How connected technology is improving our underground water networks

sewer
The source of the following information is from the QUARTZ article by the same name. Read the original article here.

Hidden beneath the city, there is a vast subway system. Not the kind of subway a New Yorker would ride to work, but the kind that water uses to move from Point A to Point B. There are miles of tubes winding through our cities. You can’t see it, but this grey infrastructure plays an important role in how cities handle everything from sewage to the water from your tap. But despite its importance, much of the United States’ sewer infrastructure is seriously outdated. South Bend’s sewer infrastructure is also outdated, though the city has been taking big steps toward correcting the problems in recent years.

More than 750 cities in the US, including South Bend, IN, still rely on combined sewers; a sewage system that uses the same pipes to carry rain water, sewage, residential drain water, and industrial wastewater. During times of high flow (e.g. storms, melting snow, etc.), the pipes exceed capacity forcing the mixed wastewater to overflow into rivers, streams, lakes, or the ocean. We call this CSO, or combined sewer overflow. As you can imagine, this creates some serious problems for water quality and health. In fact, CSO has been a major issue here in South Bend. Fortunately, in recent years, the city has been taking steps and investing money in solutions moving forward.

In fact, CSO has been a major issue here in South Bend. Fortunately, in recent years, the city has been taking steps and investing money in solutions moving forward.

Infrastructure is getting better, slowly but surely. Cities across the country have begun implementing technology that helps better manage their water resources. Sensors, data analytics, and internet of things software are turning dumb infrastructure smart and improving water sanitation and conservation along the way.

Companies like EmNet are helping to push this new era of infrastructure forward.

Companies, like one of BCe2’s partner organizations EmNet, are helping to push this new era of infrastructure forward. The Midwestern startup was founded in 2004 with the idea of helping cities manage their wastewater through optimizing the water infrastructure it already has. EmNet’s goal is to automate the decision-making process around wastewater management by installing sensors and gathering data that can help a city determine where to direct water through their underground system in order to prevent overflows. In South Bend, Indiana, for example, EmNet has installed more than 150 sensors that gather information about water flow and rainfall. This data, combined with predictive weather data, is crunched and analyzed in order to provide real-time decisions about water flow. The Bowman Creek project has been working with EmNet to collect sensor data and develop solutions for the Bowman Creek.

Since implementing the EmNet technology, South Bend has reduced CSO overflow by a billion gallons per year. In all, the city is cutting nearly $400M from a $600M proposed infrastructure overhaul.

Since implementing the system, South Bend has reduced wastewater overflow by a billion gallons per year. In all, the city is cutting nearly $400 million from a $600 million proposed infrastructure overhaul thanks to EmNet’s solution. Not only are they avoiding future infrastructure costs, but they’ve already achieved 70% of their objective with a nominal amount of money respective to what they would’ve spent,” says Tim Braun, EmNet’s enterprise architect.

Not only are they avoiding future infrastructure costs, but they’ve already achieved 70% of their objective with a nominal amount of money respective to what they would’ve spent.” – Tim Braun, EmNet

Though cities are investing in their underground water networks, issues still persist that plague some of our most important infrastructure. Connected technology is helping to resolve some those problems, but its greatest contribution is less tangible than reducing repair costs and saving billions of gallons of water every year: Technology is showing us that when it comes to hidden infrastructure, sometimes the most important improvement is being able to identify the problem in the first place.

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