To achieve a Water Smart Society, we focus on the pathways towards better use, valorisation, and stewardship of our water sources by society and businesses while developing resilient, systemic and sustainable solutions for our key global water challenges. A Water Smart Society is a society in which the true value of water is recognised and realised, and all available water sources are managed in such a way that water scarcity and pollution are avoided, close loops and symbiosis are created to foster a circular economy and optimal resource efficiency, while the water system is resilient against the impact of adverse events.
As the Vice-President of Research and Technology at Water Europe (WE), I embrace the WE vision of a European and global water sector that will be significantly transformed with respect to the current state of play. New concepts, such as Multiple Waters (to secure the right water for the right purpose to the right users), Digital Water and Hybrid Grey-Green Infrastructure will drive the transition, through new water-smart economics and decision-making under the umbrella of renovated governance models. These new governance structures, along with economic mechanisms and more intense water stewardship programmes can direct the water market towards the smart allocation of water.
A systemic approach to digital system applications at various scales is necessary to manage water and create value of the big data
Yet for research & innovation to be implemented, investments are not enough; bold choices and readiness to change are required, including the development and update of policies and standards. Luckily, advances in digital technologies are leading transformations at all sectors of the economy, including the water ecosystems, creating an emerging cyber-physical society with dramatically higher levels of manageability for the water sector. Digital water technologies can increase the availability and use of “multiple waters” to complement freshwater sources, as well as facilitate a deeper dialogue between organisations and citizens with a co-design inclusive approach. The new levels of performance and efficiency may spark entrepreneurs to launch new business models. At the same time, as with any disruption, digital transformation brings a host of challenges such as data privacy, cyber-security, and bias, creating further opportunity for new business.
In the water sector, digital is transforming every part of the water cycle as we know it, from acquisition, storage, and distribution, through use, treatment, and reuse. Across each phase of the lifecycle of water, digital technologies can be applied at different levels of maturity. The basic steps of digitalization involve adding sensors to capture data, monitor trends, conduct anomaly detection and raise alarms. More sophisticated levels of digital maturity involve transforming the data collected into intelligence and value by utilizing data science and artificial intelligence to predict outcomes and augment operations with automation.
As mainstreamed in the Water Europe Vision, a systemic approach to digital system applications at various scales (industrial, urban, rural, regional, international and river basin) is necessary to manage water and create value of the big data. This concept is at the basis of a smart, dynamic resilient and adaptable real-time water governing system, implemented through the WE Water Oriented Living Labs (WoLLs). They are defined as real-life, water oriented and demo-type and platform-type environments with a cross-sector nexus approach, which have the involvement of multi-stakeholders and can provide a field lab to develop, test, and validate innovations. This involves the interactions within the quadruple helix (academia, industries, authorities and the natural environment) and will result in a new systemic optimum with new business models and innovative policies based on the true value of water. But emerging tools and stakeholder expectations from the emergent digital water approach can really sustain the economic development, business growth and well-being of our societies.