Smart Water Programs Seek to Uncover Valuable Data for Improved Operations

Jul 15, 2016 11:00 AM ET

Smart Water Programs Seek to Use Data to Improve Operations

Water and wastewater systems use hundreds and sometimes thousands of data-producing instruments, but much of that information remains isolated. There is little two-way communication, so the vast amount of data stays buried, just as the water infrastructure itself is mostly buried and out of sight. Smart water programs are seeking to change all that. 

VIDEO: Smart Water Programs Seek to Uncover Data for Improved Operations         

“You can rapidly process intelligent sensor data at the device level and take immediate action if warranted, and that’s a big advancement,” said Fred Ellermeier, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Smart Integrated Infrastructure for Black & Veatch. “This is what is called edge computing, where the data is analyzed at the source of the data, and it doesn’t have to go back to a centralized node.”  

This means that the potential for useful information available to water and wastewater utilities has grown exponentially in recent years. 

“Many years ago, a pump just told you whether it was on or off. Now a pump tells you its speed, efficiency, vibration, temperature and more,” said Jeff Neemann, Smart Integrated Infrastructure Sector Lead for Black & Veatch’s water business. “This information can help optimize the operation of that pump, as well as maintain the pump, doing the right amount of maintenance at the right time.”

Smart Integrated Infrastructure is the combining of intelligent infrastructure with data analytics that leads to actionable information. Black & Veatch’s ASSET360TM smart analytics platform serves as an integration and analysis point for that information. 

ASSET360 has two key aspects to it – Operational Intelligence and Adaptive Planning. Operational Intelligence provides insights that help optimize day-to-day operating and maintenance practices to boost reliability and efficiency. This can include important monitoring and diagnosis services that provide a dashboard for clients to see deeply into their systems via the cloud in near real time. Adaptive Planning focuses on the future, using scenario analysis and predictive analytics to better inform asset management, long-term capital expenditures and other planning decisions. 

Smart Water Meter Analytics 

Both the Operational Intelligence and Adaptive Planning aspects of ASSET360 are applicable to the water and wastewater industry, but Neemann said the industry thus far has been slow to adopt comprehensive smart water concepts. Many utilities are focusing on a single aspect of their operation and are developing a smart solution around that, and Neemann hopes those programs can be expanded to be more comprehensive in the future. 

Smart water meters are one tool that is gaining attention. For instance, Black & Veatch is teaming up with Cisco to develop a smart meter program that is applicable for smart city deployment. Neemann said it is imperative that education and communication be a vital part of any smart meter campaign.   

“If you have a smart water meter, you have to put that information right in the palm of the customer’s hand with an app or a Nest-type device in order for it to have a real impact on reduction, conservation or change in consumer habits,” Neemann said. 

One ASSET360 application is called the Water Meter Revenue Analyst, which identifies sources of lost revenue. This tool helps water utilities manage meter data and provides predictive tools to aid in determining the life expectancy of meters, Neemann said. It provides a geospatial view of individual water meters and their status across an entire utility's fleet. This allows the user to investigate flow, age and degradation of the meters.

Taking First Smart Water Steps

Other water utilities are finding ways to take their first steps into the smart water field. Neemann cited a case of one utility that is using analytics to forecast its overall pumping needs for the next few days, then determining how much of its pumping it can do at night when energy rates are cheaper. 

Another utility is focusing on leak detection.  “They are working with us on ASSET360 to use smart meter data and data from their SCADA system to find leaks faster,” Neemann said. “Part of their system has a high amount of leaks, and because of the local topography, those leak don’t tend to surface. They believe they’re losing up to $1 million a year in revenue on lost water, so there’s a pretty decent potential payback if they can find those leaks faster.” 

The first water utility to adopt ASSET360 was in Texas, and that utility chose to use the analytics to monitor its microfiltration system.  “We built the analytics to examine the system, determine when it cleaned, figured out how dirty the microfiltration was before and after using, and then determine how effective the cleaning was,” Neemann noted.  

In Kansas, a wastewater facility is using ASSET360 to better determine its energy usage. 

“We’ve built calculations by looking at each asset – meaning each blower, each pump, each motor, everything using power – and we’re building a map to pinpoint exactly where the energy’s being used. Right now, they know their facility usage, but they can’t see down into a specific system,” he said. “With this, they’ll be able to see how much energy it takes to treat a gallon during specific hours of the day, versus specific hours at night.”

Neemann said there is great value in having a dashboard that clearly highlights detailed information, but added that just as important is the expertise that comes with it. 

“Solutions require a combination of both the software tool and the people with the deep knowledge of the water industry. Then to be successful, you also have to bring it all together, and design and build the infrastructure. That’s what Smart Integrated Infrastructure is all about.” 

The Future of Smart Water

Neemann knows that so much more can be done with analytics when it comes to the water and wastewater industry, and suggests that many of these first steps will turn into broader aspects. 

“Maybe we’ll determine that we shouldn’t be moving the water so much; maybe we should be treating it closer to source,” Neemann said. “Maybe we should be reusing it in parts of the system as opposed to moving it back and forth to a centralized location. In the smart city concepts, that’s some of the ways in which water could be the infrastructure backbone.”

Two other comprehensive ways to use smart water concepts include the health of the overall system, and the quality of the water. 

“More technologies and sensors are going to be focused on the condition of the assets,” he said. “Pipes will be smarter, and we can tell how they’re aging, then we’ll know exactly which pipes need to be replaced. So the health of the pipe, as demonstrated by the pipe’s degradation in terms of its useful life, will be very evident.” 

The second big aspect is water quality, thereby protecting public health. “Using edge computing, we’ll be able to assemble that information in real time to determine the quality of water.”

Currently, water is sampled and sent to a centralized lab for quality testing. “But then you may not know for a week what the result was. If there was a problem, by that time, the water’s already in the system and somebody drank the water.” 

By engaging in the new approach of instruments and analytics, utilities won’t necessarily have to take water samples back to a centralized location, and Neemann said this could lead to more direct potable water reuse. He added that the WaterReuse Research Foundation has a project that will use ASSET360, with the goal of increasing potable reuse. 

“It is vital to make everybody comfortable, that it’s safe to drink,” Neemann said. “It’s partly public perception, and it’s partly the verification that the system is performing as intended.”

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series on smart cities that can be found in the Solutions Online library on

--Story by Gordon Heft, Black & Veatch