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Harnessing the Power of Technology to Improve Water Quality

“Understanding the quality of water in the environment is critical to water equity and sustainability, helping ensure communities have access to safe water.”

Sean Donnelly is Vice President, Analytics, at Xylem. Here he explores what water really means to people - including his daughter.

As I grew up in Ireland, it was easy to take water for granted. On an island surrounded by water you can just look up to see and feel the rain. I only really began to consider water a precious resource when I visited countries under more environmental and economic pressure, where it’s harder to get water to people due to drought or less developed infrastructure, or seeing the extreme opposite in other places, where communities weather severe floods.

I came to the water sector and water quality monitoring later in my career, and I’ve never looked back. Because I can’t think of a better industry to work in, with huge job satisfaction derived from knowing and seeing your work has a direct impact and benefit to society.

Today with global water challenges escalating, our work as a sector has never been more important. The great news is that there are lots of innovative ideas and powerful technologies and solutions now available to fuel our progress – improving the quality and availability of water, while reducing the cost for utilities. There’s a growing awareness in the industry that innovation is imperative, and that’s creating an incredible opportunity for the water sector and all those we serve. Xylem is working with our customers to help them meet this moment.

The other great news is how much progress we can make. Take the optimization of wastewater treatment plants, for instance. My part of the business at Xylem is developing new technology to measure nutrients such as phosphates and ammonia, which pollute watersheds and feed harmful algae – which can have devastating effects on the environment.

We’ve recently released the Alyza IQ Analyzer that together with our IQ SensorNet water quality platform, measures these nutrients in real time, helping wastewater plant operators optimize their processes to regulate and reduce levels of nutrients in the water they treat before it is released back to the environment. Operators can redirect the savings they create with this optimization to other efficiency projects or to making water more accessible to all.

Beyond treatment facilities, understanding the quality of water in the environment is key to water equity and helping ensure communities have access to safe water. Our water quality sensors like EXO NitraLED and many others help governments, researchers and utilities improve the health of watersheds by monitoring nutrients and other pollutants directly within lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs. This helps them understand the impacts of agricultural, industrial and other activities have on water quality in the environment, and arms them with the data they need to make decisions to improve it.

We’re working with our partners every day to drive innovation, sometimes through a single bold step forward, and sometimes through incremental improvements over months and years. In southern Germany, for example, we’ve partnered with a wastewater treatment plant for more than two decades, constantly improving process control and operating procedures.

Another great success story is with a customer in the United States, where they’re using our technology to get accurate, automated and instantaneous data directly from their network of reservoirs, helping them understand the optimal water intake location on any given day as and to optimize their drinking water treatment processes based on source conditions. This improvement has cut their operating costs – and really showed what can be done through better analytics. It’s incredibly exciting.

I am also inspired by the volunteer work that I and all my colleagues do with Xylem Watermark, our company’s corporate social responsibility program. It gives me the opportunity to work with my colleagues from across the business, our customers and our partners, to give something back to society while creating awareness about global water issues. It’s part of our commitment to be an organization that creates both economic and social value, and really brings our mission and our work to life.

One of my favourite examples is every year we gather employees from four of Xylem’s locations, each based on the Rhine but spanning four different countries, to take part in a shared clean-up project. I love that – employees, spouses and kids all coming together to do something tangible and practical for the community and local ecosystem, to make a difference. When you see your own daughter getting excited about something you do, that’s a reward in itself.

My greatest ambition is to help create a world where water is no longer an issue for her and her generation, and every community, everywhere around the world, is water-secure. With innovation and passion, we will get there.

by Sean Donnelly