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Smart Cities Water and Wastewater

Smart Cities Water and Wastewater Foundations

Few people need to be reminded of water’s importance. Along with energy, it is essential for everyday life. Water provides sustenance, supports industry and irrigates fields. But city administrations are struggling to meet rising demand from growing populations while contending with issues such as water quality, flooding, drought and aging infrastructure.

This chapter will give cities the tools to apply smart technology for economical and sustainable water supply. It begins by outlining urban water realities. Next, it explains the benefits cities can achieve by increasing the intelligence of their water systems. Finally, it talks about the technology targets cities should aim to gain those benefits.

We need water for human consumption, of course. And to produce food. But not everyone realizes we need large volumes of water to produce energy. Thermoelectric power plants boil water to create steam to drive electricity-producing turbines. In 2005, U.S. power plants withdrew four times as much water as all U.S. residences, accounting for 41 percent of total water use.

The so-called “energy-water nexus” works in both directions. It takes a lot of water to create electricity. It takes a lot of electricity to pump and treat water. Worldwide, we use an average of 7 percent of total electricity to pump and treat water and wastewater, but the percentage can be much higher.

But perhaps this next statistic explains the challenge best of all. According to the United Nations, about two-thirds of the world’s population  4.6 billion people will face water-stressed conditions in the next decade.


Think you don’t really need to worry about water in your area? Think again. Here is a partial list of the issues confronting urban water supplies.

Sea levels on the rise. For coastal cities, water quality will be further eroded by rising sea levels, which can increase salt concentrations in groundwater and estuarine rivers.

Flooding on the rise. Increased flooding will affect hundreds of millions of people who live close to coastlines, flood plains and deltas. Even inland cities face the problem of flooding as a result of more intense rainfall or snowmelt.

Storms on the rise. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather events will become more frequent and rainfall more intense in many areas.

Droughts on the rise. Meanwhile, some regions will receive less rainfall than usual, leading to droughts more severe than in the past.

Freshwater on the decline. Higher temperatures reduce the amount of water stored in mountain snowfields. They also dry out the soil, which then soaks up more water, reducing the recharge of underground aquifers. The result could be reductions in available water for drinking, household use and industry.

Water quality on the decline. Water quality will become a concern for some cities. Changes in rainfall patterns may change the watershed, affecting quality.

Aging infrastructure. Water and wastewater infrastructure in cities around the world is aging and must be replaced to protect its efficiency and the quality of its product.

Competition from agriculture. According to the World Economic Forum, to meet demand from growing populations we will need to grow and process 70 percent more food by 2050. Yet as early as 2030 we will be confronting a water shortage of approximately 40 percent due to a toxic combination of rising demand and climate-change-driven shifts.

Competition from recreation. In some parts of the world, boaters, skiers, fishermen, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts have mounted strong protests when cities attempt to get more water from popular lakes and rivers.

Why make water systems smart?

Smart cities use information and communications technology (ICT) to achieve a sustainable, efficient and clean water supply. Most people refer to an ICT-enabled water system as a “smart water system” or a “smart water network.” Smart water is driven by three urgent realities:

1. Water is scarce. Cities around the world suffer from water shortages. In addition, population growth and extreme weather patterns that create droughts and floods are expected to increase in the coming decades, making water an even more precious resource.

2. Water is at risk. Drought, flooding, salinization and other factors can wreak havoc on water supply. (See the list on the previous page.)

3. Water is underpriced. Water today is often priced far below the level that would accurately reflect its scarcity. This price/value imbalance will rectify as water scarcity becomes more apparent. As a result, the price of water will rise significantly in the future. Already we see regions where water periodically becomes scarce. We see regions where water is prohibitively expensive. For these reasons and many other reasons, every city must use smart technology to preserve and enhance its water supply while keeping the cost of water as low as possible. ICT can contribute in at least seven ways:

1. Map and monitor the physical infrastructure. Most water utilities do not know with great precision where their pipes and valves are located. In particular, they don’t know the actual condition of that infrastructure. ICT gives a highly accurate picture of location and “health.”

“Possessing a clear and comprehensive picture of the entire infrastructure can save a water company tens or hundreds of thousands in repairs each year,” explains the Smart Water Network Forum, an industry forum that acts as an advisor to the Smart Cities Council. “Survey-quality GPS, sometimes combined with electromagnetic or ground-penetrating radar, can map pipe infrastructure, creating three-dimensional maps that show exactly where the pipe is, correcting the widespread errors in existing maps, and ensuring that repair crews will find the pipe when they dig.”

