High-tech sewers can help protect public health, the environment and economies – American City and County


In the wake of the coronavirus, economic recovery is a priority for all city leaders, the majority of whom believe investing in infrastructure and technology can spur a rebound. Yet current analyzes indicate that we only have funds available to cover about 57% of infrastructure system improvements through 2029, leaving an investment gap of $ 2.6 trillion. Cities are in the midst of some of their most severe budget constraints and face stressed infrastructure in dire need of renovation. Amid growing needs and limited resources, leaders strive to identify investments that do more with less and deliver superior performance in the areas that matter most to their communities. A solution is running under our feet.

While investments in sewage systems don’t always grab the headlines, new approaches to sewer and watershed management are having a big impact on cities across the country.

Make sewers smarter

When considering projects that define a “smart city” – using cutting edge technology to improve quality of life – sewers are sometimes an afterthought. But smart and technological sewage systems that improve a city’s wastewater network can deliver far-reaching societal and environmental benefits to communities. For many cities, smart sewers offer a return on investment that should put them at the top of the smart city investment agenda.

Think of road transport infrastructure as a metaphor to illustrate what is possible. Designed to maximize efficiency, roads are managed using a network of traffic lights and traffic sensors, with police directing and diverting traffic based on demand. Advanced wastewater technology works the same way, with coordinated sensors and virtual stop lights that adjust and direct flow to avoid congestion (in this case sewer overflows) and identify potholes. hen (obstructions and infiltrations and excessive influx). Smart sewer technology works just like GPS traffic apps, guiding the flow based on traffic conditions in real time. Managing our sewer infrastructure is just as critical and, with new technologies, as feasible today as managing our roads.

And smart investments in sewers make good business sense for all segments of society. Citizens of economically disadvantaged areas are often disproportionately affected by outdated and failing infrastructure, as well as the financial burden required to address these issues. Digitally controlled sewers help level the playing field for disadvantaged communities. Wastewater network assessment technologies, real-time monitoring, data analysis and system modeling allow utilities to target investments where they are most needed, minimizing maintenance costs compliance and offering more sustainable and efficient solutions.

Smart sewers can also provide additional benefits to communities. For example, smart sewers can take advantage of innovative wet weather management systems, called green infrastructure, which control and combat overflows integrate into public space, providing safer and greener recreation areas. These systems can also improve and renew roads, replacing sections with permeable asphalt, which allows rain and snowmelt to pass through, instead of flooding curbs.

Let’s take an example: South Bend, Indiana, my hometown. The smart sewer project in this Midwestern city has produced multifaceted transformational results. Virtually every time it rained heavily, the town of South Bend faced sewer overflows into the famous Saint Joseph River. South Bend’s aging infrastructure – in this case, its sewer system – would throw excess flow back into the river. One to two billion gallons of sewage polluted water was dumped into the river each year, and the cost of a long-term control plan to deal with the overflow was estimated to be over $ 860 million. To put that number into perspective, South Bend has a total population of 100,000 people with a median household income of $ 39,000 per year, meaning residents would see a big impact on their tax increases.

South Bend turned to Xylem’s BLU-X wastewater network optimization technology to solve the problem with significantly less investment. The system consists of smart sensors and smart valves, located throughout the network. These sensors trade available carrying capacity in real time, like an underground stock market, and move water to areas of unused capacity, preventing sewer overflows.

By equipping the sewer system with technology to enable real-time detection, monitoring and alerting, the system eliminated dry weather overflows and reduced combined sewer overflow into the St. Joseph River by more than 70%. Since its inception, South Bend has reaped approximately $ 1.5 million in annual savings in O&M costs and nearly $ 500 million in capital savings.

Kieran Fahey, director of long-term control planning for the City of South Bend, noted that “the success we have had in South Bend using BLU-X smart sewer technology has allowed us to improve water quality in the St. Lawrence River. Joseph’s River at a feasible cost to the community.

It’s time to look beneath the surface of our cities’ ailing infrastructure and make the investments that maximize results for our communities. Smart infrastructure solutions can deliver the digital information needed to achieve cost savings, superior system performance, and regulatory compliance. Innovative leaders in cities and utilities can offer a better way to manage sanitation systems and make a lasting difference in the lives of the communities they serve.

Luis Montestruque is vice president of digital advanced infrastructure analysis solutions at Xylem, a water technology solutions provider.


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