Intelligent Water Infrastructure

Looming water shortages, a growing population, and—do I dare say climate change?—are driving the need for drastic water asset management improvements.

But water infrastructure is expensive, difficult to maintain and discussions of rate increases are deemed political suicide. Thus, we keep thoughts and actions about infrastructure improvements where they are easily ignored—buried, out of sight and out of mind.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 6 billion gal of water (14% of withdrawals) are lost daily to leaks. Some water systems have reported water losses exceeding 60%.

As we take a look at the water treatment, distribution and collections systems around the country, we see an aging infrastructure, a large percentage of which is close to 80 years old.

Although there seems to be an increased interest among policymakers in issues related to infrastructure investments, a large portion of the U.S. population benefits predominantly from infrastructure investments that were made decades ago. According to a December 2010 Congressional Research Service report, “Water Infrastructure Needs and Investment: Review and Analysis of Key Issues,” the renewed attention to investment in the nation’s drinking water and wastewater treatment systems is due to a combination of factors, including “financial impacts on communities for meeting existing and anticipated regulatory requirements, the need to repair and replace existing infrastructure, concerns about paying for security-related projects and proposals to stimulate U.S. economic activity by building and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.”

While this may bring positive developments in the future, municipalities currently are having a hard time finding funding to address ongoing needs. Additionally, state budgets are being cut, and with water and wastewater projects generally rating low on the priority list, much-needed improvement projects are being put on hold.

Because of this, municipalities are pressured to watch budgets closely and use whatever existing funds they have more wisely than ever.

One way municipalities can do this is by accounting for all water treated and minimizing water loss through undetected leaks. Of course, outdated technology is a big reason why municipalities lose massive amounts of water. Through the use of advanced metering systems water leaks can be easily identified. Furthermore, municipalities can track water flows and consumption patterns (see this month’s Special Section on metering on pages 38 to 43). While many utilities already collect this sort of data, oftentimes it is not properly analyzed and put to good use.

At a time when economic recovery is barely noticeable and municipal budgets are tighter than ever, smart metering and an intelligent water infrastructure can not only contribute to a utility’s bottom line, but also provide a critical function for any water utility that wants to be sustainable for generations to come.

Neda Simeonova is editorial director of Water & Wastes Digest. Simeonova can be reached at 847.391.1011 or by e-mail at nsimeonova@sgcmail.com.

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