Accessibility and Analysis

Enhancing utility operations with data management

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The water industry has been “data-rich and information poor,” notes Graham Symmonds, chief knowledge officer for FATHOM.

“That will continue without a reconceptualization of how, where, and why we’re using this data,” he adds. “A lot of work has to be done on utilities to be able to collect, curate, and analyze this data. There’s a lot that’s literally coming down the pipe for utilities to deal with and data management is a little bit lagging.”

Companies like FATHOM and others—as well as the utilities—seek to change that.

Today when it comes to data management for water utilities, look to the cloud.

That’s where data is increasingly being stored and water utility directors now have many options for how to leverage that data.

John Fillinger, director of utility marketing for Badger Meter, notes that historically, the water industry has moved at a “slow and steady pace” toward disruptive technologies, “conservative and slow to adopt” them.

“We’re starting to see things change in the way utilities look at how they want to solve problems, especially on the meter reading side,” says Fillinger, adding that ties into Badger Meter’s “smart water” solutions.

Flexibility is important to water utilities, says Fillinger.

“We’re seeing new technologies come in for fixed network that are low-power, wide-area network technologies,” he says. “The true definition of smart city and smart water is that they’re utilizing technologies that allow the utilities to purchase from multiple suppliers and they’re not locking themselves into a single supplier arrangement like a traditional fixed network system does.”

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Among such technologies on the market is Badger Meter’s cellular technology.

Fillinger says Badger Meter’s approach with cellular technology enables water utilities to focus on their strengths of managing their water systems and allows other companies such as Badger Meter to handle the tasks of managing networks and gateways in order to obtain more data and leverage it to their advantage.

For instance, Badger Meter’s system offers 15-minute interval data from its meters. Using that data to drive proactive decisions for a utility means transcending the receipt of that data to a transformational process to be able to get intelligent information for the utility to utilize, says Fillinger.

The benefit of cellular technology is that the infrastructure is already in place for the utilities, Fillinger points out.

“They’re not having to wait for a third party to install something,” he says. “If they wanted to get started tomorrow, they could buy endpoints. They’re all set and ready to go. It gives them the utmost in flexibility moving forward.”

Another strength of a low-power, wide-area network is demonstrated in Badger Meter’s BEACON AMA software, which resides in the cloud “so it allows utilities the flexibility and the ability with any internet-connected device to be able to access the data in a very secure and reliable system,” says Fillinger.

The Badger Meter “smart water” approach also enables utilities to do a “surgical” deployment, in that if a water utility wanted to deploy the technology in a fraction of its overall number of meters, it can do so, says Fillinger.

“It can be as few as one endpoint and the deployment could be done or it could be as many as the entire population because it grows and scales with the utility,” he adds.

Case in point: Santa Fe, NM, depends on a scarce water supply. Five years ago, it became apparent to the city’s water division that its drive-by meter reading system was failing, with meters reading wrong or becoming unresponsive.

The system was operating at 60 to 65% capacity, resulting in thousands of gallons of water loss, forcing the division’s technicians to manually read the uncommunicative water meters.

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Nick Schiavo, public utilities department director, and his team sought a solution to provide actionable data that the water utility could use to regularly monitor consumption patterns, detect and fix leaks, and identify inefficiencies in the water system.

Through a request for proposal (RFP) process, the city selected Badger Meter’s BEACON Advanced Metering Analytics (AMA) managed solution with ORION Cellular endpoints as well as E-Series Ultrasonic meters.

Schiavo notes that his utility had, for the first time, the ability to track at all times how much water was produced and how much went through the meters instead of manually reading them once a month and guessing about unaccounted water as well as being able to identify and address system leaks.

Santa Fe’s Water Division implemented the BEACON AMA managed solution with ORION Cellular endpoints using cellular networks to transmit information from the meters to the water utility to eliminate the need for fixed-network infrastructure.

“When you turn on BEACON AMA, it tells you exactly how many meters in your system are leaking,” notes Kyle Sager, project manager for the city of Santa Fe. “It was startling at first—we had 1,200 to 1,400 leaks. But when we started drilling them down, some of them were tiny leaks and easily fixable. For the big leaks, we’re finding them within 24 hours instead of a month like we had with our old system and we’re taking care of them right away.”

