Water Is a Data Rich Peer-to-Peer IT Network
Welcome to EmNet’s blog page! For those of you who know us, we have spent a ton of time talking about smart water networks in various conferences. We thought it would be great to have a repository of our thoughts (or rants) for those interested in intelligent water infrastructure. This is officially our first post: welcome!
Water is data rich. The water coursing through the sewer or pouring from your tap carries information about where it’s been and how it has been restored or mistreated. Understanding and controlling water and the data that it carries empowers humanity to create immense value to communities and the natural environment. Water systems are very dynamic. The weather changes as do human usage patterns. In a time when global warming has added new issues, whether in terms of encroaching oceans, destructive storms, or severe droughts, managing complex water systems has become even more challenging.
In municipal distribution systems, water, like the electrical grid, is an information-rich communication medium and network. Under pressure in distribution systems or wastewater systems, hydraulic changes propagate though networks almost instantaneously. Open channel water networks such as wastewater collections systems present hydraulic dynamics that are many times more complex but equally rich in data. With the arrival of advanced distributed computing, big data, cloud analytics, and machine learning, we can now extract information, knowledge and ultimately wisdom from these data-rich water networks. Computer-based real-time decision support systems can constantly gather and report data from across an entire watershed and sewer system. When processed and analyzed, the result can trigger automatic controls or be presented to operators for evaluation or action.
In order to collect, process and effectively empower action from these immensely complex water infrastructure systems, the most cost-effective and robust solution is to “turn on the lights™” by installing sensor networks of simple computing devices, programmed to monitor and optimized to use agent-based, genetic, or human social system optimization algorithms that maximize the use of the water network.
Traditionally, municipalities have used limited measurements in water networks to then try to adjust hydraulic models to match what was observed by a few flow meters deployed over short periods of time. It has been demonstrated that densely-deployed sensor networks of permanent inexpensive sensors produce enough data to virtually replace traditional models: the data becomes the model.
The U.S is facing hundreds of billions of dollars of water infrastructure improvements over the coming years. Too many municipalities plunge into renovation projects without fully analyzing the potential solutions at their disposal. Why undertake a massive infrastructure project when the solution could be orders of magnitude less costly and disruptive?
The first task of infrastructure renovation should be collect and organize the existing universe of knowledge that is present. That knowledge then becomes the basis for building a modern decision support system. Such a system takes full advantage of existing infrastructure and natural systems, explores the most readily available and minimally invasive infrastructure enhancements, and optimizes planned future infrastructure assets and improvements along those lines.
As the old saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” Water is inherently complex, yet we have the technology today to understand and control our water systems in real time. Elegant IT-based solutions could save U.S. municipalities billions of dollars annually, as well as improve quality of life for our citizens. Water is life—it is also information.