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The Benefit of Data Collection

Never before have human beings been privy to data at such monumental abundance and ease as we are today. Don’t know what it is? Google it. Need to DIY? Find a YouTube video. Seeking a recommendation? Read reviews online or check with your friends on social media. The answer is typically at our fingertips – literally. And the more we search, the more data is collected, created and archived. But the Internet is just a part of why data is so readily available. Innovations in technology have made collecting data in large amounts so prevalent that the term “Big Data” was coined to describe the magnitude of what is available. So in this world of data overload, is the benefit worth the effort?

When it comes to water and wastewater operations, most argue yes.

For anyone who has been around this industry for a while, you are familiar with the challenge that many communities “store” their water and wastewater data in the brains of the professionals who have collected it. Pipeline schematics are often in need of GIS mapping – there are approximately 1.2 million miles of water mains and 1.3 million miles of sewer mains in the U.S. alone. And any information about previous challenges faced are only accessible through the stories these professionals tell. Getting it all documented, ideally in a digital format, can be a bit of a task. But in most cases, the benefits validate the effort.

It’s easy to recognize the importance of documented data when we look at an example of managing surface water from a river source. When runoff from abundant rains causes rivers to rise, quite often the case in spring, turbidity increases typically follow. Data that is aggregated and stored regarding the water levels, temperature, flow and type of turbidity aide operators in finding a more accurate starting place for treatment. The sooner the right treatment is diagnosed and administered, the less correction is typically needed. This means fewer chemicals and often being able to correct the problem before customers are affected. Using fewer chemicals can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars. When data is used to demonstrate patterns over time, operators are able to predict turbidity changes early enough to pre-treat, and when necessary, over treat – resulting in less chemicals overall. This kind of savings in chemicals and respectively, cost, adds up year after year.

There is plenty of technology today to help collect, organize and store data including SCADA systems, laboratory information and computerized maintenance systems, to name a few. Unfortunately, it is often the case that data is fragmented, due to older but valuable data collected before a certain technology was put into place, and other data existing in silos when one computer system does not communicate with another. In addition, it is important to note that the data is only as reliable as the collection. Sensors must be cleaned, calibrated and properly used.

There’s no arguing that the benefits of aggregating and utilizing data in water and wastewater operations provides benefits of cost savings and beyond. As technologies continue to develop and the Internet of Things builds connectivity in every aspect, the problem of data collection and organization will no doubt get easier, while the benefits continue to grow. With greater abilities to predict and control the way nature interacts with our water sources we can advance our ability to supply potable water supplies worldwide.