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.
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.
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.