Water is one of the most precious natural resources on the planet. The scarcity of water or poor water quality in a region has an impact on health, food security and many other areas, putting the people who live there at risk. 

In addition to the irreparable damage to the ecosystem and the hazardous factors that can result from bad water management, the scarcity of useful and potable water—or the excess of contaminated water—makes basic services more expensive, and can thus intensify social inequality. It is not surprising, then, that efforts are being made to optimise the efficient management of water. In this sense, the possibilities offered by technology are an essential.

New technology facilitates the prevention and solution of water-related problems—production processes, commercial issues and the management of the services sector—and aims to improve citizens’ quality of life, all while creating sustainable cities that contribute to curbing climate change.

The concept of a “water footprint” is an interesting tool to raise public awareness about how much water people use every day. When we think about the amount of water someone in a First World country uses, we usually only consider the direct water footprint; that is, the water we consume for drinking, cooking food, bathing, watering the garden, washing the car or cleaning our clothes and houses.

However, the majority of the water we use comes from our indirect water footprint, which is the sum of all the water footprints of everything we consume on a day-to-day basis: electricity; fuel; all foods (produce must be watered, and the packaging, transport and manufacture of other foods require water); the production of our clothing, cosmetics, electronic devices and packaging; and the management of all the waste we generate. With regard to the latter, for example, well-formulated waste disposal routes with eco-friendly vehicles could significantly reduce water use and pollution.

Current technology allows smart cities to utilise advanced devices for leak detection, remote meter reading, and the prediction and management of water demand in urban areas, in order to create adequate infrastructure.

In addition, photovoltaic purifiers are now a reality, as well as advanced real-time management using remote sensors that provide atmospheric information to the relevant authorities in order to prevent or report floods and disasters.

One of the unresolved matters regarding sustainable cities, however, concerns urban planning and architecture. An environmentally conscious building system can reduce the consumption of energy and water by 30 to 50%. Cities like Berlin and Shanghai, among others, have already begun to design plans for so-called “sponge cities”, where the urban landscape will be used to create a “water sponge.”

How is a sponge city created? They use green roofs (planted with vegetation), better-climatised buildings, light-colored materials (to avoid the use of air conditioning in areas with high temperatures), urban wetlands and permeable materials for streets that absorb water during periods of heavy rain. If water drains quickly, it is less likely to be contaminated, and therefore less likely to contaminate the water with which it comes into contact.

Information and communication technologies allow for the collection and analysis of environmental data and public behaviour. This information is of great interest when it comes to creating a design that promotes more responsible use of a city’s natural resources.

Let’s raise awareness from now on. Do you know the size of your water footprint? Dare to calculate yours here.