How Cities Worldwide Combat Drought & Conserve Water

Worldwide, cities are experimenting with new strategies to conserve water through Internet of Things technologies and innovation.

By Mary Velan


Cities in the Western United States are not alone in battling a persistent drought that is impacting economic growth and sustainability. Worldwide, cities are experimenting with new strategies to conserve water through new technology and innovation.


In cities hit with drought conditions, historically low levels in water reservoirs are forcing hydroelectric plants to shut down or reduce production. In response, micro-hydropower technology was developed to allow cities to generate electricity from the water running through their pipes. This can be a game changer in many cities that have seen hydropower's contribution to electricity supplies fall due to drought, which increases reliance on more expensive, and environmentally damaging, sources such as natural gas, The Guardian reported.

Furthermore, implementing water conservation measures in drought-stricken cities can also drive up the amount of energy used. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, nearly 20 percent of California's electricity is consumed by the state's water sector. As California intensifies its groundwater pumping, water treatment and water recycling efforts to cope with the drought, that number is expected to rise significantly.

Therefore, cities such as Portland, Oregon, have started to harness electricity from its water pipes and sell it into the electricity grid. Using Lucid Energy technology, Portland aims to generate 1,100 MWh of electricity annually, which would power 150 homes. This will be made possible through the installation of four turbines in the city's water pipes, as explained in this video:

Likewise, the Johannesburg also plans to adopt Lucid's technology to help alleviate the country's electricity crisis, The Guardian reported.

Internet of Things: Irrigation

Many cities are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) to effectively manage water sources and supply through periods of drought or torrential rain. Using sensors and analytics, IoT resources help cities, residents and businesses plan effective resource management and prevent hazardous outcomes such as water pollution, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

One example of leveraging IoT for water management can be seen in the agriculture sector. Farmers consume significant amounts of water to grow their crops and feed populations. Persistent droughts have greatly strained the agriculture business and spurred many to adopt technological solutions to turn less water into more food. Companies and nonprofits have implemented radio or cellular-enabled sensors to track several variables impacting day-to-day business such as:

  • Rainfall
  • Humidity
  • Soil composition
  • Topography
  • Temperature
  • Sunlight

After the data is collected and analyzed in conjunction with weather predictions, farmers can use the information to make smarter decisions about irrigation. This data-driven strategy, or precision agriculture, allows farmers to develop a detailed picture of land conditions that can result in 20 to 30 percent water savings. The sensors can also help farmers use less fertilizer while improving soil quality by preventing runoff from overwatering. The technology can be applied to better manage irrigation strategies on municipal properties such as parks, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

Internet of Things: Leakage

In urban water transportation systems, an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of clean water is lost annually to leaks, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Aging water infrastructure is the cause of slow leakage as well as sudden water main breaks, both of which greatly strain clean, treated water supplies. It is expensive and time consuming to replace or retrofit city water systems, and most municipalities are unable to keep up with the pace of new leaks, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

One solution for retaining water is minimizing water pressure. Embedding sensors in water pipes throughout a distribution network and connecting them to pump controls allows users to monitor water flow. This information can then be used to facilitate optimized water pumping throughout the system so the amount of water lost to leakage is reduced. Furthermore, the technology can help prevent the formation of new leaks as the system is repaired. Municipalities can also leverage the sensors to detect abrupt bursts in the water distribution network and provide faster responses to mitigate water loss, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

Internet of Things: Pollution

Another component to water conservation is protected valuable sources from contamination. Many cities are using IoT technologies to curb the pollution of waterways by planning for heavy rainfall. While water treatment plants remove contaminants from water supplies, heavy storms often overburden water systems and force sewage into waterways via overflows.

Cities are using data from water storage facilities and weather predictions to ensure there is enough space to collect and process rainwater runoff in the event of a heavy storm. Smart infrastructure allows cities to plan for maximum runoff capture and processing while increasing water harvesting, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

Internet of Things: Home

Finally, individual residents are adopting new technologies to reduce wasteful water consumption and identify leaks in the home. IoT resources track real-time and long-term water consumption in homes, which provide residents with valuable insight into their consumption habits. It can also help users locate a leak in their water system and make the necessary repairs before water is wasted or damage occurs, Data Smart City Solutions reported.

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2022 Gov1. All rights reserved.