2. Accurately measure what is consumed. Smart water meters can give customers highly accurate records of their consumption while also helping utility spot “non-revenue water” (NRW) that is being lost to defective equipment, leaks and theft.

3. Monitor drinking water quality. A smart water system can have sensors placed strategically throughout the network to detect contaminants. Those sensors can monitor the acidity and alkalinity, watch for biological indicators, measure chlorine and other chemicals and watch for heavy metals, then alert human operators when problems arise so they can intervene quickly to mitigate threats.

4. Present, perfect and predict conditions. Using data from the first two examples above, a smart water system can present current conditions to give operators full situational awareness; perfect the system by optimizing it; and predict leaks, floods and equipment failures. “Utilities can achieve better operations through better knowledge and tighter control of the network’s extensive and complex assets,” explains the Smart Water Network Forum. Modern “dashboards” and tools can “improve the efficiency, longevity and reliability of the underlying physical water network by better measuring, collecting, analyzing and acting upon a wide range of events.”

5. Make better use of diffuse and distributed non-traditional water resources through recapture, recycling and reuse and through better planning. Water is so much broader than pipes and treatment plants. Rain falls everywhere – on our rooftops. Into our soil, gardens and grass. On our roads. This water can all be captured and put to use with the help of ICT. Instrumentation diffused into these “green water systems” can store water, while advanced analytics are critical to managing this distributed resource. You can have the insight to understand where your green water systems are, how they are performing and how the water they capture can be best deployed.

6. Better prepare for storms. Some parts of the world – North America for instance – must confront challenging water quality and stormwater regulations. And many parts of the world are faced with flooding that is reaching new extremes. A smart water system can not only monitor flooding, but it can also predict events in time to prepare for flood control and disaster management.

7. Harness the energy and nutrient resources in water and wastewater. ICT helps us capture the full potential of water. Beyond its own value as a scare resource, water systems house nutrients and even energy. Technology enables us to reduce and recapture excess kinetic energy in water supply piping, recover energy and nutrients in wastewater, and avoid the damaging dumping of nutrients into carefully balanced ecosystems.

Water realities

Before we look at specific targets for water responsibility, let’s quickly consider four realities that affect when, where and how a city should approach the transformation of its water system.

1. Smart cities “close the loop” around local watersheds. A watershed is the land area that drains into a particular river, lake or ocean. “Closing the loop” refers to reducing (or even ending) the import of water from other watersheds while taking full advantage of the water available within the loop. Giving preference to locally available water allows a city to be more confident in the sustainability of its water program. ICT helps cities close the loop by maximizing the potential of non-traditional sources. The idea is to supplement traditional water sources such as reservoirs and aquifers by capturing stormwater runoff, gray water and purple water and by tapping natural systems like wetlands, rivers and lakes. ICT can oversee and optimize the capture of water from these sources. Closed-loop systems also use different grades of water for different needs. For example, treated wastewater isn’t suitable for drinking but may be perfectly suitable to water crops.

2. Smart water requires collaboration. Perhaps more than any other city responsibility, water is a regional issue. The water source that city residents use to quench their thirst may be the same that a factory uses for its operations or a farmer to water his crops 100 miles away. Water is tied into vast watersheds that link many population centers. Because of that, a smart water vision requires a collaborative approach between cities and a lengthy list of stakeholders. The list includes other cities in the watershed, regional, or national government entities that may have regulatory authority, utilities, the private sector, agricultural organizations, citizen and community groups, etc. In some cases, international collaboration may be necessary.

3. Smart water requires smart policy. There are many ways that local, regional and national governments can enhance the prospects for smart water. One instance: policy improvements that clear the way for public-private partnerships to help with the financing. Another is mandated for efficiency, conservation, leak reduction, or water quality. Yet another is working with suppliers to craft a careful business case that demonstrates the return on investment.

Whatever steps a city takes, it should NOT mandate a specific technology. Rather, it should mandate the results it wants and then work with advisors and suppliers to determine the best way to achieve that result.

