Goal 6 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030, concerns the global water challenge and includes measurable indicators of progress.
But “You cannot manage what you do not measure” is a long-familiar saying to many, nowhere more so than in professional water circles at almost every level. Just as you cannot manage your bank account without knowing how much money you have, it is all but impossible to make informed water management decisions without reliable, sufficient, and freely available water data. Obtaining such data, however has always proven difficult.
Surprisingly, despite its obvious importance and value, river flow data collection has been declining for decades now, with literally thousands of gauging stations in many countries, including large ones like USA, Canada, Russia, and Australia — closed in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
River flow in most developing countries of the global South has never been measured well (and what was measured was seldom properly archived). Even more limited observed data are available on groundwater, or on withdrawals and abstractions from aquifers and various other water sources globally.
Understanding of the importance of various water data seems lacking beyond the water community. It is not a ‘sexy’ subject, does not hit the headlines. Nor does water data collection attract sufficient funding.
It is not hard to imagine that we could measure water flows using orbiting technology with reliable accuracy. In fact, it is coming close to that. Already a car’s license plate can be read from space, and some remote sensing technologies are able to penetrate water and soil. Direct water observations obtained via satellites could be made at a much larger number of locations, and will, naturally, cross the national boundaries, making such new data sharing unrestricted.