News Feature | January 14, 2016

Algorithm Helps Utilities Monitor Water Networks

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

European researchers are designing a set of software tools to help water utilities improve service and run their networks more efficiently.

The French-German project SMaRT-OnlineWDN is focused on creating tools “that enable water utilities to respond quickly and, in an emergency, to initiate countermeasures to protect the population,” according to a release from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, an applied-science research collective in Europe. 

One development is a mathematical model for simulating the drinking water supply network. 

“Based on numerous simulations, it can identify the optimum locations for sensors in order to ensure early detection of impurities,” the announcement said. “If an alarm does go off, the online simulation model can help pinpoint the source of the contamination.” 

The scientists have created an algorithm for accomplishing these tasks. It “localizes the contamination and calculates where the impurity will spread in the next few hours,” the announcement said. 

Creating the model was tricky because the flow of water can vary within the system, according to Thomas Bernard, a specialist for flow models at Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technology and Image Exploitation in Karlsruhe. 

"It changes depending on the pressure in the pipes, their diameter and geometry, and the number of users. And turbulence and chaotic flows occur in places where the pipe system branches," he said. 

One concern is that the alarm might sound constantly. The software considers such factors as opacity, temperature, pressure, chlorine and oxygen content, pH value, and the amount of bacterial contamination of the water to gauge whether the alarm should sound. 

“When critical values are reached, the system doesn't immediately sound the alarm — instead, it first looks for possible causes. Has a different water source just been tapped? Was a pump opened or closed?” the announcement said. 

"More than 90 percent of all anomalies are caused by changes to operating conditions and are no cause for alarm," Bernard explained. 

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