The system also enables Santa Fe customers to have access to a smartphone/web-based consumer application, EyeOnWater, enabling them to take a hands-on approach to their water usage via regular notifications and timely data.

“The EyeOnWater application has had a huge impact on our customer service capabilities and has been a great success for our residents,” notes Caryn Fiorina, utility billing division director. “The application provides consumers with the capability to see consumption daily, hourly, monthly, and annually via their smartphones, computers, or tablets.”

The application also enables customers to set alerts notifying them of a potential leak or high-usage period and allows them to communicate with the utility on issues of concern.

Symmonds notes he has no doubt there is an increasing amount of data becoming available for water and wastewater utilities that’s a function of sensors and improvement in measuring technologies and meters.

“The opportunity to collect data has always been a bit of a challenge for utilities and it’s becoming more of an issue as we snap on these new devices,” he points out. “Now you can get distributed sensors for a distribution system, you can get pressure from your meters, you can shut off your meters remotely now,” he says.

Small utilities don’t have the resources to handle that type of infrastructure by themselves, so the availability of cloud storage and services that take advantage of it will be fundamental to water utility data management programs going forward, says Symmonds, adding, “We have always been a big believer in the ways that the cloud technology has democratized the availability of solutions.”

To that end, FATHOM looks at the billing vertically and allows utilities to access technology and services they might not otherwise be able to afford “because it’s a subscription model where those technologies no longer require massive investments in infrastructure or implementation at the utility end,” says Symmonds.

As business models and acceptance of these new strategies evolve for utilities, they realize there are opportunities to modernize their existing processes by accessing new services through new companies, he adds.

The opportunities for utilities transcend billing to all of its elements, including asset management systems that are available in a cloud services model in which utilities can assess pipeline monitoring, leak detection, and event monitoring and management, Symmonds points out.

“The services model allows utilities to get around this conundrum of data management and makes it that much easier to access modern tools to manage existing infrastructure,” he adds.

FATHOM also offers the Smart Grid for Water.

“It’s a term we coined a few years back to introduce the concept of how data was going to change the operational philosophies of utilities. Done correctly, there are ways to service both capacity and dollars in data,” says Symmonds.

The Smart Grid for Water is a combination of consumption (AMI), customer (CIS), and location (GIS) data, designed to create actionable information.

“With sensoring technology, you can pin down exactly your average daily flows, peak month flows, and peak day flows, and become better at managing the actual distribution of water,” says Symmonds.

“Once you know what your real-time demand is, you can use that to essentially tap what is committed capacity within your system but is actually never used.”

Symmonds points out many components of water infrastructure are designed with constant demand built into them: lift stations, distribution systems, pump pressure stations, and tanks.

“Everything has some committed demand that is actually never used,” he adds. “We have this ability to extend the life of existing systems to serve more people and that’s all a function of getting better, more granular, and more time-relevant data.”

Symmonds adds that FATHOM’s Smart Grid for Water “is a way to communicate the value of that data. It also highlights the importance of intersecting different data sets: metering data, sensor data, building department data, customer information data, GIS data, operational SCADA data, and even social media data and combine or cross-compare them and get interesting insights.”

Most utilities do not have to install infrastructure to get the information, but already have it, Symmonds notes.

“Most utilities are going to AMI or at least AMR on the metering side,” he adds “Most of them have customer information billing systems, SCADA systems, and most of them have ways of communicating with their customers.”

A case in point is the ability to be able to cross-compare data to understand the state of contaminants in a system to the point where its propagation can be modeled throughout the distribution system in such a way that it can be contained and flushed out and customers in its path can be notified, Symmonds says.

Credit: ITRON
Itron’s Intelis Water Meter

“That’s a more proactive operational philosophy,” he says. “In order to realize that, you have to have the ability to intersect the data.”

