Smart Water Systems: Data and the Future of Water


Smart water systems empower utilities to provide better service at lower costs, increased effectiveness and efficiency, and with reduced environmental impacts. While ground-breaking data collection and analysis technologies make smart water systems possible, increased pressure on resources from threats like climate change make it necessary. As just one sobering example, the United Nations predicts that about two-thirds of the world’s population — 4.6 billion people — will face water-stressed conditions in the next decade due to increased and completing demands, more extreme climate conditions, and record-shattering weather events.

Using Data To Drive Management

Smart water systems’ critical capability is that they fulfill the promise of data-driven decisions and actions. While water utilities have long gathered extensive data of all sorts, they have all too seldom been able to use it to good effect. It sits siloed in legacy repositories that can’t talk to each other, and it’s all too common for a utility’s disparate units to have no idea what data the others have. And technologies that enable the data to be consolidated and analyzed have been expensive and cumbersome to implement. So the truth and clarity that data should provide have remained out of reach.

In 2017, the Smart Utility Task Force of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) outlined its vision for the “Digital Utility of the Future” that would exploit data, analytics and integrated systems to meet these aims:

  1. Reduce Operational Costs
  2. Manage and Mitigate Risks
  3. Enhance the Customer Experience
  4. Improve Financial Execution
  5. Optimize Asset Performance and Uncover Hidden Value
  6. Leverage Existing Communications and Computing Platforms
  7. Maximize the Engagement and Efficiency of Employees; and
  8. Integrate Water Quality, Policy, and Performance

What Smart Moves Have Water Utilities Made?

Many public drinking water providers are already using information and communications technology to build smart systems to achieve a sustainable, efficient and clean water supply. As a huge bonus, these innovations let them transform what were formerly “just” ratepayers into allies and partners in conservation, reducing costs, and spotting problems.

To cite just one smart system breakthrough, in 2013 the Kansas City Kansas Board of Public Utilities (KC BPU) implemented Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AIM) for the city’s water supply system that delivers hourly readings in real time of each customer’s water consumption. That’s a lot of raw data that on its own doesn’t make a system smart. But when the data is analyzed to identify consumption patterns and levels that indicate waste due to plumbing leaks, and water department staff quickly contact the customers to let them know, the system becomes smart – new data is collected and used in a new way to prevent waste, lower costs for the provider and customer, decrease stress on the water supply and infrastructure, and forge a bond of cooperation between provider and consumers. Within a few years of the program’s outset, KC BPU had contacted over 1,500 customers – or 2.6% of the utility’s 56,000 households served – with a Residential Leak Alert.

A Smart Step for Wastewater – Reduce Operating Costs

Smart systems are still largely in the future for wastewater treatment utilities, but on-boarding them will be vital to providing service efficiently and protecting the environment.

As a starting point, smart systems can help wastewater utilities resolve some of their “low-hanging fruit” issues like identifying and reducing waste in resource use, thereby reducing operational costs – the first of NACWA’s aims for digital utilities of the future. Some opportunities:

  • Pumps and blowers generally account for most of the energy usage at treatment plants. By using smart systems to track energy use and performance, inefficiencies can be uncovered and eliminated.
  • Energy and chemical use in process and disinfection systems can be tracked and compared with industry benchmarks, highlighting additional areas ripe for to tackling inefficiencies and reducing operating costs.
  • Collection networks conveys wastewater to treatment plants and support community growth and development. But by their nature, these diffuse underground networks are prone to flow problems including waste fat blockages and inflow/infiltration from groundwater and stormwater. While utilities address these problems with programs including ratepayer education and infrastructure replacement, a smart system can identify potential blockage buildups by using flow meters and level sensors. Tracking the resulting data can point field staff to address potential problem areas immediately these areas instead of making field visits based on historical patterns.

The Water and Wastewater sector is confronting growing challenges such as ageing infrastructure, increasing pressure from the regulators and the public and fragmented expenditure allocation. Water utilities now have to step up and go beyond simply complying with the Clean Water Act (CWA.) They need to adopt innovative technologies to improve environmental and regulatory compliance performance, while reducing costs and increasing revenue.

The future digital water utilities will have to be able to capture, synthesize and analyze multiple layers of data to extract key insights. This will require a centralized system focused on cross-functional interoperability to provide for effective decision-making. The utilities’ challenge of how to increase efficiency is ready to be answered by the right advanced technology that will allow them to tackle process automation as well as access to the right data at the right time.

The Klir Water and Wastewater solution provides a single decision-making platform and a 360° view of all Urban Waste Water and Drinking Water missions to help utilities make informed decisions and meet the organization’s strategic objectives.

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