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How can we use our digital era to solve the world’s water crisis?

Last month I went on a business trip to Israel with the objective of researching possible bilateral water opportunities and to understand how these are affected by the ongoing change in the environment with an eye on climate change and the fourth industrial revolution. The Global Risks Landscape 2016 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) indicated environmental risks such as failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, which is considered the most potentially impactful risk and the third most likely, with water crises, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse rising up the list of concerns[1]. Due to these concerns and problematic future outlook it is interesting to see how these developments and the shift to a digital connected era is changing the Israeli and Dutch water perspective on innovation and practice. In my previous article ‘How can Israel and The Netherlands capitalize the smart water tech revolution?’, I concluded that the Netherlands is dealing with sweet water and safety issues, which is a persistent problem of Israel and both countries have it high on their agenda[2]. In order to elevate this research and integrate a crossover collaboration focused on cyber, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (m-learning) — the fourth industrial revolution — I tried to indicate these opportunities as the essential technologies and bottlenecks in the water sector during my trip

To start I would like to elaborate a little on the changes between the third and the fourth revolution. Where the third revolution was mainly focused on the digital automation of production by means of electronics and IT[3], the fourth revolution shows that machine to machine (M2M) is becoming more and more influential. This means that machines are becoming more augmented with web connectivity (IoT, Cloud Computing and Cyber Physical Systems) that are analyzing the system and taking decisions by themselves based on collected data and pattern behavior[4]/[5] e.g. m-learning and AI. This means that it is becoming easier to connect appliances, machines, things, complete factories and other industrial environments and processes to the internet to control infrastructures and other machines[6].

On the fourth day of my trip, I met Mr. Oded Distel, the Founder and Director of Israel NewTech, Israel National Energy & Water Program at the Ministry of Economy and we discussed the world’s water challenge. Future challenges such as a shortage of drinking water for 66 percent of the world’s population by 2020, 25 % of the water will be lost in the water infrastructure caused by leaks, only five percent of the global irrigated land is using drip irrigation and 90 percent of the third world countries wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers lakes and oceans were discussed. The problem of having an insufficient water and wastewater infrastructure is that we are losing valuable water that is already treated, ready for consumption and paid for by the community and government. This means that we all lose: the government, water municipalities, companies and citizens. Lots of effort is provided in treating water, and due to leakage we are basically throwing away money, resources and efforts. While in Israel these types of problems are known and actively dealt with, it is not publicly known that The Netherlands is also dealing with droughts. Even though it is not on an alarming level, it is a pressing issue and The Netherlands is putting a lot of efforts in its infrastructure to provide their citizens with reliable and safe water[7]. For example, The Netherlands invests 1 billion euro’s to treat the sewage[8], which is at the same level of Israel that is spending NIS 4 billion on wastewater treatment for potable and agricultural water. The Netherlands feels it needs to act upon the climate change and the water utilities have presented a new plan ‘Towards a more sustainable The Netherlands’ to the new cabinet to act[9] [10]. The report states that water companies and utilities on government or decentralized level need to cooperate to enhance more efficient use of their resources and efforts. I personally think that with this severe water crisis the world is awaiting, the discussion on how to efficiently use our resources are to be addresses, but also need to be put into practice. On the bright side of this crisis, as I may quote Mr. Oded Distel, ‘Necessity is the mother of innovation’[11] and taking into account the findings of Seth Siegel on a collective approach[12], this could work.In order to understand the adaptive capabilities of Israel I think it is important to shortly introduce how the Israeli innovative mindset came into practice. The book of Seth Siegel ‘Let there be water’ is a great or maybe even a must read to understand this process. In this paragraph I tried to provide you with a little recap. Israel’s water sector started in 1920, at that time Palestine governed by the British mandate, which had to deal with low primary resources with a relatively big population that continued to grow due to the migration from Europe caused by the rise of antisemitism. The British mandate foresaw that the current infrastructure could not maintain the mass of people and therefore limited the migration to 75,000 people over a period of five years[13]. Some of the immigrants felt the same, but instead of limiting the inflow of immigrants, the Polish water engineer, Simcha Blass together with Levi Eshkol immigrant of Kiev, at that time the Russian Empire, started working on a master plan on how they could provide the region with water. This plan became known as ‘the Fantasy Water Plan’, as nobody believed the plan would be able to be executed in 1937. At the same time Eshkol and Blass established the current national water supplier of Israel, Mekorot[14]. The fantasy water plan consisted out of three phases, but before this was executed both Eshkol and Blass first indicated important water sources in Israel. After pinpointing the sources the first phase, deep water drilling in the Negev started. The second phase was to bring water from the Yarkon River to the farmers in the Negev, whereas the third phase focused on establishing a water carrier from the North to the South of the country[15]. By 1955 phase two of the ‘Fantasy plan’ was put into practice and at the same time Mekorot started its construction for the gigantic underground plumbing system through rocky terrain. This was a challenge by itself as it needed to be able to endure sea climate but also wet, chilly winters and dry sizzling deserts[16]. All this was realized because of a positive cultural mindset and collaborative approach about water[17]. Another important aspect of this effective approach is that water became a government owned resource and water laws were implemented in 1955 e.g. people collecting water is considered to be an illegal act and all water distributed needs to be monitored by a meter[18]. To coordinate all these efforts The Israel Water Authority was originated, and became an independent body within the government in 1959.

