Photo Credit: Mourad Saadi

Big Blue Planet Not Blue Enough

How we can use blockchain to solve the water crisis 🌊

Ramy Zhang
6 min readApr 11, 2019


Numbers for the 21st century:

7.5 billion humans. 21 billion livestock. 4.6 billion acres of farmland.

That’s a lot of units for a lot of things that need a lot of water, every single day. Millions and millions of cubic kilometres of it. So what’re we doing to pace ourselves so the world won’t go thirsty in a couple years?

As it turns out, not much.

To give you some sense of the problem, there’s around 1 billion km³ water on Earth.

Our giant fish tank.

97% of it is saltwater, unsuitable for agriculture nor for mammal consumption, and only 3% of it is freshwater we can use.

At this point, we’ve got about 30 million km³ of freshwater left.

Then, less than 1% of that 3% is easily accessible for us to drink — I’m talking freshwater from lakes, rivers, aboveground sources. Everything else is trapped in ice and or deep below the ground, much deeper than the below-ground aquifers modern agriculture relies heavily on.

All in all, this paints a pretty sober picture, doesn’t it?

Essentially, we only have access to 0.03% of the world’s water. So yes, our planet might be blue, but it’s not quite blue enough.

A couple years ago, Goldman Sachs predicted that water will soon become the new petroleum of the 21st century. It’s a freakish thought, especially when water is pretty much the most fundamental element humans require for survival— even been declared in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights to be a basic human right.

The Next 89 Years…

What kind of things, exactly, will happen when something so key to life itself becomes just another coveted asset?

  1. Water Conflicts. Communities, especially in more remote municipalities and in developing areas, will begin to become increasingly violent in order to claim that last drop for themselves. Many even predict that the next world war may be over water, though I’m on the more optimistic side of that debate.
  2. Water Monopolies. Conglomerates are already starting to find ways to gain more control over the world’s water supply. The biggest companies in the world will eventually hold an immense stake in who gets to have how much water, and when.

But! This is not just a demand problem; in fact, as the global population reaches an asymptote at around 11 billion, we’ll probably even be able to make do even just with that 0.03%. It’s actually more of a logistics problem, where too much water is going to some regions, leaving others dry. This is also due to proximity to said sources of aboveground freshwater.

I came up with an idea called WaterLedger, a decentralized blockchain application that leverages distributed ledger technology to create water transparency, enable micro-water transactions, and monitors water quality and movement in real-time. Because blockchain is a type of data structure that is immutable and allows for trustless data transaction, it’s the perfect use case to solve our future water logistics problem.

Water Transparency 🔎

With WaterLedger, all stakeholders in the water industry, even policymakers and providers, would be able to understand exactly where every cubic centimetre of water is going and at what time, thus keeping water providers accountable to make better informed decisions about water distribution among households.

The distributed nature of the blockchain, creating a wide peer-to-peer network, forces consensus across the entire system. This means that every single stakeholder must have access to the exact same information at the exact same time. All of this is enabled through advances in cryptography that assure complete data security.

Because the entire system is trustless, the process of information sharing throughout a water supply chain can become fully automated without any stakeholder needing to worry about the validity of the information. Even further, if stakeholders are worried about losing competitive advantage because too much information is being revealed publicly, they can guarantee the validity of their data without needing to reveal the data itself with zero-knowledge proofs.

Staying Up-To-Date 👀

WaterLedger can make sure we’re distributing water the most efficiently possible by making use of the colossal amounts of data produced by internet-of-things sensors along pipes and in aquifers, allowing everyone to monitor potential leaks and contaminant sources real-time. It will effectively democratize and demystify water ownership, and even allow citizens to collect rainwater, purify it and sell it on the distributed ledger on their own accord.

A big part of this is going to have to do with collective decision-making, because water is a shared resource and people need to know what’s going on with other stakeholders in the system to be able to calibrate their own consumption. This scales up nationally and even internationally.

Take Kenya, where agriculture is heavily dependent on groundwater and where there’s been consecutive droughts over the past 20 years. A company called SweetSense is using satellite-powered Internet-of-Things devices that can make decisions with each other off the grid, so that water management can be done more effectively.

Blockchain also comes in when we talk about water rights — having the “license” to be able to extract a certain amount of water from a specific source. Smart contracts can keep track of when a stakeholder’s water licenses are nearly exhausted, and prompt renewal or bar from further water extraction. This is all public information that can be verified by any entity who’s a part of the network.

Connecting The Dots

So why can’t we just use a normal database? Why blockchain? Why is everyone always overhyping blockchain? Isn’t it a Ponzi scheme? Why —

Yes, yes, I hear you, and the skepticism is well warranted. Here’s why just any database won’t work:

  1. Data transfer. From stakeholder to stakeholder, the format in which water data will be held is different, and different databases have different standards of information quality and organization. This makes it extremely expensive and time-consuming to exchange information, which further de-incentivizes stakeholders from being transparent about their water consumption.
  2. Lack of trust. How can Farm B trust that Farm A didn’t take more water than they said they did? Well… they can’t. All they can do is cross their fingers and hope everyone’s in it for the team. Real life never works out that way, though.
  3. Lack of standardization. It’ll be pretty much impossible to pull off a comprehensive water licensing system if everyone is using different data pipelines.

By building out a decentralized application on Ethereum to manage all of these things, we can not only leverage blockchain’s distributed, immutable and cryptographically secured nature to solve these problems, but also make use of the programmability of automated trustless interactions to build out more complex ideas like water licensing — or even creating a market not just for individual micro water transactions, but also selling off excess licensed water itself.


For the skimmer.

  1. We’re running out of water, and fast. Wars might even be fought over this resource.
  2. But it turns out that it’s actually less of a supply problem and more of a distribution problem.
  3. We can use IoT data streams and blockchain to build a decentralized application to help stakeholders make better decisions collectively, and manage water consumption more intelligently.
  4. This Dapp idea (WaterLedger) can increase water transparency and minimize water monopolies.

Yes, blockchain can be overhyped sometimes, and yes, the water crisis is a very multi-faceted problem that includes deeply rooted sociopolitical factors that won’t be solved with just a Dapp. But everything takes a first step, and getting people to a platform where better water management decisions can be made, making water distribution 10x more efficient, creating a P2P market for water licensing, and increasing transparency is a very big first step.

Interested in seeing this become a reality? Vote for WaterLedger on the Make Your Pitch competition!

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