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Social Innovation

Waste not, want not

Drip, drip, drip. Water scarcity is being tackled by tech.

Water shortages are likely to be the key environmental challenge of this century, scientists from NASA have warned.

The study, the first of its kind, used images from the NASA Grace satellite mission to track trends in freshwater from 2002 to 2016. The study is a warning that we need to become better at conserving water.

Here are four examples, although there are many more, of new tech trying to help us do just that.

The water pebble

The Water Pebble is a little gadget that sits in the bottom of your shower, measuring and storing how much water you’re using. The pebble doesn’t just collect data, however. Based on the length of your first shower, the device gradually reduces your time spent under the water using a traffic light system - it flashes green when you’ve not used much water, amber when you’ve nearly used your allowance and red when it's time to get out. It is hoped that by making people conscious of their usage, the amount of water used per shower will decrease.

Detecting leaks

The village of Oliena, Sardinia, had an ageing water network with water leakage levels of more than 50%. The water supply in the village was becoming intermittent and the source – a beautiful natural spring – was threatening to dry out.

Hitachi managed to provide the solution. After completing an audit of the entire system, Hitachi set about reducing the leaks. Rather than solve leaks one at a time, the solution was to uncover the root causes and prevent new leaks from springing up. This was done in three ways. Digital technologies to survey the system, a “step test” to determine the volume of water being lost and electro-acoustic equipment (geophone, correlator, multi-correlator, noise logger) to seek out the holes.

The project reduced water loss by more than 50% and the Hitachi solution has since been rolled out across more than 30 towns and cities on the Italian island, with many more in the pipeline.

TOTOally smart

Old toilets can use as much as 30 litres of water for a single flush. Even the average toilet accounts for 1/3 of water used in the home today. Toilet makers are vying to reduce that amount. Toto, the world's largest toilet manufacturer, has managed to make a toilet which uses only 3.8 litres per flush. Products like this will eventually become the norm, significantly reducing household water usage.

Smart Irrigation

Water irrigation systems used primarily in agriculture account for substantial water use in Europe. In the Mediterranean, it is as high as 60% of total water use. Reducing the volume, without compromising crops, is an important challenge being taken on by the tech sector.

Smart irrigation technology is the answer. Unlike traditional systems, which work on pre-set schedules, smart systems monitor external factors like soil moisture and weather and react to them in real-time. This means water is only used when necessary and wastage is limited.

Taking on the key environmental challenge of this century is a big task. That is why we need new technologies that help us wash, drink, flush and irrigate in the most effective way.