Guest Column | May 6, 2014

A Smart Water Guide To Tackling The 5 Biggest Water Management Challenges


By Dan Pinney, Director of AMI, Gas and Water, Sensus 

For years, water utilities have expressed concerns about the five biggest pain points in water management:  leaks, non-revenue water, theft, poor customer service, and water and energy conservation. They know that addressing these pain points will help conserve water for future generations while also saving their customers money, but it isn’t always easy.

The solution? Smart water networks with data analytics.

A smart water network is an integrated set of water technologies and services that enable utilities to:

  • Continuously monitor and diagnose problems
  • Prioritize and manage maintenance issues
  • Use data to optimize all aspects of the water distribution network

Utilities worldwide are implementing communications systems. While these systems have huge benefits, they also carry an almost overwhelming amount of data from both the utility’s infrastructure as well as external sources, such as online weather sites. Collecting this information is the first step, but utilities need data analytics to turn this information into actionable insights that will inform their operation and business decisions.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The harsh reality is that budgets are often tight. Most utilities aren’t in a position to overhaul every aspect of their smart water network all at once.

There also isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to water management. More often, utilities are realizing that implementing one solution at a time might be the best strategy. Take utilities such as Chesterfield County, South Carolina and the city of O’Fallon, Missouri, for example.

Residents of Chesterfield County were losing several hundred gallons of water a day due to leaks from faulty plumbing. The county implemented a Sensus smart water network in 2010, which uses data analytics to track water usage and notify customers of unusual water levels. The City of O’Fallon also deployed a smart water network, eliminating meter reading errors entirely and cutting unaccounted for water in half.

Through the use of smart water networks and data analytics, customers like Chesterfield County and the city of O’Fallon are able to retrieve on-demand data and convert it into actionable insights that improve operational efficiency and revenue. 

Taking The Step-By-Step Approach

As Chesterfield County and the city of O’Fallon have proven, you don't have to address all of your pain points at once. First ask yourself, “What is the biggest issue for my community?” and then deploy a solution that addresses it. By prioritizing your needs, you can take the savings from the first issue to fix the next one.

An important caveat to remember is that this step-by-step approach only works if you have a "sustainable" smart water network, meaning one that can easily support new applications. Your smart water network should evolve as you need it to. Below are some of the key characteristics any sustainable smart water network will have:

  • Intelligent: Smart endpoints, including meters, gather an exceptional amount of data to tackle issues like non-revenue water, theft and leaks. However, the information by itself is just that—data. Your data management system should not only gather the information you need but also present it for intelligent decision making.
  • Sustainable: A communication network should meet today’s needs as well as those in the future. For instance, interoperability features such as IPv6 might not seem relevant for your business today, but could be a necessity five or ten years down the road. Make sure your system can be upgraded and adapt, as needed.
  • Reliable: Unfortunately, some meters lose accuracy after just a few years. Ensure that your system has the most reliable and advanced meters to withstand the test of time. Investing in dependable technology will limit meter errors and ultimately result in cost savings.
  • Customizable: No two utilities are exactly the same so why should your smart water network solution be inflexible? Choose a system that is customizable based on the size and specific needs of your utility.

With these considerations in mind, your water utility is on its way to a better, sustainable future.  

Dan Pinney is the Director of AMI, Gas and Water for Sensus.  Dan has more than 20 years of experience with Sensus in the global water industry with leadership roles in operations and development.  Dan attended the University of Florida majoring in electrical engineering.

Image credit: "Blue Drop," Koshyk © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: