January 10, 2023
Trends For Water Utilities to Watch in 2023
The Insider Blog / 7 min read
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January 10, 2023
The Insider Blog / 7 min read
From funding constraints to workforce shortages, water and wastewater utilities are well acquainted with the concept of maximizing very limited resources. Many systems have limited staff to manage and execute the myriad tasks required to collect, treat and deliver water, from plant operations and maintenance to meter reading, billing and customer service. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a third of the water workforce is eligible to retire over the next 10 years. The need to introduce system efficiencies will only intensify in 2023.
"We're seeing utilities try to do more with less. There's a huge exodus of personnel leaving based on retirement age," said Shauna Griffin, Senior Director of Utility Sales for Badger Meter. "Utilities need to be empowered with a holistic view of their systems from behind the computer screen rather than physically having to go out into the field. That’s driving a demand for advanced technology and data."
This is evidenced by the increased adoption of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which gives utilities immediate access to information about their networks that is otherwise time-consuming and labor-intensive to gather.
"Utilities are able to pull in data—which has historically been hidden away in the lab or in the plant—and see it on one screen, in a single software platform," said Matt Stuyvenberg, Vice President of Water Quality for Badger Meter. "Data, such as flow rate, temperature, pressure and water consumption from billing meters and district meters, helps optimize this process and alleviates some of those human capital concerns."
With AMI, utilities can further maximize limited staff by reducing—or even eliminating—the need to manually read water meters. “With consumption data gathered automatically multiple times per day, a task that would typically take several days can be condensed to minutes. This not only saves labor and time but also eliminates the potential for human error,” Griffin said.
The latest evolution of AMI is Network as a Service (NaaS), which brings additional efficiencies by taking advantage of the already existing cellular network to facilitate data backhaul. This eliminates the need for a utility to own or maintain communications infrastructure—freeing up water personnel to focus on other priorities.
With NaaS, additional or different sensors can be deployed as a utility's needs change. "Its scalability gives utilities options for the future as opposed to stranding their assets on a technology that they have to build, maintain or add on to in order to do things differently," Griffin added.
As stewards of our most precious resource, utilities are keenly focused on providing clean, safe water to their communities. But it's not a one-sided relationship; now more than ever, customers are playing an important role in the success of their local water utilities. In areas of water stress, for example, utilities depend on their customers to use water resources wisely. Customer support is also critical when large capital improvement projects are on the line. Strengthening the relationship between the utility and its customers begins with delivering excellent customer service, a trend that will continue to build in 2023.
"Customer experience is one of the hot buttons that we're seeing with utilities' overall goals and objectives," said Griffin. "They're trying to give their customers a better overall experience, knowing that water is a critical resource."
Smart water systems have the insights and information available to help customers quickly resolve questions, understand their water consumption and become true partners in the management of water resources. Customer service staff can review a customer’s account with them, analyze usage trends, explain a high bill or offer suggestions for reducing consumption. They can even alert the customer to a possible leak, saving the resident money and resulting in a very happy interaction.
Smartphone apps, like our EyeOnWater® consumer engagement tool, take customer satisfaction to another level, where customers can monitor their own account and set up alerts to be notified if consumption exceeds a certain threshold.
Water utilities always endeavor to treat and deliver clean, safe water to their communities and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations. But as governing bodies such as the EPA develop additional guidance and regulations to address contaminants of emerging concern, water utilities will need tools to proactively monitor, detect and respond to water quality issues in their systems. As a result, in 2023, the demand for advanced solutions for water quality monitoring will be on the rise.
"It's the right time for water quality," said Stuyvenberg. "It's on everyone's mind more than it has been in a very long time."
Among the tools that will be particularly useful to water utilities are network monitoring solutions that can provide real-time awareness of water quality throughout the treatment cycle.
"Grab samples and lab-based water quality monitoring have been the standard, and we will never replace the lab for certain parameters," Stuyvenberg noted. "But when you look at the granularity of data you can access, you've got a snapshot in time. So, now, deploying sensors for online real-time measurement, you can see changes that you might not have ever been aware of."
Data from real-time water quality monitoring tools can be used to optimize various aspects of the utility's network, from wastewater aeration to chlorine monitoring in the drinking water distribution system and everything in between. Plant upsets and anomalies can be spotted—and resolved—quickly. "It adds value and allows a utility to really understand what's going on within their network," Stuyvenberg added.
With our recent acquisition of two leading water quality monitoring companies, s::can GmbH and Analytical Technology, Inc. (ATi), we’re ready to help utilities leverage the benefits of water quality monitoring to optimize their operations.
The frequency and strength of severe weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, have increased dramatically in the United States over the past few years. In 2022, Hurricanes Fiona and Ian devastated parts of the southeast; a giant cluster of severe thunderstorms barreled across the Midwest; and tornadoes ravaged multiple states, including Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri.
In the aftermath of these events, water utilities work feverishly to restore essential water and wastewater services to their communities—an effort that sometimes takes weeks. As we head into 2023, there's no indication that extreme weather phenomena will abate, reinforcing the need for more resilient water and wastewater systems.
Cellular AMI networks are a key component of resilient water systems. After a natural disaster, cellular networks are among the first to be restored, which means water systems that utilize cellular AMI can be back up and running much more quickly.
"When you have a natural disaster coming through, cellular networks are maintained by people more adept at getting a network back up to allow you to continue your operations and not have to worry about it," Stuyvenberg explained.
By minimizing the disruptions to data communications, water and wastewater system operators can maintain access to information about what's happening in their networks. They can find and repair leaks and breaks, monitor pressure and backflow events and protect customers from cross-contamination that could compromise water quality.
Efficiency, customer service, water quality and resiliency will be fundamental themes as the water industry prepares for the year ahead. With 117 years of experience behind us, we’re prepared to help utilities meet those challenges with a broad range of solutions.
"We are very customer-centric in trying to solve utilities' problems and help them run more efficiently," said Griffin. "We’re all working together to make sure that, at the end of the day, we’re all successful."