Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
Archive for February, 2010

Sewage and wastewater:  not the most appealing things to consider, yet consider them we must, because many of today’s aging water and sewer infrastructures are, quite literally, coming apart at the seams.  As with most problems, ignoring this one doesn’t make it go away, either.  Spills, leaks and overflows are becoming all too common: wasting water, spewing pollution into rivers, lakes and oceans, harming wildlife and the environment, and presenting an enormous threat to public health.

Yet in many places, water remains an afterthought.  Communities often resent water restrictions, not understanding the need to conserve.  And while upgrades or repairs to existing systems may seem expensive, the stakes are too high to ignore:  this map neatly shows that nearly half of the world’s population faces a water shortage.  And this one shows the widespread reach of groundwater contamination.  None of this is going to change by itself.

On its website, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water notes that given the scarcity of freshwater supplies and the intrinsic value of our water resources, water should be recognized as a precious commodity and protected…and goes on to say that because water is considered common property that belongs to everyone and no one, it is subjected to exploitation and misuse.

Many communities face significant challenges when it comes to managing aging water and sewer infrastructures.  But since we at IBM began to explore how we could apply advanced analytics and other technologies to help create sustainable water systems, we’ve found a growing number of people ready to think differently about the value of water, ready to meet those challenges head on.  Our collaboration with the city of Dubuque, Iowa, continues with the rollout of a smart water meter pilot that will let customers see trends in their water use and help them to conserve.  And in Sacramento, California, we’re helping two agencies – the Sacramento Area Sewer District (SASD) and the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD) — improve water quality and help prevent sewage spills.

SRCSD treatment process

SRCSD treatment process

The SASD manages wastewater collection services for more than one million people in the Sacramento region via a complex system that includes 52 miles of forced mains and pressure systems, 3,000 miles of gravity sewers, and 279,000 service level connections.

And the SRCSD, which treats wastewater from the SASD along with other regional wastewater collection agencies, runs a state of the art treatment plant comprising nearly 100 miles of pipeline and 20 pump stations. On an average day, the plant moves and treats approximately 165 million gallons of wastewater—enough to fill a football field 40 stories high.

SRCSD plant control center

SRCSD plant control center

Keeping track of all those moving parts – not to mention maintenance records, service calls, compliance reports and so on – was once a major headache, to say the least.  Now, we’re helping these agencies collect, analyze and share data in real time so that they can identify and prevent emerging problems before they happen.  That’s pretty cool.

In these cities and in many others around the world, we’re finding advocates, collaborators and partners who are ready, willing and able to make significant changes in the name of sustainability and environmental stewardship.  Because truly, it’s not a choice, it’s an imperative.

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Following is a special guest post from Former Lieutenant General John Fairfield of the U.S. Air Force:

web_afg_040405_021With IT spending reaching nearly $80 billion in the new fiscal budget for 2011, agencies throughout the U.S. federal government are looking at ways to tighten their belts and increase efficiency. One emerging technology that holds great promise is cloud computing. In a cloud environment, IT resources such as applications, storage devices and servers are shared and delivered as services over the Internet.

But the big stumbling block to widespread adoption in federal agencies is the issue of security. How do you protect sensitive, classified data from the ever-growing threat of cyber attacks if the data is sitting in a public or private cloud somewhere?

The U.S. Air Force has decided to tackle this issue head-on and they’ve asked for IBM’s help. During the next 10 months, IBM researchers, software architects, cyber security experts and analytics specialists will work alongside military personnel and representatives from other federal agencies to hopefully overcome the hurdle.

Cyber security is a global issue, so the potential benefits of this project extend far beyond U.S. military services. The U.S. Air Force recognizes that new thinking, new technologies, and new levels of collaboration between government and industry will be required to find viable solutions. As a retired Air Force lieutenant general, I’m extremely proud that my service branch is taking the initiative to get ahead of one of the world’s greatest security challenges.

John S. Fairfield, a former Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force, is the director of strategic sales for IBM’s U.S. Federal Business.

[Editor's note: a press release with more details about this announcement can be found here at]

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February 1st, 2010

embedded by Embedded Video

So maybe filming on Lake Champlain in an unstable canoe in the dead of winter wasn’t the brightest idea (smarter scheduling?).  But as always, when hanging out with John Cohn, it was a fun and educational experience, even with seemingly asymptotic temperatures.

John took me on a tour starting at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, in front of 5,000 gallon aquarium.   (They didn’t want us to swim in the tank with the forty pound Lake Sturgeon, but John did ask).  We then visited the Champlain Water District which supplies our semiconductor manufacturing site with water, to see how it uses sensors to monitor particle levels.  IBM uses similar technology in our REON partnership with the Beacon Institute and Clarkson University to monitor the health of the Hudson River.  For more on IBM’s water management work, click here.


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