Making Every Drop Count: Approaches for Smart Water and Irrigation Management

26th October 2023
Helen Bali
Head of Water

Helen Bali, our Head of Water at WSP in the Middle East, explores how the GCC can drive sustainable change in its water sector by utilising smart irrigation and water management approaches.

In the arid landscape of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, where water resources are inherently scarce, the pursuit of responsible water management practices is not just a necessity but a critical imperative. With the region’s growing population, rapid urbanisation, and expanding agriculture and horticulture sectors, the demand for water continues to rise, thus putting immense pressure on an already limited supply.

Helen Bali, Head of Water at WSP Middle East, brought forth a comprehensive collection of approaches in a series of two articles, addressing this pressing challenge. The first focused on water management, while the second demystified smart irrigation management approaches. This article brings together key takeaways from Helen’s series, highlighting the approaches that can reshape the water and irrigation landscape of the GCC to enable sustainable growth and development for the region.

Key Approaches for Smart Water and Irrigation Management

1. Automated Leak Detection and Real-Time Flow Monitoring

To address water leakage in transmission networks, the implementation of automated leak detection systems using technologies like acoustic or thermal sensors is crucial. These sensors can rapidly identify leaks in pipelines by detecting changes in temperature caused by water leakage. Additionally, real-time flow monitoring, synchronised through Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, helps identify water losses in the network, enabling quick repairs at the point of loss. These measures enhance the efficiency of water distribution systems, minimise water loss, and reduce the need for extensive repairs.

2.Compliance with Quality Procedures and International Codes

During the design and construction of pipes, reservoirs, and pumping stations, adherence to international codes and quality procedures is essential. Ensuring proper construction practices at a site level, such as avoiding debris in joints on water retaining structures, is vital to prevent water wastage due to leaks that may develop over an asset’s lifetime. Strict compliance with quality standards can minimise the risk of unnecessary water loss.

3.Smart Technology for Identifying Losses in Existing Networks

To address losses in existing networks, smart technology can be employed to track and confirm the presence of real or apparent leaks. Noise correlators, using acoustic technology and multiple microphones, can accurately detect the noise impact of leaks and pinpoint their location for repair. Similarly, in-pipe acoustic resonance technology can identify anomalies in the pipe wall through sound changes, facilitating further investigation and repair.

4.District Metering Areas and Real-Time Monitoring

Creating District Metering Areas (DMAs) within distribution networks, combined with smart property meters and SCADA systems, enables real-time monitoring of the distribution systems. This approach assists in identifying non-revenue water, including non-physical causes, and enables prompt interventions to reduce water losses.

5.Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Twins

Integrating AI-based real-time monitoring and the development of Digital Twins allows for predictive maintenance. Potential risk areas within networks and critical infrastructure can be identified, enabling proactive measures to address situations that might lead to breaks or water loss. This transition to predictive maintenance optimises water distribution system efficiency and minimises disruptions.

6.‘Air-to-Water’ Collection Systems

Exploring ‘air-to-water’ collection systems, which gather water from the air or morning water vapour using specialised panels or nets, offers a potential solution for smaller remote communities. Although these technologies are in the early stages of development, they could reduce water transportation costs and losses for isolated communities.

7.Localised Greywater Retreatment

Decentralised greywater retreatment is critical to minimise water demand. Treating greywater locally reduces the need for transporting water to treatment plants and upgrades of existing networks. Treated greywater can be utilised for non-potable purposes in suitable buildings, reducing strain on freshwater sources.

8.Efficient Irrigation Systems

Utilising soil and weather monitoring, as well as metering and SCADA systems, enhances the efficiency of irrigation. Water is applied only when necessary, preventing over-irrigation. Raising awareness about plant choices, and favouring native species with lower water demands, contributes to sustainable landscaping.

9.Sustainable Agriculture and Water Recycling

Implementing sustainable agriculture practices and water recycling reduces water demands. Utilising treated sewage and greywater, along with rainwater harvesting and balanced water source management, minimises agricultural and horticulture water consumption. Advanced irrigation systems, improved canal management, and early warning systems support water conservation efforts.

10.Water Efficiency at the Farm Level

Water efficiency at the farm level involves water accounting, benchmarking, and auditing to identify areas for improvement. Technologies like soil moisture sensors and automated irrigation systems ensure water is used optimally. Revisiting traditional farming practices and incorporating water-absorbing hydrogels can further reduce water demand An illustration of this would be creating industrial-scale ‘food valleys’ to promote efficient methods for food manufacturing and achieve economies of scale.

To conclude…

The journey towards smart water and irrigation management for the GCC region is a collaborative effort that requires the commitment of governments, industries, communities, and individuals. By embracing the ten strategies outlined in this article, we have the opportunity to transform water scarcity into water resilience. Through automated leak detection, compliance with international codes, the integration of smart technologies, and the adoption of sustainable practices, we can pave the way for a future where water wastage is minimised, agriculture and horticulture productivity thrives, and urban centres flourish with minimal impact on our precious water reserves. As we stand at the intersection of innovation and sustainability, the choices we make today will define the water-abundant or water-deprived reality of tomorrow.

Helen Bali is WSP Middle East’s Head of Water. She leads a diverse team of water experts and engineers across the region to help governmental and non-governmental organisations develop and deliver smart water systems. Helen’s focus is on sustainable solutions that can address the water scarcity challenges in the region while also leveraging emerging technologies to improve water efficiency and reduce waste.