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Spotlight on hydroinformatics: The force shaping the future of water

Spotlight on hydroinformatics: The force shaping the future of water

The water sector is in the throes of a bold transformation, driven by technologies, digital insights and smart water infrastructure. But there’s a powerful, lesser-known force helping to drive this disruption: hydroinformatics engineers - multidisciplinary experts who combine hydraulic modeling skills, engineering and an in-depth understanding of the water cycle with a passion to improve the urban watershed and the community it serves.

Hydroinformatics engineers are helping to solve the toughest water challenges, folding in expertise from traditional civil and environmental engineering, signal processing and machine learning, control theory, and even sociotechnical systems. This gives them unique capabilities that are enabling communities around the world to tackle age-old water problems in new ways, and with a greater toolset, to make water more affordable and accessible, and resilient.

How hydroinformatics engineers are driving water innovation

Hydroinformatics engineers are on the frontlines of the digital transformation of water. Every day, these experts develop and implement algorithms and analytics that give water operators more visibility into how their systems are performing, and recommendations to optimize those systems, so they can help prevent disruptions, improve efficiencies and make better capital investment decisions.

Working in conjunction with software developers, hydroinformatics teams begin by analyzing a particular client’s challenges to come up with a highly configured algorithmic solution, which can then be optimized to work under an array of hydraulic conditions. Then they help implement, test and refine possible solutions to create a real-time decision support system, that often provides actionable guidance to operators. By comparing the utility’s day-to-day performance against historical data, these engineers can help water operators detect and even predict events, and discover new ways to deliver water, energy and cost savings.

Xylem Making Waves caught up with some of Xylem’s hydroinformatics engineers to hear more about the discipline and how they are helping to shape the future of water.

INTERVIEWEE: Bryant McDonnell, Senior Manager of Hydroinformatics and Process Control, Xylem

MW: Why is hydroinformatics important?

BMcD: Solving the escalating water challenges facing communities today means doing things differently. Hydroinformatics offers a fresh perspective enabling communities around the world to tackle age-old problems in new ways, and with a bigger toolset. It’s the “secret sauce” that helps utilities turn data into actionable insights.

MW: What qualities make a good hydroinformatics engineer?

BMcD: It may seem like an oxymoron, but we look for the laziest, most-productive people on the planet!  ‘Lazy’ so they automate their workflows with code and ‘productive’ because they can use that code 100 more times at almost no cost! Hydroinformatics engineers are notorious for questioning the status quo.

We ask how we can approach solutions from a very different vantage point and interpret data in a new way. Hydroinformatics engineers can show up to a problem and fix it with the most beautiful solutions never seen before!

MW: How did you find yourself in hydroinformatics engineering?

BMcD: We often say that a hydroinformatics engineer is a software engineer who accidentally signed up for civil, environmental, or mechanical engineering in university!  Most hydroinformatics engineers are autodidactic programmers (self-taught). These interdisciplinary skills are powerful in that the individual can take an old, antiquated process and automate it with code. The automation of monotony gives us time to solve the bigger and more interesting problems that our industry and clients are facing.

For me, I don’t like to waste time - so, workflow automation and analytical programming was something that fit well with my interests. I joined Xylem in 2017, drawn to the company by its visionary approach which offers our team incredible opportunities to be intellectually creative, always.

MW: What are you working on right now?

BMcD: I serve as the hydroinformatics global team leader.  I share insights and past experiences with my team so they can execute their projects as effectively as possible through a combination of modeling, optimization, data analysis and real time decision support systems.

MW: Before we finish, tell us a fun fact about you?

BMcD: I love to rock climb, travel, and spend time in the great outdoors.

INTERVIEWEE: Caleb Buahin, Hydroinformatics Engineer, Xylem

MW: How did you find yourself in hydroinformatics engineering?

CB: I ended up in the hydroinformatics engineering field rather fortuitously. A mentor and college professor who noticed that I enjoyed numerical methods, fluid mechanics and programming encouraged me to pursue a career in this field. I have since grown to appreciate the impact and importance of what we do and have not looked back.

MW: And why Xylem?

CB: Xylem is a world leader in developing sensor technologies and infrastructure for water systems. The prospects of combining these with real time data analytics and physics-based models to develop the next generation of sustainable, efficient, and autonomous water systems, really appealed to me.

MW: What are you working on now?

CB: My colleagues and I are developing a real time, coordinated control strategy to help the Great Lakes Water Authority meet its Long-Term Combined Sewer Overflow Control Plan (LTCP).

Hydroinformatics can transform utility operations. Our role is to prescribe cost-effective and adaptive solutions that maximize the potential of digital technologies, ultimately helping to solve some of the world’s most complex water challenges.

MW: Why is hydroinformatics important?

CB: Challenges related to water availability, water quality and water related natural disasters are becoming more pronounced. These challenges pose significant financial burdens to already strained government budgets and could have geopolitical implications. Hydroinformatics engineers play a critical role in addressing these issues by distilling the large and high-resolution datasets from cost effective and ubiquitous sensor technologies into timely and useful information. We also play an important role in prescribing cost-effective and adaptive solutions to these complex challenges.

MW: Do you have a role model?

CB: My grandfather. While I knew him as “Nana” and only got to spend a few years of my life with him before he passed away, I have since learned more about his life on the colonial Gold Coast (Ghana). I learned about the efforts he made to obtain his education, his struggle in helping to peacefully obtain independence, and the role he played in developing institutions that continue to serve the country. I am proud of his resilience and the strides he made to better his community and country. I try to emulate his example as best as I can.

MW: How do you relax and unwind?

CB: I enjoy reading, biking, and playing and watching soccer, basketball, and tennis among other things. I enjoy doing these activities with friends and family. I have also recently taken up woodworking.

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