IBM Tackles Water Use in Sonoma Wine Country With Smarter Data

Earlier this week, Karl Griffith wrote about the need to use both traditional “green” solutions as well as intelligent technology to improve green building. Most other resource issues benefit from the same kinds of thinking. Case in point: water issues and the advanced technology that IBM is putting into place in Sonoma County, CA.

Given an ongoing drought and a gubernatorial goal to reduce statewide water use by 20% by 2020 (PDF here), Sonoma county representatives found themselves in need of a smart solution. Although traditional conservation laws and incentives play a huge role in managing any area’s municipal water supply, getting better, faster, more granular data makes water supply management much easier. Better data can allow a water utility to react to changes in usages, weather and water quality in a matter of minutes, not hours.

IBM’s system consolidates and analyzes water data, which is then made available through a web portal. Dashboards provide a collective view and new levels of insight into the overall status of water reserves. In addition, it provides new analytic capabilities that enable users to slice and dice data as needed, rather than having to rely on pre-defined reports, supporting a more collaborative and proactive approach to managing water resources. This analysis can include historical trend studies to determine seasonal variations in flow and water quality, on which future decisions may be based.

As Peter Drucker once said “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure”.

IBM says it’s too early to provide data on how much water has been saved in Sonoma county, nor much about the financial ROI. However, a similar project in Washington, DCresulted in the following quantifiable improvements:

  • A 36% reduction in customer calls via increased preventive maintenance and implementation of automated meter readings.
  • Ability to generate reports for regulatory compliance and management review in seconds versus days.
  • Nearly 70% of DC customers have signed up for notification services via phone, text, or email or other methods of usage rates with over 10,000 notifications having gone out to date.

IBM has found a great niche in their “smarter planet” initiative – a classic example of using an environmental problem as a business opportunity. By doing what IBM already does best, they’ve found a way to improve environmental performance, save their customers money, and profit by doing so.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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