Addressing non-revenue water (NRW) loss is a key, driving factor in data management as water utilities grapple with fiscal austerity, water scarcity, aging infrastructure, and increasing expectations from consumers and regulators, Symmonds writes in a white paper on the subject.

He points out that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that by 2020, the capital infrastructure funding gap for water and wastewater will be $84 billion.

Closing the gap will take a concerted effort that will include going beyond the norm to seek efficiencies, especially when there is “very little appetite for massive rate hikes,” Symmonds adds.

“One efficiency yet to be fully exploited by utilities is monetizing the entire utility water cycle,” he says. “Ensuring that all water produced, treated, pumped, and distributed is actually delivered and actually billed is vitally important—environmentally and fiscally.”


Utilities are leaking money through non-revenue water, says Symmonds, adding that the USGS reports that US water systems lose 1.7 trillion gallons of water annually through 240,000 water main breaks, with some parts of the country experiencing larger numbers as the infrastructure nears the end of its service life. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the cost of NRW to be around $2.6 billion annually, he notes.

“An equally important component of NRW is not leaking drops, but leaking data,” says Symmonds. “The fundamental business tools used to ensure the utility’s financial health are decoupled from the physical infrastructure. The result is that many utilities are not only leaking physical water but are also leaking the data associated with the production, treatment, distribution, and sale of that water.”

To correct this problem, utilities must move to a “smarter” approach such as AMI “with substantially increased data granularity and direct integration with customer information systems under a geo-temporal data mode. Such a system will plug leaking data from time disparity, billing system errors, and meter degradation,” says Symmonds.

While a “utility can tell you to the millisecond when a booster pump is turned on, in many cases it cannot tell you until next month—or the month after, or six months later, or in some cases never—where that water went,” he points out.

In various cases, when utilities have adopted FATHOM’s Smart Grid for Water, they begin to derive significant water loss reductions and financial benefits, Symmonds says.

Other technologies leveraging data are coming to the US after having been proven successful elsewhere.

Itron recently announced its first solid-state, end-to-end water meter for North America: Intelis. When coupled with Itron’s multi-purpose network, the solid-state intelligent water meter enables utilities to harness the power of data to improve water management and resourcefulness through tracking flow usage patterns at the meter level.

The meter also offers AMI and additional management capabilities with Itron’s OpenWay Riva and Gen5 networks.

Itron’s open standards networks are designed to enable water utilities to support smarter, more efficient operations and deliver actionable insights.

“Research indicates that over 80% of utilities in the US are looking to invest in smart water infrastructure with a clear trend toward two-way communicating meters over one-way. As water utilities continue to embrace smart water solutions, the introduction of new market offerings such as the Itron Intelis water meter is great news for the sector,” said Ben Gardner, president of Northeast Group, a market intelligence firm with expertise in the smart infrastructure sector.

Itron Intelis water meters have no moving parts and are designed to maintain accuracy throughout their lifetime without the need for hardware maintenance while meeting American Water Works Association standards for residential meters. Real-time alarms and flow data from the meter, coupled with an OpenWay Riva water module, enable utilities to respond quickly to backflow, leaks, or theft.

Made of polyphthalamide polymer, the meters exceed the durability demands of the industry’s traditional metal-based meter bodies.

Gavin van Tonder, president of Itron’s Water Business line, notes that with the roll-out of the Itron Intelis water meter, utilities can add more efficiency to their smart infrastructure and better address customers’ needs with real-time metering data.

“By tracking flow usage, utilities can improve the efficiency of their water distribution systems and detect leaks to reduce wastage and improve resourceful water usage,” he says.

Mike Scarpelli, director, Itron product management and customer quality, points out the meters are designed like a mechanical meter in that the flow and usage can be viewed.

“It also has various alarms that are created throughout the usage for high flow, low flow, temperature, and low battery,” he adds. “It also depicts flow through a faucet.”

Part of the Intelis design focuses on a flooded installation application. The meter was designed as a “very reliable and robust solution for crimping and sealing that canister with the register and the lid together” to address water intrusion challenges, says Scarpelli, noting that 85 to 90% of North American installations in residential areas are in pits.

