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  • Writer's pictureSheikh Farzin Rahman

Tech and Drought

Updated: Sep 5, 2023


a graphic of a field turning into a desert due to drought

Wildfire Season


This summer has been intense for those of us based in British Columbia. According to official reports, BC has seen 1788 wildfires burn almost 1.6 million hectares of land since April 1st. Today, there are over 370 active fires burning across the province. Our hearts are with those based in areas like Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country, the Shuswap, and other communities who are facing significant challenges this summer. If you or someone you know is being evacuated and needs help, please reach out to us here - the Viva Team and our extended family have rooms available, and we’re happy to help however we can.


What does this have to do with Vivacity?


Well, other than affecting people we’re close to and communities we love, the urgency of the wildfire problem sparked an idea for us. We’ve always been keen on using technology ethically and equitably to build a better future for cities, citizens, and organizations. And we know that drought conditions are aggravating the wildfire situation while also negatively affecting communities across the country. So, we decided to take this opportunity to research and report on neat ways technology can be used to aid against drought.


The art of the possible


When we remove all boundaries from our research and allow our minds to wander freely through the sea of marketing materials available online, we find a number of interesting ideas for using tech to manage water. This includes real-time water metering, smart irrigation systems, crop water management, self-optimizing urban water systems, and much more.


Some countries are even going as far as using satellites and mobile radar stations so they can better predict the movement of high moisture air streams, and improve conditions around those areas. Others are adopting a strategy known as cloud-seeding, where drones shoot chemicals into the atmosphere at high altitudes hoping to prompt precipitation.


Other moonshot technologies exist, such as desalination, but generally are too expensive to be used in practice. Fortunately, there are other technologies (such as nuclear fusion) that could, by decreasing the cost of clean renewable energy, bring these moonshot technologies closer to reality. Unfortunately, those technologies are still not fully developed or commercially available at scale. So, while we’ll have to keep chipping away at these for the time being, the future looks promising for water and drought management technologies.


What is actually being done today?


Beyond those moonshot ideas, there are a number of other readily available technologies that can significantly aid governments in managing their water resources. For example, several cities have over the last decade adopted water recycling technologies. Although there is still some public pushback around the idea, education efforts are continuing to contribute to increases in uptake. These programs reduce the load on regional watersheds, and contribute to additional resiliency when drought conditions materialize.


In the Western United States, the drought problem has been a severe challenge over the last few decades. This pressure has led governments to restrict the access to water to navigate low reservoir levels, which puts pressure on families, businesses, and farmers - the latter being arguably the most affected, as they account for over 40% of all water consumption in the region. One of the innovations to stem from these challenges is the advent of indoor vertical farming, which can use up to 95% less water than traditional approaches. These help relieve pressures on the food supplies even in face of extreme drought conditions.


Finally, but certainly not less importantly, the International Water Management Institute is promoting integrated drought-risk management to shape effective mitigation and response plans using data from numerous sources, including satellites. Of note, scientists within this institute have created the South Asia Drought Monitoring System (SADMS), which gives stakeholders weekly maps of drought conditions as well as two-week forecasts to inform short-term decision making. This deployment has successfully helped farmers navigate drought challenges, culminating in significantly higher yields in areas where measurements were enacted when compared to areas where they were not.


In British Columbia, how can we expect this to evolve over the coming years?


British Columbia faces a number of challenges when it comes to integrated water management. Official documents from the Provincial Government highlight many ways whereby local governments can minimize the impacts of drought, including conducting Water Supply and Demand Analyses, preparing Drought Management Plans and Emergency Response and Contingency Plans, improving the efficiency of water uses, and engaging in public communication and education initiatives. Local governments are typically the first line of support for drought conditions, which is why we expect municipalities will continue to lead the charge in drought management over the coming years.


Specifically, we see the increased uptake in smart water systems and the enhancement of data and information sharing channels as two key pathways for drought management in BC. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), we see more and more municipalities adopting solutions based on the technology to track water infrastructure and consumption in real time. We believe that over the coming years, this will evolve to support integrated management platforms which can be powerful tools when combined with other technologies such as AI and Predictive Analytics. These advancements will also bring a wealth of new data on water resources, which is why we believe sharing it will be another key way to better respond to drought in the coming years. Creating an integrated approach to incident response and management is critical to ensure responders are working off of the most recent and accurate information at all times.


Conclusion


It is clear that drought is a challenge worldwide, and we especially feel its effects in British Columbia where we’re based. However, the future is bright, as there are numerous technologies in development that can help mitigate drought and its effects. Today, efforts are being made to bridge the gap between traditional response and prevention approaches, including those seeking to leverage newer technologies such as the Internet of Things. We see this development across many municipalities in British Columbia, and believe that as uptake continues to increase, the next important challenge to solve will be to effectively share and mobilize this wealth of data to aid response efforts and planning. Despite all the challenges and negative effects of drought, we’re seeing many ways technology is being used to mitigate its impacts. At Vivacity, we’ll continue to explore this direction in the pursuit of using technology ethically and equitably to build a better future for cities, organizations, and citizens.


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