THE penny is starting to drop with the world’s water leaders. Bad water management will lead to conflict. No question.
Drought, storm surges and violent floods destroy the ability of humans to build homes and feed their families. They affect the security of livelihoods, the production of food, the stability of life-sustaining ecosystems and economic growth.
It was happening in vulnerable areas in 2016, when the World Bank issued its terrifying assessment of the impact water problems were having on the world economy. It’s happening now, and it’s much closer to home.
Let’s spell it out. Droughts and floods cause civil unrest locally and waves of humanitarian and economic migration which lead to increased social tensions elsewhere.
This is not only a problem for the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities. Water scarcity interspersed with moments of catastrophic abundance is coming for communities in the developed first world too.
The warning lights are flashing
Stories like the accelerating exodus of companies from California, water shut-offs in an outlying community in Arizona and chronic pandemic-level drought in the UK are just the canaries in the coalmine. There is worse to come.
As an entrepreneur and water campaigner, I am in the enviable position of being able to speak truth to power; talking to Government officials, water utility CEO’s and corporations all the time about the need for action. Recently, I am detecting a new edge in the way they are talking about water issues. They’re frightened. No-one wants to be the fall guy for what’s coming down the line.
Unlike the powerful fossil fuel industry, which ran multi-billion dollar campaigns to muddy the water about climate change, the water industry is mostly a collection of relatively lower resourced organisations, sometimes heavily regulated, who exist right in the heart of the watersheds which are the bread and butter of their existence.
All these things are true but we all share the collective blame. We undervalue the criticality of water as a society at our peril and this has to change. Water utilities are not equipped to meet this challenge on their own. We made them that way.
Water is a critical public good
One of the benefits – if you could call it that – of our pressing situation is that it has galvanized the energy of corporations who do have the ability and the skills to effect system-wide change, and they can carry water utilities with them.
The water positivity movement isn’t all about altruism. If you as a business need water to exist, you know how important water equity is; you can’t just take it out of the mouths of your workers and neighbours, you need to make more water available for everyone at the same time.
It reflects an understanding that you can only do so much by cutting your own operational use and making sure you use less water in product manufacture than your customers consume using the product. (Companies like Procter & Gamble are doing amazing things in space. I could also mention AB InBev, PepsiCo, Meta, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and The Coca-Cola Company to name a few.) You also need to address water demand and supply in the whole watershed, and that means working with others in a transparent equitable way on the shared goal of water stewardship.
Collective action on water stewardship
The water positive movement can only work if brings about measurable local results which are immediate. It’s the antithesis of greenwashing. Technologies which involve volumetric water accounting to provably demonstrate their benefits are key.
But the best partnerships will also be catalytic. They will leverage the distinct but combined talents of corporates, utilities and entrepreneurs in ever new and ingenious ways which draw more stakeholders into their orbit for even greater gains.
Our ten-year partnership with Microsoft is a great example of this. Starting with Thames Water, our volumetric AI technology is helping engineers strategically pinpoint and fix their largest leaks, validate the repair and long term monitor the network. This will immediately make more water available for in London and it is just the start. Over the longer term there is potential for FIDO to deliver a more holistic water scarcity solution.
A new catalytic model
Microsoft’s commitment enables us to work with a utility over the long-term, see its problems and devise new AI solutions. We are seeing the potential for our AI to identify different types of consumer usage and we are already on our way identifying other forms of real NRW, such as theft. But why stop there? In combination with time and volumetric data we can develop profiling applications which revolutionise demand management and even customer care, a bit like the Apple watch.
This is what I mean by a catalytic community. The ability to test and fail, test and fail, test and succeed in a live environment in a way that is risk-free for resource-strapped utilities is game-changing. It’s a new model of live need-led innovation in a field that could not be more critical.
The more catalytic partnerships we can start, the more challenges our technology and others can address in ways we had never even considered, or thought possible, before.
My focus now is on finding like-minded sustainability and ESG leads in corporations to make vision a reality and I would love to hear from more people who want to explore partnering up to make more gains. If you’re game, or just interested to know more please get in touch.
Read more and meet up in Stockholm
Read more about our partnership with Microsoft here: https://fido.tech/news/microsoft-and-fido-tech-launch-collaboration-to-drive-down-water-losses/
I will be hosting a drinks reception at the forthcoming Stockholm World Water Week in August with the visionary water strategist @Will Sarni of @Water Foundry. If you would like to come along and talk to us about water positivity or water replenishment, drop me a line.