composed of sensors for managing the water. South Korea is establishing itself as a global leader in water technology. Due to government efforts, the country has implemented a number of technological solutions to bring about water sustainability. Yewon (2014) discusses the country’s technology-oriented solution to the water issues faced by Korean cities. The author discusses intelligent water management systems implemented by the countries in various cities with significant success.

Analysis and Recommendations

Using smart water grid technologies will have significant impacts on the use of water. Significant quantities of water are lost during distribution. In the United State, approximately 30% of water is lost through leakage while the figure is between 10 and 20% in the UAE (Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, 2010). Most of these losses occur since the water supply infrastructure is old. Iseley and Hromadka (2013) explain that the water infrastructure in most countries is many decades old. Many municipal authorities do not feel compelled to replace the ageing infrastructure with modern infrastructure for such a project would be very costly. In addition to this, many policymakers feel that as long as the old water systems are able to deliver water to the destination, there is no need to replace them. However, the ageing and crumbling infrastructure are responsible for the numerous leaks that lead to high losses of water during the distribution process. Without smart grid technology, most cities only identify water leaks in their underground pipes when the pipes fail completely. As long as the losses are modest, they might go on for years undetected. With growing water shortages, cities cannot afford to lose their precious water through pipe leaks.

Smart water technologies can also impact water use by providing greater control over the resource. Smart water technologies can help countries with limited water resources to measure their water consumption and implemented consumption reductions. The reality is that freshwater is not distributed uniformly and while some countries enjoy abundant freshwater resources others, such as the United Arabs Emirates, suffer from acute water shortages. In countries where water scarcity is a reality, the alter distribution network needs to be effectively monitored. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (2010) notes that smart monitoring technology helps to track the movement of water through the entire distribution system. Through a well-developed monitoring system, a better understanding of the consumption patterns of industrial users and individual households can be acquired.

The first major benefit of smart water grids is that they have led to decreased losses of water through the leakage. Since the systems monitor the pipes and provide real-time data on the water flow, leaks can be identified as soon as they occur. Maintenance units can then be sent to fix the problem within minutes. This leads to a dramatic reduction in water wastage. Water resources are therefore used more productively as a result of this system. In addition to providing fast leak detection, smart water grids improve the efficiency of the current water supply system. O’Shea, et al. (2012) explain that the technology can be used to implement demand-driven distribution which leads to less stress on old pipes, therefore, increasing their lifespan.

Smart water grid systems have already shown great benefits in terms of water use and sustainability. To begin with, the technology has made it possible for the current static water resources to adequately cope with growing demand (Water Innovations Alliance 2014). The past few decades have witnessed significant increases in water demands. These demands have especially been evident in urban settlements where the population has increased dramatically. Through smart water grids, water resources can be distributed in the most efficient manner. Since there are limited losses in transit, water supplies are able to keep up with the growing demand.


The water resources available to humans are facing significant pressure from increased consumption levels. This paper has set out to demonstrate how smart water grids can help promote water sustainability. It began by showing that modern society could no longer afford to view freshwater as an infinite resource. Instead, people should engender the perception of water as a finite resource which consumption must be effectively managed to ensure sustainability. The various merits of using smart water grids have been highlighted. However, a large scale adoption of these systems has not yet been realised in most cities. In most cases, local authorities cite the lack of adequate funding as the reason for not implementing this technology. Considering the growing water demands of our cities, all development minded citizens should call for the implementation of smart water grids since no price is too high for achieving water security.


Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, 2010, Sustainable Water Management: Assessment and Recommendations for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Columbia University Press, NY.

Hajebi, S Song, H Barrett, S Aidan, C & Siobhan, C 2012, ‘Towards a reference Model for Water Smart Grid’, International Journal of Advances in Engineering Science and Technology, vol. 2, no. 4, pp.310-317.

Henley, W 2013, , Web.

Hodson, H 2014, ‘Super-smart grid spies out leaks’, New Scientist, vol. 224, no. 29, pp. 20-22.

Iseley, T & Hromadka, E 2013, Indianapolis “smart water grid” pilot project demonstrates local solution to national sustainable infrastructure problem, Global Water Technologies, Indianapolis.

Moon-Hyun, K 2014, ‘A study on a legal framework of Smart Water Grid’, International Journal of Control and Automation, vol. 7, no. 12, pp. 91-100.

Mutchek, M & Williams, E 2014, ‘Moving Towards Sustainable and Resilient Smart Water Grids’, Challenges, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 123-137.

O’Shea, T Aldridge, T & Steigerwald, B 2012, ‘Advances in Sensor Technology to Improve Individual Contributions to Sustainability’, Intel Technology Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 38-55.

Water Innovations Alliance 2014, The Water Smart Grid Initiative, Web.

Yewon, C 2014, Korea’s Smart Water Grid and hybrid desalination technology, Web.

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