Innovation in the Water Sector, Driving the Blue-Green Revolution

Current and future water solutions to address global water challenges require innovation in science, technology and practice within the water sector and beyond. Smart homes, purifying membranes or precision irrigation are just some examples of the ways in which water management is innovating based on new scientific insights and the latest technologies.

They may lack the glamour of the latest product launch from Silicon Valley, but innovations in the water sector are driving efficiency and the recovery of water, energy and other vital resources from wastewater. They are improving our ability to cope with disasters, as well as improving human and ecosystem health. They form an essential part of building the blue and green economy of tomorrow. Yet many decision makers are unaware of the opportunities water innovations provide to reduce costs and create sustainability.

To highlight the latest innovations, and increase our understanding of how science and technology is developing, a series of five reports on water science, technology and innovation will be launched during the 7th World Water Forum, Daegu, Korea. Compiled by leading scientists and technology experts, the reports explore the frontiers of water innovation. They focus on 5 key areas: efficiency, resource recovery, smart technologies, disaster reduction and ecosystem-based infrastructure.

The reports have several key findings, but the overarching message is that although we face major water challenges, we have huge opportunities to create water security through sustainability by using the latest science and technology to accelerate innovation.

Water efficiency is one example. By replacing inefficient home water appliances (washing machines, shower heads and toilets) we can increase water and energy efficiency in homes by 40 percent. Fixing old pipes and valves, replacing inefficient pumps and aeration systems can dramatically cut water and energy wastage in cities by up to 60 percent. Putting in place drip irrigation, smart pressure management and sealed canals we can boost water efficiency in agriculture.

Much of the technology to do this already exists, and with the right incentives, effective regulation and awareness campaigns we could make a major water efficiency transition within the coming 10 years.

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Used water is another area of enormous potential. Once considered wastewater, used water is now perceived as a resource that can be turned not only into reusable water, but also into energy and other resources. Combined with manure and food waste in a digester it produces green biogas to heat buildings and power cars. Separated urine becomes bio-fertiliser replacing energy intensive phosphorous rock-based fertilisers. Specialised resins can capture rare earths, recovering valuable car-catalyser platinum dust from motorway drains.

The boundaries on resource recovery are being pushed daily in laboratories and pilot test sites. As raw materials get scarcer and more expensive, they open up major opportunities for wide-scale application, forming an essential part of the cyclical economy underpinning future sustainability.

Water innovations are further pushed by the rapid development of Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) applications. Smart water grids use ICT to monitor water flow, manage pressure or detect leaks. Smart meters indicate anomalies alerting water companies and customers about leaks or peak use. Smart sensors optimize irrigation water by measuring humidity, rainfall, wind speed, soil temperature and solar radiation. Smart rehabilitation technologies use image-diagnosing robots to inspect pipes, remove rust and spray new coating materials inside pipes.

ICT also helps to develop early warning systems to mitigate climate impacts, making efficient preparedness measures reality. The ICT revolution in water management is happening gradually, almost unnoticed, yet forms a major component of creating sustainability and resilience.

Current science and technologies enable us to analyse the potential impact of climate change; help understand our escalating vulnerability; and help reduce risk through building resilience. They help to pivot urban areas into dynamic living organisms, by linking natural water infrastructure in ways that enhance the built environment. Here water innovations become the basis for connecting the many stakeholders involved in mitigation of water-related disasters.

We now realise that nature ‘invoices’ us for human interventions that change the natural environment, leading to restorative action. U.S. coastal cities are embracing policies to improve stormwater runoff, water quality and resilience through natural infrastructure, especially in schools and public spaces; roadside swales filter heavy metals and biochemical elements, reducing costs costs and ensuring a more stable and productive aquatic life; China is investing $100 billion to secure the natural capital of river systems against urban flooding, loss of topsoil, desertification and to promote ecotourism.

Solutions through ecosystem services illustrate that when we secure, value and invest in natural capital, it repays healthy long-term dividends. The ‘green infrastructure’ of aquatic ecosystems can support water, energy and food security, for all, for the long term.

The IWA has developed a simple new management framework to capture the innovations that are unfolding along this value chain, the 5 R’s of new water management: re-duce, re-use, re-cover, re-cycle and re-plenish.

Reduce water loss and increase water efficiency. Re-use water, especially urban areas located in water stressed areas. Recover energy, nutrients and other materials from wastewater. Recycle those materials in fertilizers, plastic appliances, supplying materials to industries and farmers. Finally, the water management of the future replenishes watersheds, lakes and groundwater reserves within and around cities.

Science and Technology White Paper Launch

Water Security for Cities through integrated urban planning and services

Date: Monday 13 April, 15.00 – 16.00
Venue: DEC_306 | DAEGU | EXCO | 3F Room 320

The White Papers highlight the latest innovations and increase our understanding of how science and technology is developing, with a focus on 5 key areas: efficiency, resource recovery, smart technologies, disaster reduction and ecosystem-based infrastructure.

Hong Li

Science & Technology, and Specialist Groups Manager
Hong has been with IWA since 2009 and currently is the manager for Science, Technology and Specialist Groups. Hong has been coordinating specialist group activities (communications, publications, events, management) and was in charge of the conferenc... Read full biography