Hydroinformatics: Delivering Transformative Outcomes for Utilities and Communities
Xylem’s Bryant McDonnell in conversation with Alana Maya, Chief Editor at WaterWorld Magazine (video credit: WaterWorld TV from Endeavor Business Media)
In our first and second articles in this series Making Waves spoke with some of Xylem’s hydroinformatics engineers about this relatively new discipline to learn how it is helping to shape the future of water. As the challenges facing water utilities become more pressing and complex, this field of study, rooted in multidisciplinary perspectives of the urban watershed, can keep water managers one step ahead and transform outcomes for their communities.
Hydroinformatics brings together expertise from traditional civil and environmental engineering, signal processing and machine learning, control theory, and even sociotechnical systems. Together, this potent blend helps utilities visualize networks, optimize system performance, and proactively protect assets to ensure accessibility and resilience.
Here, we go deeper with Bryant McDonnell, Senior Manager of Hydroinformatics and Process Control at Xylem, to hear more about how this approach is moving the dial for utilities, empowering them to deliver remarkable cost savings and new levels of efficiency and control.
MW: Bryant, explain how you are putting hydroinformatics to work for utilities.
BMcD: Utilities are under pressure to be more operationally and financially resilient. Digital technologies can help them deliver safe, compliant, reliable, and affordable water to their communities – but they need support to simplify this digital journey and maximize outcomes. That’s where hydroinformatics, and our digital platform Xylem Vue, comes in.
At its core, hydroinformatics is about looking at problems in a different way. We have assembled a global team of experts from diverse backgrounds and with the broadest skillset – from software and analytics, to applied civil and environmental engineering practices. This allows us to see water from a new perspective and help our clients to do likewise. Utilities have an abundance of data but can struggle to make sense of it and use it to their benefit. We help them leverage it to maximum effect by developing thousands of potential scenarios at scale which allows us to deliver critical insights and recommendations so they can ultimately realize the most powerful outcomes.
In practice, our team uses a combination of algorithms and machine learning to take large volumes of data and interpret them into actionable intelligence that utility leaders and operators can understand and act upon. The algorithms we develop can look at things like the energy optimization of a treatment plant or bringing real-time control strategies to reduce overflows in a sewer system, for example.
MW: We continue to see the impact of severe weather on communities around the world. How can hydroinformatics help utilities manage new challenges like increased rainfall?
BMcD: Increasingly erratic weather patterns show us that utilities must now predict the unpredictable to ensure they can maintain continuity for their communities. Hydroinformatics can help. We partner with utilities to create virtual real-time environments that analyze incoming data streams and, using algorithms, provide strategies that help them manage the system during stressed times. For example, when it rains heavily in one part of the community, the algorithm responds to make sure that network assets are used optimally and flows are well managed across the entire system.
MW: Many utilities are in the early stages of their digital journey. How can hydroinformatics help their transformation?
BMcD: The outcomes made possible by combining digital solutions and hydroinformatics are truly transformative. At Xylem, data-driven operational decision support is at the heart of what we do. We are increasingly partnering with utilities in deeper ways to provide end-to-end solutions.
We work with customers at every stage of their digital journey to understand the unique aspects of their system and community, to map the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and to deploy the solutions that maximize those opportunities.
MW: Tell us more about some of the real-world outcomes you are seeing as a result of hydroinformatics.
BMcD: My favorite topic! Here are some examples:
- Partnering with the Buffalo Sewer Authority, we used technology to maximize the utilization of their existing network and drive the transformation of the city’s gravity sewer system into a managed conveyance and storage system. This real-time decision support system cut combined sewer overflows by 450 million gallons, delivering $145 million in savings to date from initial enforcement action. Read more about this project here.
- Xylem partnered with the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati to reduce its sewer overflows. By leveraging the power of hydroinformatics to help coordinate control between assets, the City was able to reduce the overflow volume by roughly 250 million gallons per year at a cost of less than $0.01 per gallon. And this did not require any new infrastructure or major capital expenditure. It was simply a case of optimizing the existing system. Read more about the project here.
- Leveraging the same approach, the City of Evansville also reduced its sewer overflows by more than 100 million gallons a year. Using advanced optimization technology to effectively provide a software update to its existing system, the City was able to collect and analyze valuable data insights and convert its existing network into infrastructure that is more resilient and affordable. Read more about the project here.