The water sector is catching on to digitalisation and slowly we are crawling out of our own silos, looking beyond our own disciplines and (geographical) boundaries. But are we prepared for a future in which we will be dealing with ever more complex, integral issues surrounding climate adaptation and strongly expanding data flows? Are we already making optimal use of all technological and digital resources? I think we can and must take another big step. Part of the answer: Watercloud.
I’m writing this at a moment in time of heavy rainfall, right after an extensive period of drought. Streets are flooded and cars trudge through the water. Still, we expect an extremely dry summer in Europe and other parts of the world. Which has concerned water authorities, water utilities and governments for months already. Initially, people are urged not to water their gardens because of an impending shortage of water and a week later they find their living room flooded. Difficult to explain to the man on the street, but this is the reality. Extreme drought and extreme precipitation go hand in hand in big parts of the world. The drought problem can even cause damage that runs in the hundreds of millions, or even billions. That is our climate adaptation challenge for the coming years.
In addition to in-depth knowledge and advanced tools, understanding and solving this problem also requires large amounts of reliable and uniform data that can be exchanged quickly between organisations and, and this is where it gets important, tools. We must be able to link data from surface water, deep and shallow groundwater, urban sewage systems, meteorological conditions as well as geographical information. This is already an extremely large amount of information, but this will increase exponentially in the coming years. There are examples where the data is so comprehensive that it is more efficient to transfer the model software to the data rather than the other way around. Yes, that was an eye opener for me as well. As a specialist, do you want to continue gathering, storing and processing all this yourself? I hope not.
We don't have to wait for another reason to accelerate the digital transformation. Let's prepare well now! We were able to explore the solution, Watercloud, within a consortium in which hydrologists and IT specialists worked together. I am such a hydrologist with programming knowledge and a strong IT affinity. But what a world has opened up for me in the collaboration with professional IT parties! There are many more options than I could have ever imagined.The consortium exchanged ideas and wishes together with the Dutch water sector to make sure it can be truly used what it is designed for. Watercloud describes a vision for setting up a (Multi Cloud) platform for efficient cooperation in the field of hydrological data exchange and modelling. In ordinary human language: Watercloud facilitates digital collaboration between water authorities, Governmental institutions, water utilities, consultancy firms and municipalities. Collaboration across geographical, domain and administrative boundaries is the goal.
We completed this survey in February 2020. However, the acute need for Watercloud wasn’t felt everywhere. And then there was the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly we are all at home behind a PC and we have to work remotely. We depend on digital resources so that we can still work together. How glad are we now that there is such a thing as video calling, cloud solutions for data transfer and a strong IT infrastructure?! The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that digital collaboration can and must be done! Can it be done better? Yes, I think you should always look for improvement. And I would really like to use a Watercloud in this time in which we collaborate digitally, build a community and learn from each other! Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, but I want to be able to look back and say: “What a brilliant idea to accelerate the digital revolution in the water sector precisely during that period…” Are you with me?