Mainly due to Israel’s need for solutions, innovation came into the picture with a result that Israel currently recycles 86 percent of its water[19] and experiences a surplus of water while being independent from the weather. This high recycling rate has only become reality due to analyzing data and finding new solutions for areas that consumed more water than was to be found efficient. The surplus is explained due to Israel’s Water Authority decision to follow up on the desalination solution that was raised as a solution in 1950 by Alexander Zarchin[20], and now supplies 60 percent of Israel’s drinking water[21]. When looking at this background, it is seen that Israel has proven that necessity is the mother of innovation and efficiency. This history is the current backbone of Israel’s water infrastructure and its continuation of a culture embedded by innovation. Since Israel has been dealing with severe droughts and lack of resources they became dedicated to overcoming problems that many countries are now facing caused by climate change. A good example is that Israel was the first to implement a water meter in 1955 and started collecting data in order to save time and money, which led to the invention of the Distant Meter reading technology in 1996[22].

A second good example is Jerusalem’s Water Utility, Hagihon Company ltd, which implemented robotic cameras to prevent leakages in 1996[23]. From this moment onwards Hagihon decided to strive to become a special innovation lab for water innovation, of which they have managed to do so even today. What makes Hagihon stand out as a water utility that is supportive of new innovation, is that they are aware of the length of the Death Valley period for water startups, which takes longer than startups operating in the high tech industry. Therefore the utility supports the startups pilots for a longer period[24]. In the picture above you can see a few of their current projects involving new innovative technologies based on their version of Boyd Cohen smart city wheel. In order to maintain this innovative perspective they work with companies like Hutchinson -Kinrot that invests in many water and cleantech startups to maintain to be on top of the game. To enhance and discuss this innovative approach Hutchinson-Kinrot is also hosting a panel ‘Accelerating Water innovation panel’ together with the Dutch Water Alliance Hub, where they will discuss the prospects of water innovations at Watec 2017 in Tel Aviv. Interesting is that Hagihon & Hutchinson are focusing on companies that are acting in the sphere of the fourth revolution. A good example of this is the partnership of Hagihon with TaKaDu, which offers a cloud-based advanced software to detect anomalies in an utility’s water supply based on Takadu’s algorithm. A second example is Aquarius Spectrum, which also won Aquatech Amsterdam innovation Award in 2015 with their AQS-SYS correlated detection system. The system informs you with certainty when a leak is starting to develop, giving you its exact position, long before the damage is caused. AQS is based on correlating sensors that integrate 3G cellular communication, GPS synchronization and cloud-based automatic signal processing. A third example is more focused on securing these critical infrastructure is SigaGuard that combines sophisticated m-learning algorithms and advanced electrical engineering to monitor electrical signals in the lowest layer of the SCADA system’s operating technology to detect anomalies in mission-critical equipment systems. Another example I personally got very excited about is the startup Kando, which develops end-to-end wastewater management solutions that combine hardware and software to help water utilities, cities and chemical companies to detect early pollution leaks by a monitoring system that uses measurement capabilities and data analytics to alarm its user.

