The Clean Water Voice

Harnessing the Biggest Opportunity of Our Time: Reimagining Water Infrastructure with Advanced Solutions and Innovative Approaches

Mar 30, 2022

The recently passed infrastructure bill has put renewed focus on the role of advanced technologies and the power of digital solutions to cost-effectively modernize our critical networks. As the single largest investment in infrastructure that the federal government has ever made, the timing couldn’t be more significant. Utilities continue to navigate the operational and economic complexities of a global pandemic, while working to address escalating water challenges driven by climate change. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to future-proof our water networks for generations to come. Delivering on that vision does not require adding major new capital outlays. But it does mean doing things differently.  The good news is that many utilities are already well on the road.

While the water sector has been in the throes of a bold transformation for some time, now a powerful, lesser-known force is accelerating disruption – hydroinformatics. Evolving from the early discipline of computational hydraulics, hydroinformatics is the application of information and decision support systems to address the equitable and efficient management of water. Around the world, digital solutions, super-charged with the power of hydroinformatics, are helping utilities to become more resilient – and to do so affordably.

As a unique and relatively untapped discipline, hydroinformatics offers a fresh perspective that is enabling communities to tackle age old problems in new ways. Hydroinformatics engineers combine multidisciplinary experience with optimization and hydraulic modelling skills, a deep understanding of the water cycle and a passion for using data, to improve the urban watershed for local communities. They leverage expertise from traditional civil and environmental engineering disciplines, analytical techniques, software programming, machine learning, and control theory, to maximize the potential of digital technologies and identify innovative approaches to solve critical infrastructure challenges.

By developing and implementing algorithms and analytics that give water operators more visibility into system performance, hydroinformatics engineers are helping utilities make better operational decisions. They analyze challenges to devise custom, highly configured algorithmic solutions and help implement, test, and refine them to create a real-time decision support system. By comparing the utility’s day-to-day performance against historical data, these engineers help water and wastewater operators detect and even predict events, and discover new ways to deliver water, wastewater collection, energy, and cost savings.

The outcomes are transformative. Take the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) for example. Serving a population of more than 850,000 people over 290 square miles, the city operates combined and sanitary sewer systems – some of which were built more than a century ago. Whether by design or due to an increase in stormwater inflow, the system tended to overflow, discharging around 14.4billion gallons of combined sewage into the Ohio River within the City’s urban watershed.

Leveraging digital technologies and a hydroinformatics approach to coordinate control between assets, the City was able to reduce the overflow volume by roughly 250 million gallons per year at a cost of less than $0.01 per gallon. More importantly, this did not require any new infrastructure or major capital expenditure. The City simply optimized the performance of their existing assets through a combination of sensors, weather data and insights from a team of highly skilled hydroinformatics engineers to create a real-time decision support system (RT-DSS). Through greater visibility and control, the City was able to reduce sewer overflows while maximizing storage and treatment plant operations during wet weather.

Following a similar approach, the City of Evansville reduced its sewer overflows by more than 100 million gallons per year. Using the same advanced optimization technology to effectively provide a software update to its existing system, the City was able to collect and analyze valuable data insights to make its infrastructure smarter, more resilient, and more affordable. By maximizing the potential of existing infrastructure, and then maximizing the potential of data insights through hydroinformatics, these utilities are redefining what’s possible for water.

For too long we have underinvested in our nation’s water and wastewater networks. The passing of the infrastructure bill presents a moment for change. The funding and financing options available will allow utilities across the country to apply advanced solutions to make the invisible visible and solve critical challenges right across the water cycle.

By empowering utilities to makes better use of their existing infrastructure with digitally powered solutions, the need to spend billions of dollars on grey infrastructure is dramatically reduced. The infrastructure decisions we make today will have consequences for decades; let’s make the most of one of the biggest opportunities of our time.

Bryant McDonnell
Senior Manager of Hydroinformatics and Process Control


The views expressed in this resource are those of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect those of NACWA.  


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