A FATHOM Drought Watch Special Edition
Smart Cities Innovation Summit: Austin, Texas, June 2016
Today’s cities face significant challenges and must adapt to changing conditions within an ever-tightening fiscal environment. These challenges include the interrelated issues of economic sustainability and viability; climate change and resiliency; the financial and public health impacts of aging infrastructure; and the demands of an increasingly digital population.
With nearly 70 percent of people expected to be living in an urban environment by 2050, it is clear that the responsibility of the managing these issues while ensuring economic prosperity is landing squarely on the shoulders of our cities. As such, our cities are leading the way to the 21st century with initiatives such as the United States Council of Mayor’s Cities 3.0 plan1 and the continuing drive to become “smarter.”
In that context, the very nature of water utilities can be used as the springboard to a Smart City. Water and sanitation are amongst the most essential services that cities provide and are the foundation of economic sustainability. With 85 percent of water systems in the United States owned and operated by municipal entities, and the fact that water utilities touch virtually every citizen, home and business, cities can exploit the Smart Grid for Water’s distributed communication network, customer base and immediate value propositions to demonstrate and communicate the overall benefits of the city as an interconnected enterprise.
This is the essence of the Smart Water First philosophy.
WATER IS CLIMATE
The immediate potential for climate volatility to disrupt the business-as-usual operations of our cities makes it imperative to get smarter. Most states have seen significant changes in precipitation and temperature patterns over the past 50 years. While the discussions of climate variability usually revolve around temperature and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water is the medium through which the impacts of these changes will be first and most acutely felt.
Compared to 120 years of record keeping in the United States, 2014 was particularly wet in the North, cold in the Midwest, and warm along the Pacific Coast, according to maps from the 2014 National Climatic Data Center State of the Climate Report.2
Cities, and by extension our water utilities, are in a unique position with respect to climate volatility. Not only are our water utilities on the front line of the major effects of an increasingly warming world—water scarcity, reductions in snowpack, changes in the timing and velocity of natural water delivery systems, increased flooding and storm activity—they also make significant contributions to GHG emissions due to the energy required to move water around.3
Adopting a Smart Water First mentality allows the tools of demand-side management and comparative behavioral science to reduce the overall consumption of water while ensuring the collectability of all available revenue. Further, analytics will ensure all customers are billed—correctly and timely. By connecting each property and citizen, water utilities are a unique avenue to create and inform the discussion around sustainability.
WE ARE ALL AGING
City infrastructure is aging. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the infrastructure we do not see on a daily basis. Our fitted water and wastewater infrastructure has served us well for many generations and can be credited with much of the economic success our cities enjoy. However, it remains invisible to inspection and invisible to investment. The result is that our water and wastewater infrastructure is at a crossroads, creating the potential for dramatic disruption as these vital systems reach the end of their useful lives.
The explosion of news with respect to the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan is a symptom of this, challenging the status quo for water systems. We can expect that the regulatory agencies across the United States will begin to demand assessments of water quality throughout the distribution systems. In a city that has hundreds or thousands of miles of buried infrastructure, it is astonishing that there are few, if any, sensors monitoring those systems. In fact, the majority of water quality assessments are conducted as the water exits the water plant. Only three Safe Drinking Water Act rules apply “outside the fence.” This will change quickly as the negative public health potential for unmonitored, aging infrastructure becomes increasingly apparent.
Within this challenge, however, lies an opportunity. As our infrastructure ages, we are being afforded an opportunity to reimagine the water supply system for cities. Concurrent with this, however, is a requirement to get more out of our existing infrastructure; to drive more capacity from existing treatment systems; to use information to manage pressure transients to control bursts; to use technology to eliminate wasteful non-revenue water; and to maximize the economic potential of our existing infrastructure.
By choosing Smart Water First, cities can realize significant operational and financial efficiencies that reduce the scale of infrastructure investment requirements while also finding missing revenue in existing systems. Smart Water First secures the basic economic security of our cities by maximizing the use and life of existing systems. And as we seek to get more life and more performance from our installed infrastructure, understanding the current, real-time condition of our systems is critical.
THE PUBLIC BENEFITS
Water is, for the most part, a local issue. Customers are more likely to realize, see and support the benefits of Smart Grid for Water technologies—such as conservation of water resources, life extension for fitted infrastructure, and revenue stability for their utility—locally.
The benefits of Smart Grid for Water transcend locality to directly affect individuals. While the cost of water is increasing—up an average of 48 percent since 2010 and up 5 percent in 2015 alone4—the tools of the Smart Grid for Water not only find revenue to reduce the scope and scale of those rate increases, but also offer the individual the tools and information necessary to manage their own consumption to control their own costs.
Smart Water First allows each person in the community to realize tangible, including financial, benefits from the deployment of technology. This speaks directly to acceptance. Engaging the public in matters that result in real local benefits is a key element of a positive customer journey.
“Understanding the role of information and the household consumer is integral for transforming a ‘Water supply City’ where the focus is on infrastructure alone to a ‘water sensitive city’ where infrastructure users and the environment are integrated.”5
WATER AS A GATEWAY
The increasing need for vigilant resource management as a result of climate variability, the increasing age and fragility of our water distribution systems, the increasing regulatory oversight and standards, and the demand for public engagement are immediate drivers and value propositions for cities entering the digital age.
Adopting a Smart Water First approach to Smart Cities allows for the infrastructure and benefits of these digital initiatives to be deployed with maximum internal (utility) and external (citizen) impact while providing the architecture to exploit future Smart Cities initiatives.
Investing in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems puts a communication network within the reach of all homes and businesses in the city. The availability of standardized, low-cost, low-power sensors provides the city with the potential to collect significant data from their distributed assets addressing the pressing infrastructure issues of today, while engaging the customers in a real and meaningful conversation about the benefits of Smart Cities.
Starting from the Smart Grid for Water, cities can overlay management for storm water, street lights, trees and greenspace, traffic and amenities. With the communication and data layers complete as a function of the Smart Grid for Water, the opportunity for additional services becomes expansive.
FATHOM represents a singular advance in the Smart Water First philosophy. Through FATHOM, utilities can realize the benefits of highly granular data outside the structural confines of traditional utility systems. FATHOM democratizes the collection and curation of data while also providing efficient and economical tools to transform this data to information.
Smart Water First provides a data-driven architecture for our cities’ water systems, solving immediate and impactful resource, financial and economic sustainability problems while supporting the incremental adoption of other Smart Cities initiatives.
1 Johnson, Kevin, “The New Federalist Compact”, United States Council of Mayors Winter Meeting, January 21, 2015, https://www.usmayors.org/83rdWinterMeeting/media/012115-release-StateoftheCities.pdf
2 K. LaFond, “Infographic: The Drier, Wetter, Warming U.S.”, Circle of Blue, January 28, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/infographic-the-drier-wetter-warming-u-s/
3 California Energy Commission, 2005. Integrated Energy Policy Report, November 2005, CEC-100-2005-007-CMF.
4 Brett Walton, “Price of Water 2016: Up 5 Percent in 30 Major U.S. Cities; 48 Percent Increase Since 2010”, Circle of Blue, http://www.circleofblue.org/waterpricing/ (accessed 25 May 2016)
5 Damien P. Giurco , Stuart B. White and Rodney A. Stewart, “Smart Metering and Water End-Use Data: Conservation Benefits and Privacy Risks”, Water 2010, 2, 461-467Download PDF