Scarce Data: How Aquadat is Pushing the Water Industry to Embrace Data
Post by Ross Chesnick (MBA ’17), Director, Growth & Strategic Partnerships, Aquadat
with Prof. Ruben Mancha
“Water is not a rational market today. It is daunting for a startup to navigate [it]; the problem is more market-based than technology-based.”1 Brook Porter of Kleiner Caulfield and Byers Green Growth Fund has a point. Water is one of the most difficult resources to comprehend. Long viewed as a bottomless commodity, water is beginning to witness its genesis as a scarce resource at the mercy of climate change and shifting weather patterns. Putting aside the argument of who should be tasked with managing and pricing out this precious asset, it’s undisputed that stakeholders in the water industry must adopt new technologies to minimize water loss, sustain water basins, and leverage the power of every drop. However, as Brook Porter acknowledged, the answer is not simply in new technologies. The water industry needs a groundswell of change management that will shift the current water paradigm for an aging, conservative generation of water operators.2 While this task may seem daunting the industry is beginning to mobilize change around a newfound point of consensus: the importance of water data.3
This pivotal shift is a promising first step for the industry, but the vision does not easily overlay with the realities of day-to-day operations. Many water managers, such as wholesale water utility managers, employ a fragmented array of archaic water data collection and analysis tools. Current data collection is infrequently performed as technologies are labor intensive, while data analysis usually relies on a series of static Excel spreadsheets. In an era where the majority of industries are heavily investing in complex data storage and analytics tools to optimize their operations and predictive models, the water industry appears to be the laggard.
Acknowledging this chasm, Aquadat was created. Co-located in Bilbao, Spain, and Boston, Massachusetts, Aquadat is a water intelligence and data management service that collects, processes and analyzes real-time sub-surface water data to help water operators better manage their surface water assets (reservoirs, dams, hydroelectric plants). Aquadat does this by deploying autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs), also known as a water drones. The ASVs conduct bathymetric (depth/topography) surveys and collect a range of water quality data (e.g., pH, turbidity, chlorophyll content, dissolved solids, and temperature) to assess the long-term health of a body of water. This information then gets transferred to Aquadat’s client web portal and data dashboard, in real-time via narrowband-IoT, where customers can view their data alongside an underwater 3D rendering and daily satellite imagery of their water resource. These data points help water operators make better decisions on when best to discharge water downstream, including through generators in hydropower dams, and when to intervene to maintain the health and quality of their aquatic resource (prevent eutrophic conditions).
Aquadat’s solutions are also intrinsically in-line with several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addressing SDG #6, “Clean Water and Sanitation,” and SDG #14, “Life Below Water,” Aquadat hopes to prove that real-time data management can increase proactive behavior to prevent toxic algae blooms and eutrophic conditions from harming urban water systems, agricultural irrigation, and wildlife in freshwater systems. Simultaneously, Aquadat will also address SDG #7, “Affordable and Clean Energy,” as it helps hydropower managers realize their reservoirs true capacity, inhibited by sedimentation buildup and low-tech water level meters, and reduce incomplete extraction of available potential energy. As California learned during their brutal five-year drought, if available hydroelectric power is not generated, energy bills go up, as do smog and greenhouse gases.4
Aquadat is by no means an all-encompassing water solution for each climate change induced curveball. Instead, the startup is simply trying to help the water industry step into the 21st century to realize the power of data and digital technologies. Without the digitalization of the water industry, we will continue to expose one of humankind’s most valuables natural resources to an uncertain future.
 Patterson, L., Doyle, M., King, K., & Monsma, D. (2017). Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability. The Aspen Institute.