Location Intelligence

Nov. 7, 2018

Connecting water utilities to resources for water equity

About the author:

Derek Lorbiecki is business development manager of global water practice for Esri. He has more than 15 years of GIS experience, including work in public and private sectors. Lorbiecki can be reached at [email protected].

With the human population forecast to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050 and increasing standards of living among developing nations, accessible, available and affordable fresh water is becoming a scarce commodity. Taking on these global, regional and local challenges is imperative to the health and prosperity of the human race. 

In an interconnected world, the consequences of water mismanagement ripple through every aspect of our global, regional and local economies. To comprehend these complexities and avoid catastrophic missteps, we are more dependent than ever on location intelligence to provide efficient and sustainable path forward into the future. The most tractable solutions are grounded in the extensibility, interoperability and scalability of the digital experience. They will leverage and embrace government, business and academic strategies. 

The Importance of Location

Water scarcity is defined as consumption divided by availability. Focusing on consumption while often neglecting the availability part of the equation is standard operating procedure for local water utilities. This strategy can lead to surprises when precipitation ceases to fall regularly. The modern water utility manager has an array of tools to help connect critical variables, but it is up to governments, private corporations and tax-paying citizens to make sure that the infrastructure and technology are in place to create sustainable, smart water utilities

Location intelligence will play a critical role in enabling a smart fresh and wastewater management strategy across the growing urban areas that reside in water-limited environments. Combined with Internet of Things (IoT), sensor networks and artificial intelligence (AI), the water utility executive has the ability to optimize solutions based on real-time water availability. Combining spatial analytics and water resource modeling with daily operations in an affordable way is the challenge.

For major urban areas across the U.S.—and certainly water-stressed megacities such as Cape Town, Mexico City, London, Moscow and Beijing—this coupling between resource and demand becomes a necessity. Customers are being challenged to extend their daily allocation of water in unprecedented ways. In many instances, scarcity is driving rationing and forcing innovation in how we approach our individual and municipal water footprints. How do we embrace these concepts when historically our municipal supply and demand were bifurcated? It begins with spatial planning, smart technologies and a cultural shift that embraces a changing landscape for water management. 

We can now map and manage water infrastructure across municipalities, tracking leaks and identifying conveyance inefficiencies. The energy wasted and other expenses associated with aging infrastructure are among the first areas water managers will often address as they look to the bottom-line of both public and private water management. Whether the utility draws from surface water, uses groundwater or relies upon interbasin transfers, losing water across a utility network is expensive. The introduction of smart meters, intelligence valves, pressure flow sensors and a host of other IoT devices integrated into the utility infrastructure is providing managers and engineers with the data necessary to quantify the problem and move toward larger solutions. Now, not only can water utilities include regulatory compliance, return on investment and energy efficiency as part of infrastructure optimization routines, they also can include general water resources and availability. This does not end at spatial awareness and data analytics.

The Future Utility

The water utility catastrophe in Flint, Mich., has increased awareness and innovation around water coming out the tap. Imagine knowing the chemical composition of water as it flows into and out of the home. IoT sensors are being implemented across the supply and wastewater chain, and they document contaminants as well as monitor the health of residents. AI algorithms, using data across appliances and sensors, are being used to optimize the residential water budget for drinking, bathing, gardening and cleaning. These big data reservoirs represent myriad Analytics as a Service opportunities that could be implemented into a spatial analytics infrastructure used by the water utility. These emergent systems constitute new ways in which water quality can be insured entering and leaving the home.

Today’s AI and other “cognitive platforms” are allowing industries to incorporate powerful statistical and mathematical functionality to provide distinct pattern recognition. We see these existing and near-term capabilities providing opportunities for greater understanding in cost management. Even simple AI-based algorithms can identify consumptive use patterns from smart metering systems based upon meteorological conditions. A forecasted drought with smart metering in place introduces opportunities for variable- and tiered-pricing for greater economic efficiency. 

The promise of location intelligence, as well as technologies like AI and IoT, is that in the near future, these daunting water equity issues will be addressed, allowing customers to take advantage of big data. They will be able to connect individual demand with the availability of resources. Scarcity might always be an issue to be grappled with, but smart data-driven sustainability can serve as an effective solution to ensuring it does not affect the daily lives of people who rely on nature’s most necessary resource

About the Author

Derek Lorbiecki

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