Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Jeffrey Fulgham was appointed Chief Sustainability Officer and Ecomagination Leader in April, 2010. He is responsible for leading the division’s sustainability initiative. As chief sustainability officer and ecomagination leader, he[…]

Old municipal water systems can leak away between 30 and 60 percent of water before it even reaches consumers—making the need for an updated, smart system even more pressing.

Question: What is the state of the U.S. water system?

Jeffrey Fulgham: Domestic water that’s provided to our homes today, you know, comes through a series of water treatment processes and piping and pumps and, you know, things that bring that water to us today. And then the waste water is returned back to treatment, to treatment plants. Couple of challenges though, is municipalities are facing, one is that the infrastructure is aging, it’s leaking, there’s, you know, between, a lot of cities have between 30 and 60% of the water that they produce never makes it to the end of the line because it leaks out of these pipes. It’s difficult for them to replace it because there just isn’t the reserve, the revenue to be able to invest in this replacement.

One of the other challenges is, it’s very energy intensive. Between 3 and 20% of a typical municipality’s budget goes to energy to produce and pump this water around. So we look at smart grid-type of technology, not unlike we see in the energy smart grid, is necessary for water to really improve this system. Part of that is to be able to detect where are these leaks, to be able to be predictive to get out ahead. So instead of waiting for a leak to occur and having, you know, all of the emergency, digging up the roads, you know, all the problems that that might cause, be nice to be able to predict when might that failure occur, to be able to predict what are the costs over the next year or the next decade, in that infrastructure. We as consumers, if we really understood where our water was going and we had some control over that, and we could, you know, use the water in off-peak hours, all the same type of things that we try to do with the energy grid, I think it would really improve our overall consumptive habits of water.

Another thing is that the water pricing structure is, it’s a real challenge for us today. Many parts of the world, including many parts of the United States, basically water is free. And so as long as water is free or highly subsidized, there’s really, there’s kind of no incentive for us to reduce our consumption or change our behaviors. So I think a smart system would give us that insight that we need to really change behaviors. Because I do think people want to be smart consumers of our water, but without that information, it’s very difficult to make those smart decisions.

Question: Has any city or state figured out a solution?

Jeffrey Fulgham: You know, there’s a lot of really smart technologies being deployed now in cities. A couple of examples, Singapore has been brilliant in the way that they’re thinking about their, kind of the overall broad scope of their water system. For many years, Singapore relied on Malaysia for their supply of their water, a giant pipeline coming from Malaysia to Singapore. And over the last decade or so, they’ve been very proactive in trying to diversify their water supply. So, for instance, they now have a program they refer to as the “Four Taps.” They have four different ways that they get water. One is that pipeline from Malaysia. The second is through very advanced reuse, waste water reuse technologies that they’ve deployed so that a significant portion of their overall water supply actually comes from treated waste water streams, fantastic technology.

The third is around capture of rainwater. You know, a lot of rain in Singapore, but most of it runs off. So now what they’ve been able to do is build a series of reservoirs and catchment basins to catch and purify that water. And then fourth, they use desalination technology to kind of make up the difference. So between these four various technologies, smart infrastructure system to monitor, they really are brilliant in the way they’ve put a long-term plan together around their water supply.