The meter brings together existing Itron technologies. When put together with Itron’s end-to-end solutions—whether it be OpenWay Riva Network in the fourth quarter of 2018 or Gen5 in the first half of 2019—it adds to the clarity and the data sets a utility can utilize, Scarpelli notes.

“Through collection management or any of those applications, you’ll get actions to go work on to prioritize,” adds Scarpelli.

Leak detection and how it couples with NRW is another significant criterion in getting data out so customers can benefit by utilities stopping leaks, notes Scarpelli.

Scarpelli sees smart metering in the water sector starting to catch up with where the electrical sector started 15 years ago.

“It started the slow take over in solid-state metering, getting more data, and delivering that data to utilities so that the end-customer gets faster service, prompter reaction,” he says. “It will take the water industry probably five to seven years to cross over the threshold from mechanical meter to solid-state to adopt a technology that is available for utilities to make better and faster decisions and become more efficient so they don’t roll a truck at $120 an hour to search for something.

“They have actionable items to go work on because their data sets have been prioritized through applications and an in-depth solution.”

Another system being piloted in the US is offered by EMAGIN. HARVI (Hybrid Adaptive Real-time Virtual Intelligence) is designed as an artificial intelligence-driven platform to enable utility operators to intelligently manage their infrastructure in real time.

EMAGIN’s AI platform exploits data-driven technology to learn the nonlinear dynamics of both industrial and utility-scale water and wastewater systems. HARVI is designed to enable utility operators to quickly detect, learn about, and manage emerging issues in their system hours before they occur.

HARVI is also designed to help utilities hit operations, maintenance, and environmental targets with minimal capital expenditure to maximize savings through proactive management.

It clones a utility’s physical infrastructure on the cloud. It is equipped with an elegant dashboard that helps operators create, monitor, and visualize their key performance indicators in real-time.

HARVI’s Virtual Assistant enables users to conduct scenario-based analyses in simple text.

The data-driven and cloud-based architecture is designed for a seamless integration and automated process with minimal staff overhead.

In implementing HARVI into a water utility system, staff from Emagin meets with utility managers to identify challenges and goals and explore historical data, plant specifications, and the project scope.

Historical data is used to train HARVI to site-specific data and internal models are built and validated.

HARVI is then integrated with the utility’s SCADA system and staff members are provided administrative access to the platform.

Jon Grant, EMAGIN chief strategy officer, notes that the data-driven HARVI system allows utilities to see what’s going to happen within their systems 24 hours in advance, making recommendations on how to operate assets.

In a network distribution system, for example, HARVI looks at pump schedules to enable a utility to reduce energy by using the pumps that are the most energy-efficient to meet demands.

“It provides a guide to operate the system through a web-based dashboard that makes recommendations and has analytics to explain why those recommendations were made,” says Grant.

End-users can customize certain features such as proactive alarms based on forecasted conditions.

Grant says using HARVI is akin to using a map application in which a traveler inputs destination information and the application offers options for getting there, including course correction in response to conditions.

Leak detection depends on sensor placement.

Becca Fong, business development manager at environmental software developer KISTERS North America, indicates that recently, the UN Global Environmental Monitoring Water Program went public with its water quality database known as GEMStat (www.portal.gemstat.org).


“The site is meant to inform economic development, capacity building, and training initiatives,” she adds. “Since data is reported by public agencies and NGOs worldwide, the underlying database features automated quality assurance while water data managers perform manual quality control. Other basic functionalities like analyses and state and federal reporting also are conducted. A growing number of US clients are implementing the technology to educate their residents and make them aware of flood risks or beach closures.”

Fong adds that two flood forecasting systems also are in place.

“The US-focused National Water Model portal is not made public,” she says. “The technology behind it is similar to the Flemish Water Portal, which has been public since 2014 at www.waterinfo.be.

“The system takes in radar rainfall data, other rainfall forecasts, and in-situ observations and integrates them with more than 1,000 models in order to generate forecasts for the next two to 10 days. The real-time system affords flood control professionals more time to plan and respond to threats.”

