By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online
Just because water has been around since before the Stone Age doesn’t mean it’s immune to evolution. Here are five ways that water is getting swept up in the future.
Some researchers say that the Earth’s water is even older than the sun, arriving on the planet as it formed by way of interstellar ice. It’s the genesis for all life as we know it, central to our earliest civilizations, and still as important to our existence as it has ever been.
But despite water’s consistency through time, we are always getting smarter about how we use it. Early Rome had its aqueducts, the Industrial Revolution relied on steam power, and today’s innovations are creating a bright new world of digital water. Things like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), modeling programs, simulation training, cybersecurity, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and Big Data analytics are making it easier and more efficient than ever to treat the prehistoric substance and bring it to those in need.
To explore the intersection of technology and water, what’s currently possible and what we’re poised to discover in the future, Water Online reached out to some select leaders in water technology and asked them about their most compelling projects. We’ve painstakingly narrowed those ventures down to our top five innovations in cyber-water.
1. WatrHub: Harvesting water data to advance the adoption of new treatment technology
Change can be difficult to predict in the treatment industry. It’s often a safe bet that things won’t change too quickly ... until they do. But which cities are most likely to adopt advanced metering infrastructure? Which utilities will replace their underground networks next?
Predicting where innovation will take hold seems like a lucrative power, and WatrHub has led the charge to do so. By accessing millions of capital plans, financial documents, and permits from cities and towns across the country, the company has merged a massive amount of data that it can use to forecast the future water innovation needs of a given municipality.
During a recent interview, a vice president of marketing at a large U.S.-based water technology company told WatrHub that its product was able to analyze his market blind spots and create a sales target map including cities that had a strong need for his treatment technology. “Now [with WatrHub] they had a blueprint to start a meaningful relationship in order to help upgrade the city’s treatment infrastructure,” said a WatrHub representative.
2. The Water Equipment And Policy Research Center: Probabilistic reliability evaluation of water distribution networks
A water system is an interconnected network of water sources, pipes, pumps, valves, regulators, tanks — everything it takes to get water to consumers quickly and safely. As a complicated network of sophisticated equipment, our water systems are prone to failures that affect public health and take a heavy financial toll.
To combat these failures and prepare for rapid response, the Water Equipment and Policy (WEP) research center developed a software tool for the probabilistic, quantitative evaluation of water systems, which accounts for a variety of indeterminate factors that might tamper with them.
“This software tool is developed based on a generic, holistic procedure for building high-confidence reliability models of water distribution systems, from which a comprehensive set of reliability indices can be calculated, indicating the probable, expected number of occurrences [that harm the system], expected frequency and duration, and expected amount of water not supplied,” explained Lingfeng Wang, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who worked on the software with WEP.
The decision tool can evaluate the reliability of different systems and has a user-friendly interface that can be utilized by utilities, urban planners, policymakers, or anyone else who needs to make an informed asset management decision in the water sector.
3. Water Planet: AI-based software that controls water filtration systems
No longer just the preoccupation of robot-fearing movie characters, artificial intelligence (AI) has reached the point that it can be leveraged for water treatment purposes. Water Planet, a water treatment and reuse company founded in 2011, has developed its IntelliFlux software to control membrane filtration systems automatically. The system can adapt when influent conditions change, to keep everything stable and maximize water recovery, process uptime, and filter life. The software can be used to control virtually any type of filter that needs backwashing, cleaning, or regeneration. It’s being used in an effort to clean produced water for agricultural reuse in Bakersfield, CA, which is looking to expand.
“Currently, we have a system on-site from Water Planet that does 500 barrels a day,” Dundee Kelbel, the manager of Sweetwater Tech Resources, told local broadcasters about the project. “But, our intent is obviously to put in an industrial facility long-term ... which would handle about 25,000 barrels — a million gallons, if you will — on a daily basis.”
4. OptiRTC: Stormwater infrastructure through active control and reporting
According to OptiRTC, the U.S. discharges over 900 billion gallons of raw sewage into natural bodies of water every year through combined sewer overflows. This, along with the fact that stormwater runoff carries pollutants to said bodies, inspired the two-year-old tech company to develop its platform for enhanced stormwater infrastructure.
With OptiRTC’s system, rain is collected from roofs and stored in basement cisterns. When the weather forecast calls for rain, water is automatically discharged from these cisterns to accommodate the oncoming runoff. The water that’s been collected can be reused for agriculture during dry periods. This system enables stormwater management facilities to increase retention times and infiltration, reduce downstream erosion, and improve water quality. The company claims that its platform is 30 to 80 percent less expensive over its lifetime than traditional retrofits. To date, it’s been employed in more than 19 states.
5. Dropcountr: Smartphone connections for customers and utilities
It’s clear that all of our interactions are moving to a more digital place. There is certainly still a need for traditional communication — face-to-face, through mail, and by telephone — but many consumers would prefer to interface with their water providers the way they do with everyone else: through their smartphones.
Dropcountr is an app for mobile devices that connects utilities with customers. It allows customers to see their water usage and compare it to that of their neighbors, connect to rebate offers, and stay on top of leaks or abnormalities. Utilities can use the app to send targeted messages directly to the consumers that need them, access advanced analytics, and find out who uses the most water and why.