The failing state of the nations’ water infrastructure has been brought to light in recent headline news with costly water main ruptures and the resulting water loss and damages.
The worrisome state of water distribution systems in the United States. has highlighted the urgency in adopting modern water management technologies. The use of modern technology can reduce the strain on current water infrastructure conditions.
Water utilities and other water management entities have access to advanced GIS (geographic information systems), Business Intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things) and other data management software. However, many water companies continue to operate in the same way they did years ago.
It is not just efficiency that is restricted by outdated water asset management, but people’s lives are potentially at risk, too. Contaminated drinking water supplies pose a threat to public health, failing damns threaten the lives of people, and other outdated water infrastructure potentially put citizens in harm’s way.
Furthermore, long-lasting droughts, coupled with failing water distribution systems, are another worry.
Researchers have estimated more than 2.1 trillion gallons of drinking water is lost per year in the U.S. This loss is a tangible consequence of aging water infrastructure, broken water mains, and faulty meters, according to a report by The New York Times.
Another report by The New York Times estimated that the average water pipeline in the U.S. will be 45 years old by the year 2020. Some water distribution systems are as old as 150 years.
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Not long ago, a busted water main in UCLA caused flooding on campus. The cause — a 90-year-old pipe. The diameter of the pipeline — 30 inches, with an estimated water flow of 75,000 gallons per minute — resulted in the loss of 20 million gallons of water.
The American Society of Civil Engineers president warned in 2009 that not only do these aging water systems waste trillions of water each year, they also cause significant damage. In 2009, a water main break in Maryland flooded a road, stranding motorists.
The state of emergency in addressing the overhaul of aging water infrastructure is paramount. It urgently needs to be addressed by individual governments, and public and private water districts and utilities.
Thankfully, there are advanced technological solutions for water and wastewater utilities asset management.
But first, some of the pressing issues with current water infrastructure need to be addressed.
What are the Problems with Today’s Water Infrastructure?
Pipe corrosion and water main breaks are severe contributors to water loss and result in costly repairs. More than 1.3 million miles of public and private sewer lines are susceptible to failure. It is an issue exacerbated by contamination from lead and copper.
In addition to corrosion and aging pipes, weather, soil conditions, and other environmental and historical factors can contribute to water distribution system failures.
In the mid and northwest, cold weather has an extreme impact on distribution systems causing water pipes to break.
Issues like these put a strain on water utilities because they cannot charge customers for water that is not delivered.
More than 1.3 million miles of public and private sewer lines are susceptible to failure.
American Water Works Association CEO David LaFrance suggested to NPR News the reparation, maintenance, and expansion of today’s water services will cost about $1 trillion in the next 25 years. Half of that, he said, would go toward replacing existing infrastructure. The other half would go to installing new water systems in the ground.
The American Civil Engineers Society (ASCE) predicts that by 2030, there will be a 23 percent increase in wastewater treatment for 56 million new customers. These increase will occur as new users connect to wastewater treatment plants, alongside the elimination of private septic systems. The EPA estimates that $271 billion is needed to address future wastewater demands, including $1 billion to correct water infrastructure over the next two decades.
The pressing demands on current water infrastructure bring into question how do utilities without digital asset management practices know when their systems are going to fail? And how do they avoid such costly reparations?
The Future of Water Infrastructure Management
LaFrance told NPR News the priority is to ensure that water utilities audit their distribution systems while upgrading meters when necessary. By doing so, invested parties can get an idea of much water loss occurs.
Innovative water services are already taking advantage of modern technologies to gain control and awareness over operations. This leap into using available data-driven technology enables problems to be detected early on so utilities can safeguard against common issues and implement fixes.
Modern digital technology and data enable water utilities and organizations to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict the location and likelihood of water pipe ruptures.
Utility managers can use IoT, GIS, and BI and real-time data to implement an asset management plan for water distribution systems to monitor water pressure and maintain overall systems.
Following are a few of the available data-driven technologies that water utilities and organizations are using to take a progressive approach to address and prevent infrastructure problems.
Predictive Modeling uses AI and machine learning to assess the history of a water distribution system. Data on weather, pipe material, soil conditions, and other factors such as nearby roadways,
is pushed into a capitalization model to predict where future breaks could occur. Predictive Modeling identifies areas in urgent need of repair, saving time and money for both utilities and consumers.
Discovering water mains breaks before they cause significant problems is a massive initiative, achieved by combining IoT with acoustic sensors.
IoT can be integrated with traditional infrastructure to allow utilities to monitor pipes for leakages continuously.
Water Pressure Monitoring
Digital water pressure monitoring can extend the life of aging pipes. Software analytics combined with pressure sensors offers new insight for utilities, which can aid the reduction of water pressure when consumption is low.
Modern pressure sensors can identify problems at the source by detecting transient pressure events.
Pressure monitoring and management can reduce water loss while increasing the life expectancy of pipes. Water infrastructure can consequently be managed more effectively, as customer service improves tenfold.
Smart metering enables two-way communication between metering devices and networks. This communication allows for the accurate measurement of detailed usage, billing information, customer alerts, disconnections, remote service connections, and more.
What’s excellent about smart meters is they cut utility costs significantly, while reducing requirements for personnel to enter the field.
It’s an unavoidable fact that the country’s water infrastructure is in dire need of repair or replacement. But utilities and water companies have the opportunity to make positive advancements using available data-based technology to address the challenges they face.