Drones flying through neighborhoods to read meters and monitor water usage, tiny submersibles sent through hydrants to monitor pipe systems for leaks, self-healing concrete that seals leaks before they become breaks.
Futuristic ideas? Yes, but a number of progressive-thinking, innovative water and wastewater utilities are leading the effort today to imagine a tomorrow where such technological advances may become a reality.
At the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association  (WWEMA) Washington Forum, April 15-17, Paul Gagliardo, Innovation Manager for American Water, shared these futuristic ideas, as well as some more practical innovative ideas that are currently being implemented.
Programs such as demand-side electricity system regulation is allowing one utility to work with an independent electricity system operator to help micro balance electricity demands by adjusting water system electricity needs, and are getting paid to do so based on availability and market conditions. NPXpress, a unique nitrogen and phosphorous removal wastewater treatment process patented by American Water, significantly reduces the energy requirements to treat wastewater and reduces/eliminates the amount of additional carbon required for denitrification while reducing chemical requirements for phosphorous removal.
A new SET Data Aggregation Platform allows data from all meter vendors to be aggregated through a single system and analyzed on a single hosted platform. A new advanced leak-control procedure is being investigated that will reduce pipe pressure overnight to reduce leaks and breaks.
New approaches to coagulant recovery and biofiltration are saving money and disposal costs. On the near horizon are advances in biometrics, new materials, acoustic leak detection, wireless communication and the use of “big data” to solve today’s pressing issues.
Flying drones may be the stuff of science fiction, but if Paul has any say, it could very well become tomorrow’s reality.Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .