Guest Column | December 19, 2023

6 Reasons Modern Water Treatment Relies On Smart Sensors

By Emily Newton

Water leak sensor alert-GettyImages-1424170465

Smart sensors for water treatment facilities are revolutionizing wastewater processing and clarification, leading to some amazing benefits. Modern water treatment has become a high-tech field as many facilities have begun adopting connected IoT sensors to monitor their equipment and water quality. Learn more about the benefits of these smart sensors and why they are an integral part of today’s water treatment industry.

1. Ensuring Water Safety

The top priority at any water treatment facility is safety, both for employees and customers. Using smart sensors for water treatment monitoring can ensure wastewater is handled and processed safely at every stage.

Keeping an eye on vital metrics like dissolved oxygen to total suspended solids can be a challenge due to the complexity of any water treatment facility. Smart sensors allow facility managers to monitor the quality of water in every pool, reservoir, and tank at all times through one convenient hub. IoT sensors relay data from across the facility back to a central app where users can view real-time statistics and analyze and manage data.

As a result, facility managers get a high level of visibility over the quality of water at every stage of the filtration and clarifying process. High visibility ensures that performance fluctuations are immediately obvious so water treatment personnel can quickly address potential hazards. For instance, if dissolved oxygen spikes in a treatment pool, the smart sensor will detect it immediately and trigger a possible safety alert for that data.

Monitoring safety data can also help water treatment facilities comply with local, state, and federal regulations. For example, the U.S. EPA has a set of strict guidelines on effluent water pollution and control.1 Providing a wealth of data on pollution and water safety can simplify the process of verifying compliance with regulations like this. It also promotes transparency, which can strengthen trust among customers and government leaders.

2. Monitoring Sustainability

Water treatment facilities play a crucial role in protecting the natural world from water pollution. By carefully monitoring operations, equipment and water quality, water treatment facilities can prevent pollution and minimize their impact on the environment. Smart sensors offer an easy and efficient way of accomplishing this goal.

For example, IoT sensors can detect changes in water volume, flow rate, contaminant levels, equipment performance, and more. Abnormal fluctuations in this data can alert facility managers to potentially hazardous maintenance issues, such as a cracked pipe, malfunctioning control valve, or improper treatment chemical levels.

Even something as small as a leak can create serious environmental issues if left unnoticed for an extended period. When wastewater leaks out into natural water sources, it can cause algal bloom and increase dissolved oxygen levels.2 Over time, these side effects can kill off native species in local waterways and lead to more widespread pollution.

That makes detecting any performance abnormalities or maintenance issues early crucial. Smart sensors ensure that no operational issues go unnoticed.

Additionally, water treatment companies can use smart sensors to monitor and minimize their energy consumption. By improving efficiency using information from sensor data, organizations can minimize the amount of power they require, resulting in a lower carbon footprint. The same goes for other resources, such as chemicals and cleaning products.

3. Increased Efficiency

One of the top applications for smart sensors in water treatment is operational optimization. Water treatment companies can leverage sensor data to improve efficiency, performance, and energy consumption.

For example, IoT sensor data might show that a wastewater treatment process is bottlenecking in the aeration stage, resulting in high amounts of dissolved gases left over in the clarifying stage. With this data, the treatment facility’s leaders can make an informed decision about how to optimize the aeration stage. They might decide to add submerged aerators rather than relying on surface aerators alone.

After implementing optimization strategies, water treatment facility managers can also use smart sensor data to monitor progress. By collecting data from before and after optimization updates, facility managers can see how effective a new process or piece of equipment is and pivot if needed.

Smart sensors are also helpful in off-site or small-scale water treatment efficiency, particularly when managing runoff water and industrial pollution. For example, construction projects can pose difficulties in water treatment because worksite pollution can get into local water supplies.

Monitoring the impact of construction and industrial activity allows water treatment companies to alter their systems so they remain efficient and effective despite environmental challenges. For instance, installing a turnkey bypass system near construction sites can improve efficiency by rerouting wastewater without hurting water quality or interrupting service.3

Smart sensors allow water treatment companies to identify optimization opportunities like this and monitor the effectiveness of solutions.

