The future evolution of IT in water infrastructure management

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Courtesy of Innovyze

The water industry has been slow to take advantage of information technology (IT), but it is catching up quickly. In many parts of the world, water managers now depend entirely on IT to manage their water supply and wastewater services. IT has become a core part of the business.

Computing environments have evolved from individual mainframe computers, through networks based on mini-computers, to the current generation of personal computers (PCs), which put computing power on many desktops and in many homes. Today, we can access a wide variety of information from the Internet, and rely on embedded processors to control devices ranging from cars to washing machines. In the future, we can look forward to increasing use of embedded processors and networked access to vast computing power to generate information.

Underground infrastructure, including water distribution networks, sewers and storm drains, are amongst the most valuable assets of a city or country. Yet they are also inaccessible and difficult to maintain, and are generally neglected. When these networks go wrong, they can disrupt the lives of many people and cause considerable financial loss.

However, attitudes are changing. Water managers now realize that it is not possible to build and bury underground infrastructure and then forget about it. Our underground networks need ongoing maintenance and management. As a consequence, the discipline of infrastructure asset management is rapidly gaining in importance. And asset management depends very much on IT services.

Utilities now undertake many surveys to assess the materials, location and connectivity of their infrastructure. Mapping systems such as GIS cannot hold all this data, and as a consequence much valuable information has been lost.

Nowadays new IT systems, such as Wallingford Software’s InfoNet solution, allow all the data relating to the underground infrastructure to be collected, validated and made available to anyone in the organization as asset information. Increasingly, other IT systems such as GIS and maintenance management systems require this information, so effective system-to-system data exchange is necessary.

Water managers also need more. They need to know how well the water distribution networks, sewers and stormwater networks are performing, and how well they will perform in future. They need to know what levels of service can be provided. Managers are turning to hydraulic modeling for the answers.

In the past, hydraulic models were mainly used for planning extensions to networks. But the future lies in embedded, automated, integrated models used in the control room. Live data from telemetry is used to update such models continuously, and the results are used to control the water and sewer networks. Wallingford Software uses online models extensively for flood forecasting with its FloodWorks system. It is now transferring InfoWorks models of sewer, storm and water supply over to everyday, operational use.

Water managers now have access to some of the most sophisticated IT systems, and in the future they can look forward to being able to access increasing computer power to help them with their key task: improving levels of service in water supply and sewerage.

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