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Last year, I read a Wall Street Journal report that water managers in 36 states expect shortages by the year 2013. Why? The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the supply can't keep up with the demand.

The world's population tripled in the 20th century, and according to the World Water Council, the use of renewable water resources has grown six fold in that timeframe. Within the next 50 years, the world's population is expected to increase by another 40 to 50 percent. This population growth - coupled with industrialization and urbanization - will result in an increasing demand for water. But overall, little has been done to address this crucial issue. Consider the Clean Water Act of 1972. Although it was put into place to create an era of technological innovation in the United States, the promise is still largely unfulfilled. More progress has been made in Europe, with the EU Water Framework Directive, but there is still much to be done.

The statistics are sobering; 884 million people lack access to safe water supplies - that's approximately one in eight people. The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. But investment in safe drinking water and sanitation contributes to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization estimates returns of $3 to $34, depending on the region and technology. So why aren't we investing more?

In California, a controversial water bond was just tabled until 2012, and the debate over the right approach to addressing that state's significant water challenges continues. In 2008, California implemented a statewide goal to reach a 20 percent per capita reduction in water use by the year 2020, and progress is being made, but there is more to be done, both in California and around the world.

Worldwide, up to 50 percent of usable water is wasted due to leaky pipes. That alone presents a huge opportunity for improvement and conservation, yet replacing or overhauling aged infrastructures is a capital investment that many are unwilling or unable to make. The good news is that there are many ways to extend the useful lifetime of our water infrastructures around the world - and to look at water management in new ways and build new, smarter systems that take into account the true value of this critical resource.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which treats an average of 80-90 million gallons of wastewater per day during dry weather and up to 370 million gallons of combined wastewater and storm runoff per day during the rainy season, is using technology to enable smarter management of the city's 1,000 miles of sewer system and three treatment facilities. And water utilities around the world - in Europe, Australia, China, Japan, to name a few - are implementing similar technologies to improve the availability and quality of drinking water and to help add efficiency to the management of water management systems.

With advances in technology - sophisticated sensor networks, smart meters, deep computing and analytics - we can be smarter about how we manage our planet's water. We can monitor, measure and analyze entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes.

We can give all the people, organizations, businesses, communities and nations dependent on this critical resource - that is, all of us - a single, reliable, up-to-the-minute view of the way we use water. And by doing so, we can help build a sustainable, smarter planet.

 

Follow Cameron Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/smarterplanet