Digital Water Technologies Makes Water Resilience Possible

Jan 25, 2024

Digital water technologies have the potential to create resilient water utilities capable of responding to unpredictable weather patterns, says Adam Wood, chief product officer, InfoTiles.

Droughts throughout the summer of 2022, and the devastating floods in some regions of Europe only a year earlier, have demonstrated the need for digital water technologies that can help utilities and municipalities become more resilient. Water-use evaluation and reduction, flood management and response, catchment health, and asset management are all operations where digital data collection and analysis can help deliver much more robust systems for water, people, and the environment.

InfoTiles has been collaborating with municipalities in Norway to create synergies across all these critical areas, which can be managed from a single, centralised platform, accessed remotely.

Domestic water use

More extreme weather and an anticipated increased frequency of drought across Europe means water supply is becoming more unpredictable. To ensure security of supply, the municipality of Molde in Norway has started a project using smart water meters, along with sensors in the connecting pipe network, to evaluate domestic and municipal water consumption.

The goal is to transmit this data to InfoTiles’ central data platform to map domestic and municipal water usage at a granular level – for both consumers and water managers – for the first time. As well as helping consumers better understand and reduce their domestic water use behaviours, this technology rollout will also help water managers detect any unusually high consumption and identify leaks, either at a property or in the connecting pipework.

This will help the municipally better maintain the drinking water network and carry out repairs more efficiently. Two Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are being used to transfer data from the meters and sensors into InfoTiles’ central data platform, where it can be analysed and interrogated by water managers.

They are a long-range wide area network (LoRaWAN) transmission, a wireless telecommunications network which transmits data over long distances, and a narrowband IoT (NB-IOT), which transfers data over mobile networks.

River health and flood response

The technology can also be used to assess river health and abstractions. Sensors are placed at strategically significant points to collect water quality data, including water level, nutrient content, and soil humidity. Combined with publicly available weather data from national meteorological agencies, such as rainfall and temperature, new insights can be harnessed for water managers.

This approach has the potential to go much further, capturing not only data from a single river location, but across a whole catchment. Capture and analysis of such data will prove invaluable in reducing, and even preventing, major damage and supply interruptions caused by unpredictable flood events. Machine-learning is also being used to combine the whole catchment data with meteorological data. This type of artificial intelligence allows software applications to become more accurate at predicting outcomes over time, without being explicitly programmed to do so.

The machine-learning algorithms use historical and anonymised data, including datasets from other rivers where flood mitigation already exists, as the starting point to predict future outcomes. Any data collected from new sensor points feeds into the software, building an increasingly accurate representation of the catchment so users are acting on facts, not assumptions. Machine learning is perpetually processing data, creating a fine-tuned model that can act on a granular or scalable level.

This system is being applied in the city of Lillestrøm, Norway, on the River Leira, which poses a high risk of flooding and requires a swift response to avoid major structural damage and breakdown of public amenities. With data gathered through InfoTiles’ platform contributing towards the development of early-warning systems, the municipality can mobilise first responders more effectively and plan closures of integral bridges and release warming announcements in a timely way.

By forecasting river behaviour and tracking levels to within a 50mm accuracy, authorities can gauge flood risk and see how it evolves in real-time. They can also predict more accurately when it might occur 6 –12 hours ahead of time, and what type of response is required.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development, floods cause more than US$40 billion of damage globally each year so it is understandable that water utilities and municipalities are acting with a sense of urgency to improve processes and operations, making them fit for an unpredictable future.

Asset management

The same platform can also capture data that shows the likelihood of critical failures in water and wastewater infrastructure and resources, including treatment failures, sewage overflows, equipment breakdowns, and infrastructure damage.

By capturing data that is continually assessing the health and effectiveness of assets, water managers can anticipate, detect, and resolve potential problems before they happen, and maintenance teams and investment can be deployed much more efficiently. What is more, it is possible to carry out these actions remotely though handheld devices such as tablets or mobile phones, which most people are now very familiar with. Water managers and other users can physically see what the data is telling them, wherever they are.

These examples show that the real strength in leveraging digital water technologies lies in the usability of a central data platform and its capacity to model, visualise, and present data across all assets and operations, accessible to all relevant personnel.

Pace of change

In water and wastewater, digital technologies are being deployed to harness data and transform processes at an unprecedented pace. Digital transformation of the water industry is described by the International Water Association as “a transformation to optimise its processes and operational efficiency.” The association says, “The development of new systems is against the background of cyber-physical systems, digitalisation and big data where software, sensors, processors, communication and control technologies are increasingly integrated, to enable informed decisions in an increasingly changing, complex, and uncertain world.“

Investment in digital water technologies is on a steep upward trajectory. Between 2018 and 2030, US$405 billion will be spent on new water infrastructure, according to Global Water Intelligence, and US$178 billion on rehabilitation. Due to the potential of digital water technologies to unlock new levels of resource efficiency in new infrastructure and rehabilitation, the market is expected to reach US$63 billion by 2025. In the near future, it will become the norm for all water utilities around the world to have digitally transformed to some extent.

The good news is that the digital water technologies needed to tackle the challenges of today are already here and forward-thinking water utilities are embracing these innovations as the means to create a sustainable water future for their populations.

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