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2018 Strategic Directions:Water Report

Management Trend: Comprehensive Planning & Operational Intelligence Solutions Drive Water Service Efficiency

Utilities today face a critical need to invest in the nation’s aging water and wastewater infrastructure, at no small cost. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $472.6 billion is needed to maintain and improve our drinking water infrastructure, with $271 billion required to maintain and improve wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years. In a push to make smarter investments, the industry is accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and “smart water” infrastructure in their comprehensive planning efforts.

Utilities that are actively investing and integrating smart infrastructure — a combination of sensor technology, automation and control devices paired with data analytics — into their water, wastewater and stormwater systems are opening the door to unprecedented levels of systems intelligence. In doing so, they are helping to reshape the future of water as we know it.

Embracing Smarter Systems

Utilities are starting to see the benefit of investing in smart infrastructure. According to results from the 2018 Strategic Directions Report: Water Report survey, 83 percent of respondents are “very or somewhat interested” in the larger effort of asset management. This demonstrates industry awareness of the critical role that asset management can play in managing water, wastewater and stormwater in today’s world of omnipresent connectivity and technology, while helping utilities maximize existing capital and investments.

The majority of respondents expressed interest in the three major technologies that enable this effort: remote sensing (72 percent), realtime control and Big Data system analytics (70 percent), and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) (68 percent) (Figure 1). These technologies all are closely tied to and accentuate one another.

Figure 1: How interested are you in implementing the following integrated planning techniques and technologies moving forward?

How interested are you in implementing the following integrated planning techniques and technologies moving forward?

AMI Technology Delivers Valuable Data

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is an advanced technology that offers two-way communication between a water utility and its sensors, enabling a vast network of sensing devices which transmit valuable operational and customer data. This type of predictive technology gives utilities the information they need — such as additional operational efficiencies, system insights and customer services — to make preventative, rather than reactive, decisions.

The city of South Bend, Indiana, relies on a “smart sewer” AMI system to monitor and control its wastewater system in real time. The utility installed 140 flow meters and level sensors in its 500-mile sewer network — including the 36 combined sewer outfall points within the city — to gain immediate analysis on the depth and flow of its stormwater and wastewater. This allows the utility to better understand how the system responds in dry and wet weather events.

In Portland, Oregon, Clean Water Services uses water flow metering integrated into supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and their geographic information system (GIS). At any given moment, the utility can run a status check and pull up an immediate snapshot of its sewer system, allowing them to identify and mitigate issues in real time. And in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Metropolitan Sewer District formed a Watershed Operations Group to better understand the watershed in order to manage and operate it similarly to that of any large-scale water infrastructure. The utility theorizes that metering these systems will allow for operational decision-making on a larger watershed scale, not just at the individual treatment plants.

By painting a comprehensive picture of all the water systems in a municipality — from the creek to the sewer systems — a utility can gain a better understanding of how these systems respond in wet weather and droughts to better system resiliency, and even be able to predict the anticipated sewer response. This level of intelligence will not only allow utilities to recognize and reduce the potential of adverse environmental impacts, but it will allow them to elevate their ability to optimize water and wastewater treatment.

Remote Sensing

A growing field within AMI, remote sensing — using aircraft, drones and/or satellites to record and return data — allows for exceptional levels of situational and operational awareness. With numerous applications for water, wastewater and stormwater, (e.g., tracking watershed dynamics such as rain, snow pack, reservoir levels and water quality) remote sensing can greatly improve predictive capabilities, enabling smarter, faster, more informed decision making.

Remote sensing can be used to identify and proactively identify potential adverse conditions. That data can be integrated with a data analytics platform such as Black & Veatch’s ASSET360®, to provide utilities with increased opportunities to make data-driven decisions. ASSET360 integrates data from multiple systems, assets and devices into one cloudbased platform to enable better-informed decisions and actions. By analyzing data, the platform generates quick, actionable insights to improve operations and drive data-supported future planning.

Satellite sensors linked to a customized data analytics dashboard could detect when conditions are favorable for a harmful algal bloom by recording water temperature and nutrient concentrations. Having the ability to proactively predict those conditions would alert local municipalities and utilities that conditions may result in an emergency situation, allowing them to minimize or completely avoid impact to the water supply.

Monitoring Strengthens ROI

Data acquisition through smart water infrastructure will allow utilities to make targeted financial decisions – another key component of integrated planning. Investing in AMI takes capital but the dollars spent on monitoring will offer a greater return on investment when compared to the massive expenditures necessary to repair and rehabilitate aging equipment.

South Bend has already seen financial benefit; according to its website, the municipality invested $6 million in smart sewer technology, including sewer modifications and control valves, which provided an environmental benefit equivalent to implementing about $120 million of conventional system improvements. This investment helped the city avoid millions of dollars in capital expenditures associated with more conventional approaches to combined sewer overflows.

Some utilities are becoming more creative by taking an increasingly entrepreneurial approach when it comes to recovering costs from AMI investments. One utility considered installing AMI through a network of smart meters on homes and businesses. By featuring Wi-Fi and connected technology, these smart meters effectively become a network of data hubs that could potentially generate revenue by being offered to area cable and telecommunications providers for a fee.

Innovation is the Future

Utilities are invested in better managing their assets and resources, as survey responses show equal weight (37 percent) to supporting more innovation and best practices, believing that these efforts would also overcome the barriers that are preventing integrated planning programs (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Which of the following do you feel are most beneficial in helping your organization overcome the barriers that prevent you from having stormwater/integrated planning programs?

Which of the following do you feel are most beneficial in helping your organization overcome the barriers that prevent you from having stormwater/integrated planning programs?

Entrepreneurial leaders steadily are rising to the forefront of the water sector. For example, one utility raised the possibility of partnering with technology companies to develop smarter flow meters. The utility would give the technology company access to its systems and treatment plants in the hopes that the company would use that space to operate to perfect budding technology, at scale, and ultimately help drive costs down.

Strategic approaches that involve AMI, remote sensing and data analytics as integral components of asset management have the potential to offer utilities unlimited levels of systems intelligence. As reflected in the survey results, we see the industry beginning to understand the importance and value of these capabilities, but there still is room for improvement when it comes to widespread adoption.

Like many other sectors, the water industry is undergoing a technological revolution. Those utilities that understand and embrace this nexus of data and water — and have the foresight and vision to invest in smart water infrastructure today — will reap the long-term benefits tomorrow.


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