Real-Time Data Represents Disruptive Technology to Help Manage Water/Wastewater Infrastructure

By Craig Resnick

Industry Trends

ARC Advisory Group recently collaborated with John Fryer from Stratus Technologies on an article published in Pumps and Systems Magazine to determine if real-time data could be applied as a disruptive technology to more effectively manage water and wastewater infrastructure. Due to tight budgets and a lack of broad public recognition of the problems, needed improvements have been deferred for years or, in some cases, even decades.

“Rip & Replace” Approaches Not Feasible

The problem isn’t limited to prominent public cases. Studies have revealed that water losses between source and destination are as high as 46 percent in some cases. Losses of this magnitude are clearly unsustainable over the long term. Yet a wholesale “rip and replace” of the existing water and wastewater systems is not feasible.

How can cities and towns protect the quality and availability of their public water and wastewater systems within their significant budget and resource constraints? Increased use of real-time data analytics is playing a key role in answering this question, a role that will only grow in scope and importance.

Using data to manage water and wastewater systems is not a new concept. Public works professionals have long relied on test data from water samples and other manually collected data to monitor their product and the efficiency of their distribution systems. But this data is limited and retrospective. Results only provide a snapshot of what happened at a particular moment in the past. And the data is rarely analyzed in aggregate, missing the opportunity to identify subtle trends that could provide early warning of developing problems.

Real-Time Data, A New Paradigm

Installing sensors at critical control points linked to data aggregation and analytics systems enables continuous monitoring, measurement, and analysis of a wide range of parameters, from water quality, to flow rates, to equipment performance, to deliver insights in near real time. The advantages are significant.

Consider the water loss problem. By placing sensors at key distribution points to monitor and analyze flow data, operators can accurately pinpoint problem areas and focus their scarce resources at those sections requiring repair or upgrades. If a new leak develops, operators can be alerted to the flow problem in seconds, allowing faster response to minimize loss and the risk of an outage. Just as significant, analyzing data from across the water or wastewater infrastructure over time provides insights that help municipalities make more informed long-term capital planning decisions.

High-Value Applications

Real-time data analytics can transform the management of water and wastewater systems. But it also increases the need to protect the data. Ensuring continuous, uninterrupted data availability is a critical success factor for tapping the full potential of real-time analytics for high-value applications.

real-time data Represents Disruptive Technology to Help Manage Water/Wastewater Infrastructure

Safety and Compliance

Real-time, continuous monitoring and analytics give public works professionals the ability to identify and respond to quality issues proactively to help protect public safety. This data also provides a rich historical record to support compliance documentation. Any interruption in the flow of this data, however, could lead to operational issues that might affect supply, pressure, water quality, or other critical performance issues. If data is lost, this gap could lead to a regulatory compliance violation, resulting in a fine.

Predictive Maintenance

Continuous monitoring and analytics take asset performance management (APM) to new heights. Instead of waiting until pumps or valves fail, sensors gather data on vibration and other subtle performance variations and feed it into analytics engines.  By detecting early signs of problems, unscheduled downtime can be avoided. With lead time on replacements often stretching to weeks, knowing in advance when a piece of equipment requires overhaul or is nearing end-of-life is crucial to avoiding a process interruption.

Analytics also provide insights that enable municipalities to only repair or replace those assets that require repair or replacement, thus optimizing use of financial resources. Any interruption in this data flow, however, could effectively block operators to knowing the condition of key components, leading to a possible unscheduled downtime and/or increased remediation costs.

Remote Monitoring

Remote monitoring allows fewer people to monitor many more assets, resulting in labor savings that can quickly show a return on investment for these projects. This is key, especially as older employees begin to retire and finding qualified talent to replace them can be challenging.

In addition, the ability to monitor systems using devices that people already have, such as smartphones and tablets, avoids the need for municipalities to have to purchase dedicated devices for remote monitoring. Uninterrupted remote availability is essential in these settings, as it ensures that systems can be continuously monitored, even without on-site staff.

Water Conservation

An example of the opportunity of real-time data analytics is the potential to integrate weather data, including temperature and precipitation trends, into plant management analytics. This can provide predictive insights to dramatically improve water allocation and wastewater processing. These insights enable a more proactive approach to declaring or lifting bans on lawn watering or filling pools, or agricultural water distribution. Improving conservation efforts enables municipalities to avoid costly expansions of capacity. Uninterrupted data makes it possible.

Laying the Groundwork

As more public works professionals recognize how real-time data analytics delivers value in real-world applications, more municipalities will take their first steps on the journey. Certainly, developments, such as the Smart City Initiative, are encouraging urban centers to adopt new, intelligent monitoring and automation technologies to improve both the efficiency and safety of public services. As data analytics become more mainstream in public works, these capabilities will eventually migrate down to mid-size and even smaller communities.

As public works and municipal leaders plan their real-time data analytics road map, it is important to make the right investments now to ensure the greatest payback. Investing in data systems that provide the high availability required for continuous monitoring and analytics is critical.

Equally important is making sure any new data infrastructure is simple to operate and serviceable, given the limited IT resources typical to many public works departments. The right decisions today will position public works departments to reap the benefits of the intelligent water and wastewater systems tomorrow.

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