IBM explores water management market

IBM has started a pilot project in Dubuque, Iowa, to help the city's residents better manage their water usage

Divining a possible new market in municipal water management systems, IBM has set up a pilot project in Dubuque, Iowa, to investigate whether cities could both save money and conserve water by monitoring citizens' usage more closely.

In this project, over 300 home dwellers have been issued smart water meters that wirelessly transit their water usage back to IBM data center, on a periodic basis. The citizens can check into a secure Web site, run by IBM, to see how much water they use, and when the it is being used during the day. The idea is that by studying water usage habits, citizens may be able to tell if they have hidden leaks.

The Web site will also compare home dwellers' water usage against their neighbors' usage, also in hopes of persuading heavy water users to cut consumption.

The water utility industry estimates that 30 per cent of U.S. homes have water leaks that their owners are not aware of, said Milind Naphade, IBM's manager for the pilot. Leaky underground pipes may lose water, for instance, without the owners even recognizing the seepage. By offering citizens a more detailed summary of their usage habits, a utility company may inspire them to cut their water usage.

As an additional incentive, Dubuque, which runs the water supply utility, will offer rebates worth up to 50 per cent of the cost of fixing the leaks. The city offer an incentive program for other conservation measures as well, such as installing water-saving showerheads.

The pilot will run through December.

IBM is undertaking this project as part of a $US100 million investment to develop environmental monitoring and analysis systems.

In addition to this pilot, the company has also just started working with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to investigate the possibility of setting up a flood early warning system.

Such a system could be comprised of sensors placed along rivers, dykes, canals and other man-made and natural waterways. The data from these devices could be analyzed during times of heavy rains to predict flooding. Such a system could be useful not only for the extensive Dutch waterway system, but also for similarly water-heavy areas such as the Sacramento River Delta in the U.S., the company asserts.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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