4. Smart water may need creative financing and staffing. Many city budgets are under great pressure. Even if a city can make a strong business case for rapid payback, it may not have the funds to finance the project. Fortunately, several alternative mechanisms have arisen to lighten that load. For instance, some suppliers will sell software-as-a-service (SaaS) on a monthly fee basis. This eliminates the need for the city to make a big capital purchase and install, maintain and update all the hardware and software on its own. Instead, the supplier handles all that in the cloud, and the city simply pays a monthly charge. In many ways, this is similar to leasing a car instead of buying it.

Another option is a risk-sharing contract. The city pays a reduced fee to the supplier and then shares a portion of the saved costs or additional revenue back to the supplier. It is worth noting that some developing countries have funding available for infrastructure projects, often thanks to grants and programs from development banks. Utilities in those regions have the chance to leapfrog the developed world by jumping straight to a state-of-the-art smart water system.

Even cities with adequate funding may lack adequate in-house ICT skills and personnel to run a sophisticated smart water system. Here again, SaaS offers a solution, since the supplier provides the bulk of the needed personnel and spreads the cost by making the service available to many cities at once.

Dependencies for water and wastewater

Planning improvements in water and wastewater infrastructure will need to take into account dependencies on other city systems and services. Looking at just a few of these dependencies, it is easy to see how smart water services are heavily influenced by local government policies and how closely they are aligned with communications and energy systems in a smart city context. Contaminant warning systems rely on communications and energy systems. And pumps that move water throughout a city infrastructure require power. Flood control systems (e.g. pumps or gates) require resilient energy systems to operate.

Benefits of a smart water system

In this section, we highlight the benefits that smart water systems can deliver and their impact on livability, workability and sustainability.


Promoting water quality and reliability. Smart cities use ICT to protect the safety and reliability of their water supply. Remote sensors can detect impurities, protecting water supply from the intentional or unintentional introduction of contaminants. The affected areas can often be isolated automatically, preventing the spread. Meanwhile, the system alerts human operators so they can deploy repair crews to fix the problem.

Increasing resilience. Smart security measures help protect water infrastructure from external cyber threats. Video cameras and access cards can provide physical security. Automated fault management can ensure problems are found and dealt with before they affect a wide area. In a disaster scenario, analytics can immediately tell cities what equipment needs replacing and can prioritize tasks for maintenance crews so water delivery is restored as quickly as possible.

Increasing customer choice and control. ICT can empower customers with information about when and where they are using water, plus tools to help them control that use. This allows them to change behavior and make trade-offs to lower their bills.

Reducing damaging floods and overflows. Full situational awareness informed by weather data helps cities see exactly where floods and overflows are occurring. Some systems can even predict floods in advance, so emergency crews can be dispatched in advance. Technology also allows cities to more effectively plan flood prevention efforts.

Saving energy on building cooling. Green roofs and other green water systems not only capture water for use before it enters a crowded sewer, but they also serve to cool the buildings and streets and other infrastructure in which they are housed. This can save energy on building cooling while simultaneously reducing the dangerous urban heat island effect.


Increasing economic development. Smart water can differentiate a city in the competition for business and investment. Smart water is financially attractive to industrial consumers in particular since they are often the largest users of a city water supply. Water intensive businesses often decide whether to expand and where to relocate by looking first at a region’s water availability.

Lowering operational costs. ICT solutions can dramatically reduce costs for both water providers and customers. Cities can optimize their water infrastructure for efficiency, saving the cost of wasted resources. Advanced analytics, using data from smart water meters in homes and businesses can identify ways customers can reduce consumption and save money on water bills.


Eliminating wasteful leaks. Smart water meters and sensors reduce water loss. Through situational awareness and automated fault management, water utilities can immediately identify and repair leaks and problems. Most cities that install smart water networks discover they have been losing at least 10 percent to leaks and percentages as high as 50 percent are not unusual.

Getting the maximum value from existing infrastructure. Building entirely new water systems is not an option for most cities. With ICT, cities can make their existing systems far more productive.

Water targets

Many technologies and best practices can help cities develop a smart water system. Five targets specifically relate to water and wastewater and will be discussed in detail below. We’ll also talk about several of the universal targets as they apply to smart water.

