People need safe water: How to see issues before they bubble to the surface

Even more than electricity, cities need clean water. People can’t live without it. So what are you doing to ensure your water is safe? If you’ve been relying on luck, you have to look no farther than Flint, Mich., to see what can go wrong. Perhaps more than 10,000 children have been poisoned with lead. Ten people were killed by Legionnaire’s Disease.

The challenge for water managers is that the contamination can come from so many different places. In Flint, the problem was a water source that wasn’t properly treated, but the danger could just as easily come from a flood or other sudden, severe weather event.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see into the future and fix problems before they happen? As Council Associate Partner Black & Veatch illustrates below, you can. And your citizens are counting on you to do that. — Kevin Ebi


By Pamela Kenel, Black & Veatch

The public is clamoring for water system resilience, as news headlines siren concern about safe drinking water supplies, aging infrastructure, extreme weather events and breaches in water utility information. At the same time, water utilities are grappling to gain a complete picture of their system through proactive asset management programs amid a perpetually shifting operational and financial landscape.

To bring the pieces together, some utilities are using analytics to consider disruptive events alongside revenue shortages, customer service expectations, the impacts of deferred maintenance and the cost of capital investment.

Today’s water system customers are technology-savvy and information-hungry with expectations of safe, secure water supplies and minimal environmental impacts from wastewater and wet weather management practices. Advanced water management technologies can give utilities and cities an edge by helping to address these diverse resiliency needs in both day-to-day circumstances and in periods of duress. In terms of technology, the power of incremental innovation shines brightly here. The combination of new sensor technology, enormous data sets, predictive analytics and cloud computing increases system visibility, enables discernment and adaptability and guides sound decision-making.

Smart tools to enhance water system resilience
Using smart analytics tools, water utilities can use a risk-based framework to identify and evaluate options to enhance their water system resilience against events such as flood, drought and source water contamination. These smart tools help utilities simulate disruptions on a grand scale and identify the best means to manage the situation across planning, design, and operational perspectives.  Using the same smart tools, utilities can assemble independent projects into integrated ensembles for comparison and optimization against multiple event scenarios.

The results help utilities prioritize improvement options and focus capital investments on the initiatives that produce the greatest benefits and lower risks for varying spending levels. Analytics tools help cities and utilities build resiliency by providing insight into:

  • Failure event scenarios that could cause water system outages
  • Relative risks of failure events (based on likelihood and consequence) and duration of outages and number of citizens and customers affected
  • Identification of promising infrastructure improvements and operational tactics to mitigate risks
  • Analysis of cost-benefit and KPIs associated with improvement initiatives and project ensembles
  • Prioritization of improvement initiatives to meet near-term and long-term resilience goals
  • An adaptive roadmap to guide investment and implementation of resiliency measures

With greater system insight and integrated adaptive planning, utilities can evaluate combinations of infrastructure improvements, costs, risk and benefits to understand the ideal approach to achieve system resilience. With this smart tool set, utilities are writing a story of resilient water systems, which is worthy of front-page news.

Pamela Kenel is a solution lead in the Smart Integrated Infrastructure business for Black & Veatch and Vice-Chair for Smart Cities Council’s Water Committee. She specializes in water resources, planning and sustainability solutions applying innovation and data analytics to smart community and water utility issues.

Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant
Would you like some help to make your city more resilient? The Smart Cities Council will award five American cities Readiness Challenge Grants to make better use of technology to better serve their citizens. It’s part of a White House commitment to help cities use technology more effectively. Start your application today.