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Author's profile photo James McClelland

Gaining Control of Our Dwindling Water Supply: Small Steps Can Have a Big Impact

By James McClelland, Senior Global Director, Utilities & Energy Industry, SAP


In more and more areas of the world, concerns about the availability of an adequate supply of fresh water are increasing. Pollution, climate change, and a growing population are putting strain this valuable resource. What can water utilities do to help address this concern? What can you and I do to be socially responsible? That’s what I’ll be touching on in this blog.

Fast facts on the water supply

Here are some facts about water that you probably learned in school:

  • The water on Earth has been here since Earth was formed, changing
    from solid to liquid to gas in an endless loop.
  • The Earth will not produce any new water; what we have
    now is it.
  • Only 1% of the water on Earth is available to us as fresh
    water – the rest is locked in glaciers or is saltwater. It’s our liquid gold.

Our water is a precious resource that we’re using faster than natural processes can replenish it. And when it is returned, it’s being
distributed unevenly. Areas that once had an abundance of water are experiencing shortages while others are being flooded during extreme weather events.


The ripple effect of water shortages

With climate change and shifting weather patterns, we’re seeing water shortages in our own backyards. In a report by the US Government Accountability Office, 40 of 50 state water managers expect shortages in some portion of their states under average conditions in the next 10 years. A USA Today article reviews the states with the highest levels of severe drought, which include Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, and California.


Drought is not just a problem for the immediate regions affected. There’s a ripple effect that’s far reaching. For example, California,
which grows an abundance of fruits and vegetables, is experiencing
a record drought. As fields are drying up, so too are farm jobs and produce supplies. The economic toll that starts with job loss ripples its way to consumer pockets in the form of higher prices for less available produce.

How utilities can help preserve our water supply

Leakage is one of the biggest causes of water loss. Here in North America, much of the water that’s supplied to the public is carried
through underground infrastructures that were put in place almost a century ago.. As pipes corrode over time, leaks occur, which not only impacts water supply but the water quality as well. Utilities can make a dramatic contribution to water conservation by using intelligent metering. This technology is no longer just for electric utilities.

Smart meters can play a major role in helping water utilities monitor and detect leaks. Utilities can ask and answer the question:
If a gallon goes in, does a gallon come out? If the answer is no, then smart meters can help a utility understand if that’s due to leakage or evaporation. If it’s leakage, then utilities can enable geospatial-type applications to pinpoint the location of the leak so they can fix it.

Adopting responsible water use habits

You and I can have an impact on water conservation. The average American taking a five-minute shower probably uses more water than an average person in a developing country uses in entire day. We’re very fortunate to have access to fresh water and the luxury of taking leisurely, daily showers – but we’re really the ones that need to up our conservation efforts.

There are many simple ways we can conserve water without much effort. The Web site Water Use It Wisely offers nearly 200 water-saving tips that you easily adopt, such as:

When ice cubes are leftover from your drink, don’t throw them out. Pour them on a plant.

  • Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.
  • Put food coloring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak. Fix it and start saving gallons.
  • Run your washer and dishwasher only when they are full. You can save up to 1,000 gallons a month.
  • At home or while staying in a hotel, reuse your towels.
  • Catch water in an empty tuna can to measure sprinkler output. 3/4 to 1 inch of water is enough to apply each time you irrigate.
  • Next time you add or replace a flower or shrub, choose a low-water-use plant and save up to 550 gallons each year.

By adopting these simple measures, the public can have a big impact on improving the water supply. By repairing the water infrastructure and investing in intelligent metering, utilities can have a huge impact as well. Whether funding for the repairs comes from government subsidies or increased water rates, the infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and the sooner the better. These steps can go a long way to keep us as a planet from being in a very, very difficult position.

I welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation with you about conserving our water supply. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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