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Smart Water for Smart Communities

The rising marginal cost of producing clean water together with increasing demand and higher expectations of reliability and quality of service leaves municipal water utilities facing an uphill challenge – managing aging networks with limited resources. 

When water bills go up, everyone notices! Mayors, utilities, city councils, regulators, residents, and businesses demand one thing in response – DATA! Data to understand and manage the price increase. Utilities need more data to operate their utilities, manage leak-loss and ensure they are billing all their revenue.  Customers need better data to understand their own consumption and ultimately manage their own behavior.

Data requires telecommunications and utility telecom demands spectrum.

On average, 20% of processed water is lost before it reaches the tap!

Why this matters….

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs:

  • Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

As a finite resource, water access is at risk from a growing population and an increase in need that will continue to put pressure on infrastructure requirements in cities and rural areas alike. The water industry is keenly aware of the issues it faces however many times the general public does not understand the challenges including environmental impacts, aging infrastructure, processed water lost and increases in energy prices. A 1/8″ hole in a water main can lose over 1 million gallons a year. Data from a research report I worked on while at Sensus suggests that globally, it is estimated that utilities are spending nearly $184 billion each year related to the supply of clean water—$14 billion of which is spent on energy costs just to pump water around the current networks.

Water is key to food security. Crops and livestock need water to grow. Agriculture requires large quantities of water for irrigation and of good quality for various production processes. While feeding the world and producing a diverse range of non-food crops such as cotton, rubber and industrial oils in an increasingly productive way, agriculture also confirmed its position as the biggest user of water on the globe. Irrigation now claims close to 70 percent of all freshwater appropriated for human use.

Leakage is a big part of Non-Revenue Water (NRW). NRW is the difference between the volume of water supplied to a system and the volume of water that is billed to its consumers. It is made up of three components, un-billed authorized consumption, apparent loss and real loss. Each component has its own particular cause, effect, value and set of solutions.

To develop an effective NRW management strategy, utilities and municipalities must first be able to obtain a thorough understanding of the causes and effects of components of NRW in their water system through a detailed water audit and data analysis that quantifies and validates the components of water consumption and water loss in a system. New technologies, software and services from companies around the world are focused on reducing NRW. 

The United States water infrastructure needs a $384-billion upgrade!

From a survey conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment, projected needed upgrades to pipes, treatment plants and water distribution systems. The report, which by law must be submitted to Congress every four years, examined 73,400 water systems. In many cases, drinking water infrastructure was reported to be 50 to 100 years old.

Among the most pressing needs:
** $247.5 billion to replace or refurbish aging or deteriorating water lines
** $72.5 billion to construct, expand or rehabilitate water treatment infrastructure
** $39.5 billion to construct, rehabilitate or cover finished water storage reservoirs

The U.S. water infrastructure breaks once each minute and about 540,000 times each year. The entire network is comprised of about 1.8 million miles of water distribution lines. Because of the age of the infrastructure, however, it leaks about six billion gallons of fresh water per day. Leak detection is just one way to make our water systems smarter.

UTC For Water Utilities

The Utilities Technology Council (UTC) supports water utilities through its advocacy work in Washington, D.C., as well as through education and training on information and communications technology for water utility operations. Today’s water infrastructure investments are focused on digitalization, smart devices, advanced security and automation, all of which require IT/OT integration and reliable, real-time communications networks. UTC is the only trade association focused on the nexus of telecom and technology for utilities of all types and sizes.