 

The Netherlands is not staying behind, and also actively joining in on this innovation focus, and is stimulating its efforts to become a front runner in the technologies AI, IoT, m-learning technologies and stimulate cross over collaboration between diverse sectors[25]. This has been taken very seriously by the Dutch water ecosystem, and many initiatives have been launched. A good example is the Vitens playground, which was launched in 2013 by Vitens and uses this playground to test new technology to increase efficiency and innovation. In addition to this playground, the Netherlands is also focusing on becoming the European water hub, Water Alliance which is a partnership of public and private companies, government agencies and knowledge institutes that offers a platform for research & development, specialized laboratories, a water application center, various demo sites, launching customers to international applications with commercial companies. In regard to adopting the fourth industrial revolution The Netherlands is showcasing interesting technologies developed by innovative dutch water companies, such as Nijhuis Industries that presented i-Dose: a software that automatically provides the correct dose of chemicals that are needed to clean the water, and I-Real that developed a new datalogger to measure the quality of the water, which more competitive than other LoRa dataloggers on the market. These types of development are becoming more relevant for the Netherlands as it is experiencing serious droughts and will need to become more efficient with its water use. The drought is not enough for the water utilities to worry about yet. However, it is a concern if there will be enough to provide water for farmers and nature reserves[26]. Another aspect that is gaining attention in the Dutch water sector is the increasing need of raw materials. The water utilities in The Netherlands are recuperating these raw materials of the sewage. However, there are some difficulties regarding the final phase of the waste retrieved from the sewage and the same for the financial aspect of this[27]. Another alarming effect is that the Dutch Islands ‘Wadden Eilanden’ experience an increasing risk to disappear due to increasing sea level[28]. In order to overcome these challenges the 2014 OECD report for The Netherlands states that it needs to work more collaboratively and coherent with all water parties involved. The first step into this direction would be an agenda for water policy reform in the Netherlands that should explore cost-efficient, adaptive and place-based responses, which minimize path dependency and improve economic incentives to manage “too much”, “too little” or “too polluted” water. It requires a renewed focus on governance, with an emphasis on active stakeholder involvement, as well as more transparent information and performance monitoring. It also requires improved coherence between water, land use and spatial planning, and a greater focus on long-term financial sustainability[29].

What are the bottlenecks and how does the digital era affect us in overcoming the climate change?

To conclude what I have taken from my visit, and my vision on both water sectors is that positive developments in creating a collaborative innovative efforts are seen in both countries. There is a great awareness that the world needs to change its behavior, which results in many new initiatives and are put into practice via pilot projects. This shows that the water vision is slowly changing. This change is aligned with what I noticed when I was speaking to entrepreneurs and companies that are dedicating their time to develop innovative solutions to be able to provide water during droughts, deal with salinization of groundwater and drinking water, keep countries below sea-level dry, how to monitor and prevent leakages etc. One of the main topics I noticed with pilot projects and startup was the integration of internet connected machines, that based on data and algorithms can predict and make decisions based on retrieved data. However, putting new technologies into practice like desalinization, leakage detection, control systems which all use AI and M-learning technologies takes a lot of effort. Not only implementing the projects, but also to change the mindset and realize the sector needs these technologies to become more sustainable with water. Meaning that for countries that have been experiencing effects of climate change only recently, they need to adapt and think outside of the box, which means a culture change and this takes time. Governments are supporting this by providing financial aids, where innovation labs can turn to for support. This is seen in The Netherlands that closely works with the EU and in Israel with Israel’s innovation authority. However, in The Netherlands a few problems remain in achieving a full circular economy. Even though The Netherlands is working on reusing the waste of the treated water, but it does not have a curcilar solution for the final waste products and its finance model for it. In regard to this problem, it is interesting to look at the Shafdan wastewater treatment facility. The company that has been treating the wastewater of the Dan Region surrounding Tel Aviv and have been able to create a full circular economy by treating the wastewater and using all waste to generate the facility.

