A distributed sensing system for managing water resources in informal communities.

Informality and water scarcity

UN Habitat estimates that 25% of the world's population lives in informal settlements.  Informal settlements are densely populated and unplanned communities with inadequate access to basic infrastructure and services.  In many settlements, residents often face severe problems related to water availability and management due to limited or non-existent access to formal water infrastructure. 

Water quantity, quality, and bucket usage sensors

The City Science lab is co-developing low-cost sensors to help informal households in Guadalajara, Mexico manage their water resources more effectively.  The system was designed to easily integrate into the community's regular use of water.  As tanks, buckets, hoses and wells are a more common sight than pipes within the community, water quantity is measured through a sensor placed on lids of water tanks and wells.  Quality is measured through a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) probe that floats in tanks and is constantly in contact with the surface of the water. Finally, usage and activity are measured  using tilt switches that are activated whenever a bucket is flipped.  

Data dashboard

Data collected by sensors is made available to the community through a phone-optimized web interface.  This can help households be more aware of their water usage and identify trends to develop strategies that promote water conservation and efficient usage, especially in dry periods.

The project has the potential to have a significant impact on water resource management in different communities in the Global South. By providing communities with information on water usage and quality, they can make informed decisions on how to best manage their resources. Ultimately, the goal is to empower communities to take control of their own water resources and to promote sustainable practices that will benefit both people and the environment.

If deployed at scale, the system could create a real-time data set that is currently unavailable or limited in its granularity. This could open up research opportunities and improve local public policy on water infrastructure. By having access to this data, policymakers can make informed decisions on how to allocate resources and improve water infrastructure in the community.