Ensuring efficiency, safeguarding quality: Data-driven innovations in water and wastewater management

Posted: April 23, 2024

As water management becomes increasingly complex, utilities are grappling with an array of new difficulties—including the challenge of using vast amounts of data. Managing an extensive pipe network or running a treatment plant involves many moving parts, and a utility’s effectiveness is impacted by a variety of factors that are not always easy to oversee.

Considering how fundamental water quality is to public health, the effects of improperly managed data can be critical. An outdated system might fail to detect a major leak, leading to a boil water advisory. Or a treatment plant facility’s malfunctioning might go unnoticed due to a data silo, resulting in wastewater flooding into homes.

Are utilities embracing modern technologies to break down data silos and make better informed decisions? What measures are being taken to ensure water quality in the face of pollution, scarcity and climate change? These risks can be mitigated. By prioritizing data integration and innovative solutions, utilities are far better equipped to safeguard our precious water resources.

From manual methods to real-time insights

To find out more about how data is driving efficiency in the water industry, I sat down with Gary Wong, AVEVA Global Industry Principal of Water & Infrastructure, to discuss our customers’ most prevalent challenges and how they can streamline processes and enhance decision-making.

Q: What types of data are typically collected and managed by utilities, and how is this information being used?

A: Water utilities collect data from all their instrumentation and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor flow rates, pressure levels, tank volumes, pump performance, water quality and even smart meter readings. We are also seeing more interest in weather data, largely due to the escalating impacts of severe climate events, such as extreme temperatures, droughts and floods. The data provides insights into these rapidly changing conditions, allowing utilities to anticipate and respond more effectively to challenges.

For instance, advanced forecasting models can help utilities predict periods of high demand or anticipate potential supply shortages during droughts. Similarly, real-time monitoring enables rapid response to flood events, minimizing environmental impacts and damage to critical infrastructure.

Q: What are some common pitfalls that water and wastewater utilities often encounter when it comes to managing data effectively?

A: Typically, we see utilities trying to build their own data management solutions. It often works out at first, and then further down the line, they realize that the level of development they need is expensive and difficult to manage. Users often can’t always get the level of granularity they need to gain deeper operational insight and faster analysis of critical data. These solutions are also often nearly impossible to scale, as they are composed of large data sets and ultimately begin to falter. A better alternative would be to purchase commercial, off-the-shelf, readily available solutions that are proven in the industry and do not require customization or coding.

Q: How are the challenges around data management impacting the overall efficiency of operations in water and wastewater utilities?

A: Many utilities in the industry have a lot of disparate hardware and software systems that don’t harmonize with one another. With many different vendors providing these systems, information can get trapped in different departments and formats, making it difficult to get a holistic view of operations or make sense of the data. In terms of visualization, many utilities rely on outdated dashboards or static reports, which can be overwhelming and fail to highlight key trends or actionable insights.

The detrimental impact can be quite significant. Without situational awareness, it is easy to miss potential leaks, equipment failures or even public health risks. This translates to higher operational costs, increased environmental impact, and ultimately, a compromised ability to deliver clean water reliably.

For example, our customer City of Riverside spent four hours a day creating a manual daily report, which could only provide a snapshot of data from the previous 24 hours. Automating that one process saved over $1.3 million per year in labor, reduced staff time, increased operational efficiency, and eliminated several misplaced and duplicated efforts.

Q: Where do you see water and wastewater utilities using their data to make the biggest impact on their operations?

A: Utilities consolidate data from multiple sources into a centralized platform using an integrated data management solution. This allows for real-time monitoring, trend analysis and early detection of anomalies. By integrating operational data with environmental factors and regulatory requirements, operators can also optimize their processes and ensure compliance more effectively. An example is forecasting water demand and then determining where and how much water to pump at the lowest cost, reducing electrical use and ensuring pumps are operating efficiently through condition-based maintenance.

Predictive analytics and machine learning can also facilitate proactive maintenance and minimize downtime. By analyzing historical data patterns, potential equipment failures can be identified early, which can avoid costly disruptions to operations.

Q: What future opportunities do you see for data to drive innovation and improvement in the water and wastewater industry?

A: One of the most promising avenues for innovation in the water and wastewater industry is technology. Advanced sensing technologies, IoT devices, and artificial intelligence (AI) offer the potential to revolutionize water monitoring, leakage detection and predictive maintenance. Our customer Taswater leveraged AVEVA™ PI System™ and a data analytics solution to predict blockages before they turned into spills. With effective data management, water utilities can proactively identify leaks, optimize distribution networks, and improve overall operational efficiency.

There are also opportunities for increased synergy across industries such as water, wastewater, transportation, buildings, and facilities that may not be happening now. The next wave of innovation in the industry will be driven by the ability to share data seamlessly across these different entities to be much more efficient with our energy, water and power resources.

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