Securing Water for the Future

A recent article estimated the USA’s investments in water and wastewater upgrades for the next 20 years at somewhere between 2.5 and 4 trillion US dollars. If we take a moment to extrapolate that number globally, the total amount probably exceeds $100 trillion.

To put it in perspective, that works out to the equivalent of one subprime mortgage crisis per year for the next twenty years. Or the combined nominal GDP of the entire planet for 15 months, if you prefer a different payment plan. Astronomical numbers, really.

Now, water is the most vital resource we have. Without it, nothing would survive. Less than 1% of the total water available on earth is readily available for consumption based on USGS reports. So if we have to invest such a princely sum to safeguard that resource, we should. But we should also be absolutely certain that we’re investing it the right way. We all have to make sure that the 1% available to us is not needlessly over-harvested and not needlessly lost.

Guiding investments in water infrastructure

In many cases, water companies and departments are dealing with infrastructure that is generations old. For all intents and purposes, most networks were designed and built based on what was necessary at the time, with very little thought about future requirements.

So where do we start? First of all, water companies and water departments around the world all face the same challenge: to ensure that water is always available. This means limiting water losses (i.e. non-revenue water) while simultaneously maximizing water acquisition, all without compromising water as a resource. And by that logic, organizations that distribute water to their constituents are as good a place to begin as any.

Water distribution companies want to know where they should start investing first. After all, they have a legislative directive to provide 24/7 service, while their source of income is regulated – every person has the right to water, even if they do not pay for it. That’s a tough spot to be in, and for these companies, identifying and taking advantage of quick wins is almost a necessity.

But before water companies can achieve those quick wins, they need to have the right tools for the job. They need to make every bit of information manageable. That in itself is not a simple task – it is often considered an overhead investment. And the return on that investment is not as obvious as it would be when replacing a pipe. Yet therein lies the key – how can you know if the investment in the pipe was the right investment?

Focus on the water network

As demand for water continues to (over)stress the network, having a complete overview of your assets is imperative towards maintenance and growth of that network. This means that water utilities need to invest in an asset management program. Asset management in itself is quite an undertaking. If you look at the anatomy of asset management as described by the IAM (Institute of Asset Management), it requires a culture change within the water utility. And while that can be a challenge within any organization, it is especially tough under municipal leadership, where cost reductions regularly take priority over long term investments.

Of course, the benefit of Asset Management is that it ensures that you get the maximum value at the lowest risk and lowest cost. It is a coordinated activity to realize the value from assets. Quality data and robust information are the bedrock of good decision making. Asset management requires a similarly solid foundation: a superior information system that focusses on data quality, consistency and integrity. Most systems force you to model the world hierarchically and approach it like that, while it is in fact preferable to use “real world modeling” by way of spatial reality and topology. This will enable you to answer questions in the future that you cannot think of now. In hierarchical systems you can only efficiently answer the questions that you modeled against.

Modeling systems based on the real world therefore have immense value and utility. Not only is every descriptive feature of an asset associated with it in such a system, but its spatial location, topology, history, audits, incidents and maintenance activities are all stored in time series as well. This allows the water utility to keep track of every single asset to support the ISO55000 directive. In order to achieve that, a robust data model is imperative – preferably one that is scalable as well.

Establishing a single source of truth

Once you have registered every asset, you now have a single source of truth for your water assets that can feed systems such as ERP and HA. One benefit of proper registration is the fact that it gives utilities a much better overview of the value of their assets. All too often, unregistered assets have an effect on the bottom line.

Registration is also the key towards usability. Without proper registration, you cannot analyze, trace, query, report or even integrate properly with that data – you can only visualize. So selecting a tool that can accomplish this for the water company becomes a complex set of processes. The due diligence required before selection must be executed on what a water utility wants to achieve today and in the future. All too often, that process is clouded by less important considerations.

If we want to be able to move forward and meet the challenges that are waiting down the line, we need a solid foundation. Registration with quality checks, single source of truth, scalability and performance provides that foundation.

Now, massive investments need to be made, that much is clear. So let’s make them as smart as possible, without compromising the job that needs to be completed.

John Leeuwenburg

Global Product Manager

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