Using data to see what is happening across an entire water network is regarded as the next frontier for Australia’s water utilities; the next step in a high tech future. However, the future is already here. Data capture and real-time water quality information is already being implemented and is changing the way water utilities operate. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your organization doesn’t get left behind in the data revolution.
Current challenges for the water industry have been well-documented including a rapidly growing population, aging and decaying infrastructure in need of maintenance and replacement, and climate issues, such as all of New South Wales being in drought for much of 2018. These issues can all affect the quality of water that reaches the customer.
In order to create the right solutions to these and other issues, organizations need to fully understand what they are dealing with by having all the information about their networks available to them at the time they need it.
Water Quality Australia’s Report, Characterizing the relationship between water quality and water quantity, says the gaps in knowledge about the relationship between quality and quantity is hindering the ability for water utilities to make management decisions, with part of this issue being the infrequency of network water quality monitoring.
A lot of current network water quality data capture involves weekly or monthly monitoring at various sites to assess how water quality is changing over time. While this can help determine specific point-in-time issues, it isn’t very helpful for trends or up-to-date incident responses. The future direction of data capture involves a frequent clear real-time overview of a water distribution network.
Preparing for challenges now
Peak water industry body the Australian Water Association is currently pushing innovation across the sector through its Water Innovation Forum and awards, with industry insight often coming directly from the implementation of real-time monitoring technologies.
Utilities are starting to get on board with real-time monitoring as a way to better understand and manage their water networks and the idea of data being an asset in itself is beginning to be accepted. However, regarding real-time data in the distribution network, most utilities are still only in the initial consideration and learning stages.
One utility that is ahead of the curve by having these water quality monitoring systems already in place is Gold Coast Water, which has been using TracWater’s cloud-based battery-powered products for the last several years.
Australian company TracWater offers information-as-a-service to water utilities through battery-powered cloud-based water quality monitoring products and has taken 840 billion measurements to date on the Gold Coast alone.
TracWater supported Gold Coast Water in the implementation and execution of the City of Gold Coast's water quality management strategy for the Commonwealth Games period by continuous 24/7 measurement of water quality from selected sites in their distribution network and converting this into actionable information.
With a threat to the city’s drinking water supply one of the most significant risks, TracWater’s cloud computing systems analysed for potential contaminants in real time. TracWater played a key role in the successful mitigation of this risk.
Len McKelvey, TracWater’s Managing Director, said that this was just one example of how the company has already established a strong data capture system for water utilities that is improving the management of networks.
“Online water quality monitoring is essential for all water distribution networks in Australia to not only have better visibility if there is a quality or contamination problem that needs to be resolved quickly, but to also see where inefficiencies lie and make actionable changes to benefit the operation of Australia’s water network,” Mr McKelvey said.
Why is real-time information important?
It’s simple really, having a comprehensive overview of what is happening in your network reduces costs and safety risks, as many problems can be spotted before they occur and areas where efficiencies can be improved are identified quickly.
Having data from across the network sent to one centralised place also reduces the need to have onsite and field monitoring. Onsite monitoring is costly, time-consuming, and is more at risk of human error than a digitised solution. There are also safety considerations for crew members travelling frequently to test sites in different locations.
Continuous monitoring through cloud-based technologies allows utilities to see the specific information they need across what is often a large geographical area. The benefit of having access to real-time information is that it is data that can actually be used to make operating decisions; a utility can get the exact information they need now, rather than weeks later.
“While it will become more prominent in the future, the technology is actually available now, ready to implement in plug and play format and integrates with SCADA. Water utilities need to make sure their networks are up to date with the latest quality monitoring innovations in the sector to ensure they can proactively combat future sector challenges,” Mr McKelvey said.