Despite a world-class water treatment facility at Guandu, years of under-investment in water distribution infrastructure and an estimated 3 million informal users have left Rio de Janeiro’s drinking water distribution system well short of its full potential. It is estimated that over 2 million Cariocas, are at risk of water-borne illness each year – mostly from diarrhea, caused by pathogens that have entered the drinking water network between the treatment facility and the end-user. In recent decades, this uncertainty has led many Cariocas to rely on bottled water sources – a pattern that has greatly increased the volume of single-use plastic containers in the solid waste stream.

Our vision is to install real-time, water quality sensors across the city to map out which areas are receiving sub-optimal water, and use this information to pin-point and prioritize infrastructure upgrades. This real-time water quality information would also be made available via public media displays, web-applications and on mobile devices to inform residents of the quality of water supplied to their neighborhood. As an alternative to tap water, each sensor-station around the city would also offer a micro-filtered fountain and re-fill station, where locals could re-fill their re-useable containers and enjoy reliable, safe, great-tasting water anytime – and all for free!

This program aims to improve public health across the Rio de Janeiro, reduce the reliance on single-use plastic bottles, and offer local and state governments and concession a clear map for infrastructure upgrading and investment. We are planning to install the first prototype sensor-station by the end of 2011, and aim to roll-out across 15 favelas before June 2012. This project is a collaboration between GE and MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.

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