Nº 1 2014 > ICT and water management

Success stories in smart water management

Success stories in smart water managementSuccess stories in smart water management

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are central to the success of smart water management. The following highlights focus on some initiatives being taken in different parts of the world by different stakeholders where the power of ICT is harnessed to effectively achieve smart water management. The highlights are adapted from an ITU/UNESCO report on Partnering for Solutions: ICTs & Smart Water Management. 

United States

IBM provides software for smart water management to help utilities control pressure, identify leaks, decrease water use, prevent sewer overflow, and enhance the management of water infrastructure, resources and activities. These tools combine huge amounts of data received from various devices, systems and stakeholders to provide actionable reports to support the management and operational decision-making process.

This is just the sort of support that the City of Dubuque, United States, wanted for its sustainable Dubuque project (see figure). Part of the project involved replacing community water meters, and the city enhanced its infrastructure with technology to help inhabitants make more informed decisions about their water use, by tracking consumption, costs and environmental impact.

IBM researchers developed a portal that allows households to know their water consumption in near real time, be notified about potential irregularities and leaks, get a better understanding of their consumption patterns, and compare their water use with that of others in the community. Data are transmitted from smart meters in people’s homes over a 450 MHz or 900 MHz wireless communication band, then processed and uploaded to the database.

Smart water metering projects have mainly been initiated in Europe and North America — representing 89 per cent of the global smart water market in terms of module shipments. Smart water metering measures the amount of water consumed or abstracted, and automatically transmits the information to the service provider for billing and monitoring purposes, making manual readings redundant.

Automated meter reading allows for the automated collection of meter readings, usually by radio transmission, without the need for any physical assessment, whereas advanced metering infrastructure involves a two-way communication with the water meter. In particular, smart water metering systems make it possible to remotely detect illegal connections and leaks.

According to a case study report from the Water and Sewer Authority District of Columbia, United States, the fixed-network automated meter reading system reduces non-revenue water from 36 per cent to 22 per cent and increases revenue by 7 per cent through debt reduction. It also makes other savings, reducing meter reading costs from USD 4.15 per meter to less than USD 1, reducing complaint handling costs by 50 per cent and customer call centre services by 36 per cent, and — with 20 fewer field vehicles required — saving 106 000 litres of fuel annually. 


More than half the Dutch population lives in flood-prone areas, making flood management a core task in the Netherlands. The high cost of water management has led the government of the Netherlands to embark on the Digital Delta initiative (see chart). The Ministry of Water, the local water authority of Delfland, the University of Delft and the Deltares Science Institute worked with IBM to create a system that would use insight from big data to transform flood control and management of the water system.

The Digital Delta system is an intelligent cloud-based system which has consulting capability. This management system is expected to address concerns ranging from the quality of drinking water to the impact of extreme weather events. It is also expected to reduce water management costs by 15 per cent.

The Netherlands also benefits from the smart grid and smart water metering components of the European Innovation Partnership on Water programme, established by the European Commission. The smart grid uses sensors, digital communications, and embedded digital processing to make the grid automated, observable and controllable.

The smart water meters improve administrative processes, including billing. They also make it easier to detect fraud or leaks, and to handle errors such as backflow. They can monitor water temperature and pressure, provide data to assist in distribution network planning, and reduce costs.


Veolia Environment is a French transnational company with operations all over the world. It provides solutions to meet the needs of municipal and industrial customers in three complementary segments: water management; waste management; and energy management.

ENDETEC, a division of Veolia Water Solutions and Technologies, has developed KAPTA, a technology for the surveillance of water supply networks. This technology has been successfully implemented in Nice, a Cote d’Azur metropolitan area of France, as well as in other European countries.

The device comprises smart, energy autonomous sensors, installed on the supply network at critical points. The sensors continuously measure water quality parameters, such as pressure, active chlorine, temperature and conductivity.

The system allows for round-the-clock surveillance in real time by Veolia experts, who analyse the data via a secure web service. In case of an alert, the experts investigate the cause of any unusual change in water quality and decide whether the water contamination was accidental or intentional. If necessary, they set in motion precautionary measures, such as closing off an area and evacuating people.


The water resources management programme for the Tiber River Basin in central Italy uses the web processing service (WPS) and the geographical information system (GIS) to improve the remote management of water resources. WPS offers computation models that operate on geographically referenced data. Image data formats or data exchange standards, such as Geography Markup Language (GML), can be used as inputs for analysis.

The purpose of WPS is to enable water resource managers to acquire the required information about the condition of the water resource in each section of the river. WPS helps operators to balance water use and water availability, taking flow conditions into account.


Across rural Africa, millions of people are dependent on hand-pumps for their water supplies, but one-third of these pumps are estimated to be broken at any given moment and repairs may take up to a month. Access to mobile networks, however, is the norm. These circumstances gave researchers at Oxford University the idea of using mobile networks to indicate when hand-pumps are no longer working.

Kyuso district in Kenya was chosen as the site for a pilot study on smart hand-pumps. In Kyuso, 95 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and 60 per cent fall below the 1 USD per day poverty threshold. More than one-sixth of hand-pumps were not functional over a period of weeks or even months. Households generally take more than 30 minutes to fetch water, and the supply is irregular.

The researchers developed a technology in which a mobile data transmitter is attached to the handle of the pump. The device measures the movement of the handle to estimate the water flow. The device (see photo “Hand-pump with monitoring device”) periodically sends information via text message back to a central office, allowing for maintenance to be done quickly when a pump is broken.

There is one water point data transmitter per pump, while a database processes and presents the data from all the hand-pumps. The processed information is then displayed in a graphical format together with the location of the pump. The fitted device measures usage in hourly time steps, giving the amount of water used in real time, as well as providing alerts if the hand-pump is broken or not functioning.

Another interesting project is the MajiData online database service developed by Kenya’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation and Water Services Trust Fund in cooperation with UN-Habitat, the German Development Bank (KfW), Google and GIZ.

The MajiData website provides information on all the urban low-income areas of the country and is linked to satellite imagery. This service assists water service providers and water boards in organizing appropriate water supply and sanitation for urban slums and low-income areas.


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