Creating a Smart, Resilient Water Future

By Amir Cahn

Amir Cahn is the Executive Director of the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN). He holds master’s degrees in environmental science and public affairs from Indiana University. He can be reached on Twitter @AmirCahn or by email: amirc@swan-forum.com.


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Today, cities are confronted with a unique challenge: they face budget constraints and aging infrastructure, yet increasing customer expectations. In addition, cities must often deal with the impacts of urbanization, climate change, and an aging workforce. To meet future water needs, cities will need to become more efficient and resilient by investing in “smart,” data-driven technologies. Forming industry partnerships is now imperative through collaborative platforms such as the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) and Meeting of the Minds.

Becoming Smart

Smart water technologies are changing the way customers make decisions about their water use and how cities make decisions about monitoring and controlling their networks. A Smart Water Network links multiple systems within a network to share data across platforms. This allows cities to better anticipate and react to different types of water network issues, from detecting leaks and water quality incidents to conserving energy and tracking residential water consumption. By monitoring real-time information, network operators can stay informed about what is going on in the field at all times and respond quickly and appropriately when a problem arises. This results in the city becoming more efficient and reducing the overall cost of service for the customer. However, before purchasing and installing hardware, it is important that cities understand what data is right for them and develop a data management strategy which maximizes its use.

SWAN_Figure 1[2]To help cities understand how a Smart Water Network interconnects, SWAN devised a five-layer, architecture model – See Figure 1. The first, “Physical” layer comprises the necessary components for delivering water (e.g. pipes, pumps, valves, reservoirs and other delivery endpoints). The second, “Sensing and Control” layer represents the first “smart” layer, containing sensors and meters that measure important parameters (e.g. flow, pressure, water quality, reservoir levels, water temperature, acoustic information, etc.). This data is then transmitted and stored through the “Collection and Communications” layer, which includes fixed cable networks, radio, cellular, Wi-Fi, etc. The fourth layer, “Data Management and Display” interfaces information for human operators such as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), GIS (Geographic Information System), and other network visualization tools. The fifth and most advanced layer, “Data Fusion and Analysis” integrates data from the below four layers to provide real-time data analytics, hydraulic modeling, and automatic pressure and energy optimization systems.

Becoming Resilient

In the future, becoming smart may not be enough as cities will need to become resilient, as well. Resilient goals include economic and social sustainability, quality of life, efficiency, and technology and citizen participation. The UK water regulator, Ofwat defines “resilience” as “the ability to cope with, and recover from, disruption, and anticipate trends and variability in order to maintain services for people and protect the natural environment, now and in the future.” Resilient responses range from chronic stresses such as environmental pollution, ground water depletion or deforestation, to acute stresses such as floods, droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes or wildfires.

“Water service resilience” relates to four key pillars: providing safe water (quality), reliable service (customers), secure systems (IT) and efficient operations (O&M). Each of these pillars can be optimized by transforming collected data into actionable information using smart water technologies. To become resilient, cities need to think in the long-term, build partnerships, and leverage best global practices in order to develop solid business plans.

SWAN’s Helping Hand

The Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN) is the leading, global hub for advancing the use of data technologies in water and wastewater networks, making them smarter, more efficient and sustainable. SWAN members vary from international water utilities, technology providers, engineering and consulting firms, academics, and investors. As a non-profit organization, SWAN provides its members with cutting-edge research, international networking opportunities, and the chance to proactively influence the future of the water sector.

To help cities understand the benefits of adopting a Smart Water Network, SWAN developed the SWAN Interactive Architecture Tool, which is available for free at www.swan-tool.com. The Tool is based on an international survey of 33 cities. Since each city has unique business drivers and challenges areas, the Tool enables cities to jump directly to a solution that interests them such as Leak Detection, Water Quality Monitoring, Customer Metering, Energy Management, Pressure Management, or Water Network Management. A new Wastewater Management solution is currently under development. Tool users can click on individual technology components within the SWAN five-layer architecture to learn about their function, benefits, and system requirements, as well as view informative case studies and benefit analyses. Users may further evaluate their network intelligence by taking the SWAN SMART SCORE, a 13 multiple choice survey, as well as navigate through a database of available smart water solutions on the Solution Providers page.

To accelerate smart water and wastewater development in the U.S. and Canada, SWAN recently introduced the SWAN North American Alliance, which is also open for free to join. The Alliance Planning Committee is comprised of leading SWAN, North American water utilities and technology partners contributing their vast industry expertise.

All Alliance members are guaranteed access to:

  • A special meet and greet at WEFTEC
  • Cutting-edge case studies and research reports
  • Free webinars on smart water topics
  • A free utility workshop in San Diego in January

To join the Alliance, sign up here: https://www.swan-forum.com/swan-na-alliance/

To gain a global perspective, SWAN’s 7th Annual Conference will focus on the theme of smart water and resilient systems. The event will take place May 9-10th at the Tower Hotel in London and offer a great opportunity to hear from global industry experts and innovative city leaders. Last year’s SWAN Conference drew over 180 attendees from 24 countries and included speakers from 20 global water utilities and top technology companies like Cisco, Qualcomm, IBM and Microsoft. SWAN members will receive free pass to the Conference. Learn more here: https://www.swan-forum.com/swan-2017/

Securing Our Water Future

Like Meeting of the Minds, the goal of SWAN is to share global knowledge to achieve sustainable growth. Now, is a critical time for different water stakeholders to communicate effectively. Global water challenges will continue to grow requiring long-term planning. The technology solutions are there – more and more cities are witnessing the benefits of creating smart, resilient cities. SWAN can assist cities in this journey through its free resources such as the SWAN Interactive Architecture Tool and SWAN North American Alliance, as well as the SWAN Annual Conference, which offers a chance to learn from international experiences.

It’s time to collaborate. Let’s reinvent our water future. Learn more at: www.swan-forum.com

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