World Water Day 2016: A Call for Data, Testing and Collaboration

The lead up to World Water Day this year has been exciting for Water Canary. We are thrilled that our commitment to launch a real-time water quality data collection service was chosen to be a part of the White House’s official World Water Day Announcement today:

Over the next 18 months, Water Canary will launch a water-quality data collection service, offering real-time nutrient data collected from sensors the company installs and maintains to make it affordable for businesses, farmers, scientists, and government agencies to use water more efficiently and eliminate the waste of excess fertilizer in agriculture. The company has set the goal of bringing all major river systems in the continental United States online by 2020, increasing the total number of publicly available real-time data points from under 5 million a year today to over 10 billion.Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 6.11.55 AM

We are even more thrilled, after years of hard work, to see a consensus emerging around the the critical need for water data to implement lasting solutions to the problems we face.

Incredible pieces have been written underlining how frighteningly scarce this kind of data remains in the 21st century. There is agreement that our water problems have been exacerbated by a lack of investment in the space, and a systematic neglect of research and development to address society’s biggest problems. This emerging consensus is something worthy of celebration in an area that has had to do so much with so little for so long on the front lines of combatting climate change.

Perhaps solving our problems will only need investment and data, yet it’s important to consider the unique opportunities before us to create a sustainable water future.

20th century water infrastructure planning was informed by a presumed continued abundance of fresh water resources across the world. In this atmosphere, water pollution and environmental degradation asked us to question what price we were willing to pay for progress — yet they were not perceived as a threat to our long-term survival. As long as these assumptions remained true and cheap energy was abundant, our water systems could be sustained without rapid (or, really any) technological innovation.

The dangers of specific microorganisms and the proliferation of new toxic chemicals exposed the weaknesses of this approach as they became better understood. Yet the state of water testing — which remains slow, complex and expensive, made it impossible to investigate these threats sufficiently. Instead of comprehensive environmental monitoring, we regulated water pollution. Provided enough water, toxic chemicals could be diluted down to trace levels.

This strategy had its limitations when it was adopted decades ago, yet today, it no longer works. We now live in constant awareness that water is a finite resource. As freshwater diminishes, the same rates of pollution are creating an accelerating toxicity problem. There are countless methods for mitigating pollution today, yet, the amount of water quality tests that need to be performed across the world exceeds our capacity to perform tests.

Today on World Water Day, we are finally asking for more data, more transparency and more testing. What fascinates me is that the scale of the project before us is larger than anything a single company could begin to accomplish alone. This isn’t easy work, and the more of us that are doing it, the more we can teach each other and the more we can build a culture in water that is worthy of this responsibility. We need to collaborate on devising new standards, new metrics, and new ways to amplify the impact of one another’s work. If we’re not careful, water will become the next oil industry.

Another future is possible, and I look forward to working with you all to make it a reality.

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