The lesson learned from both The Netherlands and Israel, it all starts with proper water governance, which is a necessity for a working, reliable and efficient water infrastructure. However, The Netherlands have only started dealing with the effects of climate change such as droughts, whereas in Israel this was primary focus when it still was under its British Mandate and thus has a few years ahead upon The Netherlands in this regard.

Another theme I feel is important to continue is cyber security, which is a topic that is gaining more and more attention. In Israel these are embedded in the culture. However, I haven’t noticed a lot of cyber security activities for the Dutch water environment. Even though it is seen that the critical infrastructure organizations work with the European Network for Cyber Security, but water companies are not participating, besides TU delft. Whereas, it was seen that the water utilities in Israel are actively working with security companies, like SugaGuard as mentioned earlier this post. This could be an interesting topic to explore. ‘How can we project all these data based algorithms systems that are internet connected and is secured from outsiders that are trying to influence the water network?’.

Repost with permission from Medium.

Sources

[1] http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2016/part-1-title-tba/ Part 1, Global Risks 2016

[2] https://www.topsectorwater.nl/tag/crossover/

[3] https://www.fr.sogeti.com/globalassets/global/downloads/reports/vint-research-3-the-fourth-industrial-revolution p. 11

[4] https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-fourth-revolution-9780199606726?cc=nl&lang=en&

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2016/04/05/why-everyone-must-get-ready-for-4th-industrial-revolution/#76652da63f90

[6] https://www.fr.sogeti.com/globalassets/global/downloads/reports/vint-research-3-the-fourth-industrial-revolution p. 12

[7] https://www.waterschappen.nl/ondanks-regen-nog-altijd-erg-droog-in-nederland/

OECD. (2014). Water governance in the Netherlands: Fit for the future? OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing.http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264102637-en p.17

[8] http://www.watervisie.com/zuiveren-rioolwater-kost-jaarlijks-miljard-euro/

[9] https://www.uvw.nl/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Investeringsagenda-voor-Kabinetsformatie-2017-Naar-een-duurzaam-Nederland-2017.pdf p. 7

[10] OECD. (2014). Water governance in the Netherlands: Fit for the future? OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing.http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264102637-en p.87

[11] Distel, O (2017). Presentation April 4, 2017 Ministry of Economy, Jerusalem.

[12] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 19

[13] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 21/22

[14] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan. p.23

[15] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 25

[16] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 37

[17] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 37

[18] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan.p. 17

[19] http://www.jns.org/latest-articles/2016/4/21/earth-day-2016-israel-shines-in-water-technology-recycling-renewable-energy-1#.WSQplZKGMdU=

[20] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan. p.115

[21] http://nocamels.com/2017/05/desalination-israel-drought-water-shortage/

[22] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan. p.50

[23] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan. p.51

[24] Siegel, S. M. (2015). Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World. Macmillan. p.166

[25] https://fd.nl/opinie/1181379/nederland-moet-zich-inspannen-om-koploper-op-gebied-blockchain-technologie-te-worden

[26] https://www.vechtstromen.nl/actueel/nieuws-0/@34326/ernstige-droogte/

[27] https://www.efgf.nl/actueel/waterschappen-ondertekenen-grondstoffenakkoord/

[28] http://www.nu.nl/binnenland/4681212/waddengebied-dreigt-verdrinken-stijging-zeespiegel-en-gaswinning.html

[29] OECD. (2014). Water governance in the Netherlands: Fit for the future? OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing.http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264102637-en p.19