You’re probably wasting an insane amount of water

By: Alan M. Field

How tech can help fix the earth’s water shortage problem

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Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel has over 2,000 glass flowers in its lobby and 3,000 rooms, but it’s really well known for one thing: The water show. In front of the resort, there’s an 8.5-acre man-made lake with 1,214 synchronized jets that propel water streams 400-plus feet into the air. The show-stopping display is also, technically, located in the middle of a Nevada desert. Not surprisingly, the Bellagio has some water management challenges.

In the United States, the cost of water is growing at a faster rate than income and inflation. Most of the price increase isn’t for the water itself, but for the infrastructure, chemicals and energy used to transport, treat and heat it. And Americans are wasting lots of water. According to the EPA, the average household wastes 10,000 gallons of water each year (imagine you’re throwing out 37,000-plus of those water bottles you buy at the convenience store without drinking them), combining to 1 trillion nationwide.

Last year, the Bellagio worked with “intelligent water management” company Apana to install water meters with Internet of Things-enabled sensors that track near real-time data about water consumption. In addition to the fountain, the Bellagio has five swimming pools, over a dozen restaurants and at least 3,000 bathrooms that were all possibly wasting water.

Bellagio’s tale is not unique. Many companies are looking for smarter ways to manage water, including big box stores, supermarkets and car washes.

Apana is one of the companies that works with WaterStart, an organization that brings together forward-thinking businesses to fix real-world challenges with tech-savvy solutions. WaterStart matches members like the Bellagio with professional partners such as Apana that can provide innovative, sustainable solutions.

WaterStart also connected the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District with Klir, a platform that helps streamline water-related permit applications, which can be a time-consuming process. The Southern Nevada Water Authority also worked with Riventa’s water delivery technology to optimize distribution over its 300 miles of pipe.

For the Bellagio, Apana’s sensors monitored the site’s water footprint, identifying movement speed, mechanical malfunctions and failure points. Poring over the usual water bills didn’t help. The result of the pilot study? After addressing the issues identified, Bellagio’s water consumption decreased by 37 percent at the pool area and additional areas of the resort are being reviewed for even more opportunities to save water.

“Thanks to those high-resolution, [near] real time sensors, we’re able to tell people, if they have a problem, what they are able to do about it right then, and guide them to eliminate that waste,” said Frank Burns, co-founder of Apana.”

Unlike conventional water bills, which display data about water usage once a month, Apana’s platform is much more immediate.

“Real time is critical. A [conventional] water bill is worse than a ‘check engine’ light on an auto dashboard,” said Burns. He estimates that 25 to 30 percent of the water used by property owners is unnecessary; wasted because most property managers lack accurate, real-time data about how their water is being used for various purposes in various locations.

The water being saved in professional infrastructures will not only help lead to lower company water bills, but can also be, theoretically, used for drinking, crop irrigation, and numerous other uses.

Despite growing public awareness of drought and water scarcity, the complex challenges involved in managing the world’s water supply chain in the “built environment” — human-made spaces such as office buildings and shopping centers — have attracted little public awareness. Unlike highly visible lakes, rivers or coastal waters, that sort of water “comes from the ground, goes into your building, and then it leaves it. Nobody thinks about it,” said Burns.

“That water is not just used in flashy fountains or swimming pools,” explains Burns. “When water is used in a building, it’s because some machine or individual in the building is using it, often behind the scenes.”

So the next time you’re running water over a frozen chicken to defrost it or letting a shower head drip week after week, remember those small actions are contributing to our planet’s massive water shortage. If you’re unsure how your home or business is wasting water, smart tech can often help figure it out.

For more information, see:

5 technologies working to save the water crisis

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About the author(s): 

Alan M. Field is a former foreign correspondent for Newsweek and Japan bureau chief for Business Week. He’s also a senior editor for Wharton’s Journal of Commerce.

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