Implement optimal instrumentation and control across the watershed. We’ve added on to this universal target to remind you that most cities will need information that extends beyond their city boundaries. A smart water network uses sensors to capture data on the condition of the water and the equipment. These devices are installed in both traditional and non-traditional segments of the watershed – from the pipes and pumps to green water systems in gardens or rooftops that collect storm runoff or greywater. As noted above (and as illustrated in the case study from the Netherlands), cities will want to collaborate to gather data not just within city limits, but from the larger watershed as well.

Smart water networks also utilize sensors that monitor water quality. This may include tracking different grades of water to ensure they are properly routed for the appropriate end-use.

In addition to sensors for the physical infrastructure, some cities will want to consider smart water meters. In regions with conservation mandates, smart meters can give customers detailed information they need to curb consumption. Smart meters can also reduce the need for additional sensors on pipes, pumps and switches.

Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications. This universal target applies equally to water. It is worth reminding, however, that most cities should NOT build a communications network just for smart water purposes. Instead, they should seek to piggyback on an existing network. Or share costs with other departments to build a system they all can use. For instance, in Tianjin China, a single communications network carries the signals for smart meters of several different kinds. (See sidebar on the previous page.)

Create and adhere to citywide data management, transparency and sharing policy, including water usage data. In the Universal chapter, we discussed the merits of a citywide data management policy. In this chapter, we want to recommend additional rules that apply specifically to water.

Cities may not own their own municipal water utility, but they will want to have access to overall usage data provided by the local utility.  It’s important to ensure that the data conforms to the citywide data management policy, even if it originated elsewhere. Cities will also want to encourage utilities to grant water customers access to their own consumption data so they can see hour-by-hour how, when and where they use water. Armed with this type of information, they can make choices and tradeoffs that can reduce their water usage and their utility bills.

From a smart city perspective, water usage data is invaluable for long-range planning, for making zoning decisions, for water efficiency programs, for low-income assistance programs – and for setting an example by reducing water consumption in city facilities.

Consider a cloud computing framework. With the cost of cloud services declining, this universal target can make sense for cities large and small. It is particularly germane to the water sector in North America. In that part of the world, there are few large water companies. Instead, water is managed by more than18,000 small- to medium-sized organizations. Few of them have the budget for a large ICT staff and powerful server farms. Yet they can get the same power and benefits as larger organizations by turning to software-as-service running in the cloud.

Have access to a central GIS. A central geographic information system (GIS) improves decision-making capabilities citywide, hence its inclusion as a universal target. Two reminders germane to water: 1) In many parts of the world the water system is well over 100 years old and many water utilities don’t know exactly where all the pipes and valves are located. 2) A city water department should seek to share costs with other departments if it needs to build a GIS system from scratch. A central GIS enables efficiency gains through more intelligent scheduling and routing provides improved accuracy of essential records and boosts resiliency of key assets.

Achieve full situational awareness across the watershed, informed by weather data. Situational awareness is a universal target. When it comes to water responsibility, it means getting a complete view of what’s happening across a watershed. Such insight is essential for cities that want to ‘close the loop’ and promote sustainability by relying on their local watershed rather than importing water from elsewhere. That situational awareness should be further expanded by including local and regional weather data. Weather data can help give an accurate view of current conditions and can help predict future problems.

Achieve operational optimization for sustainability, efficiency, cleanliness and safety. Operational optimization is a universal target. We have extended it to emphasize its value in a smart water network. Here are examples.

• Optimize water capture. A city might discover it is overdrawing from one source, and underdrawing from another. Correcting the situation creates a more optimized operation and more sustainable water supply.

• Optimize water distribution. Analytics can ensure water goes where it is needed when it is needed. Demand and supply can be balanced, so that water is distributed, consumed and reported with maximum efficiency. With smart meters providing data on consumption at customer premises, water pricing can move to a variable model to acknowledge that water is more expensive to procure in certain seasons and certain times of the day.

• Optimize water use. Smart devices can monitor conditions and assign different water grades. Some grades might be acceptable for your garden, but not for your cooking.

Automate fault and leak management. A smart water network can automate many parts of the leak management process. Leak management systems automate both the prioritization of repair work and the dispatch of crews. They make water systems more resilient to natural disasters and intentional damage.

Pursue predictive analytics. This universal target applies to water in powerful ways. By analyzing the data from a smart water infrastructure and combining it with weather data, cities can predict problems, such as areas prone to flooding. In some cities – including Rio de Janeiro – smart systems can monitor incoming storms and predict where floods will occur later that day, so emergency steps can be taken in advance.

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