Fong described how her company’s technology coordinates collected data and forecasts that inform Merced Irrigation District (MID) operations.

“The district is still experiencing population growth and thus, balancing ag and urban water demands,” she adds.

In what she calls a “whiplash” of wet and dry years in California, Fong says the Merced Irrigation District in California’s Central Valley has come to optimize operations through real-time forecasting that predicts short-term reservoir inflows and supports operational decisions.

“The fully automated MIDH2O decision-support model pulls quality-control data from its water information system, computes, and every six hours reports on past, current, and estimated future conditions that may impact operations,” she says.

The deployment of the MIDH2O Hydrologic and Hydraulic Optimization Model was a collaborative effort including KISTERS, water resource modeling firm Resource Management Associates, and consulting engineer firm Dewberry.

The District operates reservoirs for irrigation, flood control, water supply, and hydropower generation as well as environmental stewardship and public recreation. It ranges from the central Sierra Nevada mountain range’s western slopes to the San Joaquin River, with a total drainage area of 1,266 square miles. Elevation ranges from 52 feet to 13,090 feet above sea level.

With increasing inconsistencies in precipitation and snowmelt, MID wanted to predict short-term and season reservoir inflows and take appropriate action.

Every six hours, a generated report covers precipitation and snowpack, the status of reservoirs, diversion demand, and forecasted flow for key downstream locations. The appendix includes the current San Joaquin Valley report from the National Weather Service and historical plots for San Joaquin Valley basin precipitation, California snow water content, and Lake McClure storage, as well as a Merced Watershed Report featuring historical snow water equivalent time series for Ostrander and Tenaya lakes during years identified as critical.

Data sources include flow data from a network of stream gauges and SCADA data from the District itself. Information from the California Department of Water Resources, California Data Exchange Center is imported into the water information system developed by KISTERS, which is called WISKI.

Automated and manual quality assurance tasks are performed before data is passed through to a sequence of Hydrologic Engineering Center models: Hydrologic Modeling System (HMS), Reservoir System Simulation (ResSim) and River Analysis System.

The first model output becomes input for the subsequent model, says Fong.

After all models have run, resulting information is distributed back to WISKI and the report is generated, she adds.

“The District uses two weeks of observed data in order to simulate one week into the future,” says Fong. “From observed streamflow data and soil moisture deficit computations, HMS provides reservoir inflow and elevation releases, supplemental release, and irrigation demand data to the ResSim model.”

Scripts and KISTERS’ web interoperability services ensure secure transfer of information and in a format appropriate for the decision-support system, says Fong.

The HEC model has an interactive GIS-based interface.

“However, a headless implementation may be integrated with other interfaces,” she says. “The District uses the HEC Decision Storage System interface custom configured with the web services to quickly and easily plot or visualize and tabulate data with the click of a few icons.”

Fong points out that HEC Real Time Simulation is the free public version of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Corps Water Management System Control and Visualization Interface.

“As such, all HEC models, including those implemented in the MIDH2O optimization model, are free to the public. WISKI integration is a standard feature available in HEC-RTS version 3.1,” she adds.

Dewberry also will develop a long-term planning model to support new and refined delivery strategies for the district, says Fong.

Currently, the development of an on-farm efficiency and conservation program is underway, she says, adding that Merced is “another jurisdiction balancing population growth and its ag-based economy.”

As data technologies evolve, so too intensify security concerns.

“From a security standpoint, the data on a cellular system transfers from point to point through the network so the endpoint sends data up to the cellular gateway,” says Fillinger. “From there, it’s transferred on a private network line to a data security warehouse for the network carrier and from there it goes directly through another secure channel—a private network into the BEACON-hosted application. Nowhere does any data touch the public internet.”

That acts to help eliminate the risk of vulnerability to someone hacking into the system, Fillinger points out.

Addressing security concerns, Symmonds points out that utilities have been reticent to put anything out on the web.

“Getting people to have a SCADA system in the cloud has been a tough sell, but the reality is most of the cloud services systems have entire teams of people working on security and ensuring that systems are not breached.  WE_bug_web

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