4. Stronger Cybersecurity

The utilities industry has become a prime target for hackers, particularly since the high-profile Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in 2021. Water treatment plants are no exception. Smart sensors play an important role in helping water treatment companies detect and prevent cyberattacks.

Utilities are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks since going offline can mean hundreds or thousands of people lose access to crucial services.4 For water treatment specifically, clean water could be chemically poisoned or vital infrastructure could be damaged as a result of a cyberattack. Hackers aim to leverage these extreme risks to try to force utility companies to pay ransoms to get their systems back online.

Smart sensors allow water treatment facilities to maintain 24/7 visibility of their equipment and water quality. The connected nature of smart sensors allows them to automatically notify personnel if water quality changes. Detecting a cyberattack early can give security personnel crucial time to stop the hacker and regain control.

If a hacker did breach a water treatment facility’s systems, it would likely result in changes to water quality due to tampering with sensitive treatment systems. In fact, hackers might even attempt to intentionally alter water quality to make it unsafe for human consumption. Monitoring water quality is vital for catching potential cyberattacks early.

Additionally, smart sensor data can help water treatment facilities identify and resolve security vulnerabilities. Minimizing cybersecurity risks requires a large amount of data on how a facility operates. Sensor data can highlight the most sensitive stages of the water treatment process, allowing security personnel to implement stronger safeguards in those areas.

5. Predictive Maintenance

Using smart sensors for water treatment monitoring opens the door to predictive maintenance and all the benefits that go with it. Predictive maintenance can increase efficiency, reduce waste, improve water quality, extend equipment life spans, and more. It allows water treatment facilities to maximize the value of their equipment and prevent key systems from going offline due to breakdowns.

In wastewater treatment, equipment failures can quickly lead to a ripple effect of damage, requiring hours or days of cleanup and repairs. Predictive maintenance can prevent these issues by alerting maintenance personnel of developing issues. They can use the data to perform minor repairs and tune-ups before malfunctions happen.

Predictive maintenance can result in huge gains in productivity since maintenance personnel can use their time more efficiently. They can use smart sensor data to focus on known issues rather than spending time doing inspections that may not be necessary. Plus, targeted tune-ups that resolve developing mechanical issues can result in improved equipment performance overall.

Water treatment facilities can even use smart sensors and predictive maintenance to support other goals, such as improved sustainability. Wastewater treatment professionals have applied predictive maintenance to prevent pump failures and optimize cleaning schedules to minimize fouling.5

Utilizing predictive maintenance to address maintenance issues like these is helpful for both the water treatment facility and the surrounding environment since it helps prevent the spread of pollution from wastewater. Smart sensors are the heart of any predictive maintenance strategy, giving facility managers accurate, detailed, real-time information about their processes and equipment.

6. Improved Communication

Finally, using smart sensors for water treatment can result in better communication within a facility and with customers and local leaders. Access to accurate, real-time data can make a world of difference when it comes to communication, particularly in the event of an emergency.

Smart sensors allow water treatment professionals to access trustworthy data at a moment’s notice. So, in an emergency situation, they can monitor water quality and operations data as it changes in real-time. This allows everyone to make the most informed decisions possible.

Smart sensors also ensure water treatment facilities have a wealth of data they can draw from when creating information and resources for those outside their organization. For instance, sensor data is often helpful for generating statistics for community water safety pamphlets. This data is also helpful for things like environmental research, water pollution initiatives, and other scenarios that require communicating with the general public.

Applying Smart Sensors For Water Treatment Success

Smart IoT sensors have transformed the way modern water treatment facilities operate. Facilities that have already adopted this technology are using it to improve water quality, efficiency, resource usage, sustainability and more. Investing in smart sensors can even result in cost savings over time due to more efficient energy usage and lower maintenance costs.

References

  1. https://www.epa.gov/eg
  2. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2021/november/the-deadly-effects-of-sewage-pollution-on-nature.html
  3. https://sagerentalservices.com/blog/turnkey-bypass-pump-system-improve-efficiency/
  4. https://revolutionized.com/utilities-cybersecurity/
  5. https://www.watertechonline.com/wastewater/article/14294351/right-on-time-predictive-maintenance-helps-water-operators-achieve-sustainability-goals

Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also editor in chief of Revolutionized (revolutionized.com).