Smart Cities water management

[Versión en castellano]

As it is well-known, the smart city concept has gained acknowledgement in recent times among people and public and private institutions who manage the city, urban service providers and ITCs. As we know, this concept is aimed to improve efficiency, sustainability and quality of life in cities, by means of the high potential of today’s information and telecommunication technology.

Samart City Congress & Exhibition, Barcelona

Accordingly with the great expansion of the concept, many conferences and other events are organized related to smart cities, both nationally and internationally. For instance, the Smart City Expo & World Congress was held in Barcelona in November last year with great success of institutions, speakers and delegates, and its second edition will take place in November 2012, and an even bigger success is expected. In last year’s edition, the water sector had a very significant presence, and I chaired a session. In this year session, water professionals have also very interesting news to present. But in any case, as it is usual in these kind of events, the main protagonists will be energy, mobility and information and telecommunication technologies. And if you hear someone talking about water, chances are that you will probably hear talking only about leakage reduction or automatic meter reading systems. However, urban water managers have a much more significant role to play within this context. First, of course, because they manage water, a vital element for life and the environment in general and within cities in particular. And second, because they work immersed in the city on a day-to-day basis and they know very well the city challenges and needs.

Thus in the area of ​​production and distribution of drinking water, and in addition to reducing leakage and remote reading , professional managers are making significant improvements in water demand management and forecast, energy optimization, managing the infrastructure assets for optimal performance (quantity / quality), operating of the vehicle fleet, managing commercial geo-referenced data , with warning systems to mobile phones, etc.

In the area of ​​drainage, new technologies allow optimized and integrated advanced management of network and sewage plants,  advanced management and real-time operation of networks by means of mathematical simulation models to prevent flooding, and provision of warnings and alarms to civil protection authorities and the public, etc…

In the environmental area, professional water managers are already developing and implementing systems for wastewater reclamation and reuse, real-time control of discharges, odor management, smart urban irrigation, control of bathing water quality, reducing the carbon footprint , etc.

Finally, last but not least, in terms of the water and energy relationship, smart solutions are being developed and applied to the generation and use of biogas in sewage treatment plants, the hydroelectric and thermal energy recovery from the system infrastructure and the energy efficiency improvement within the premises, etc..

All these examples are a direct result of the new technologies development, which offer new solutions for old water problems and allow production, commercial and customer service processes optimization in the urban water cycle. And all of it with a clear smart city focus : improving the sustainability and quality of life in cities, by means of advanced technologies.

From another point of view, all these examples come from a top-down approach, in the sense that the technologies are paving the way to new solutions for improvement. But in the context of smart cities, a bottom-up approach should also be made, starting from the direct needs of citizens and defining and implementing the proper solutions, using what technology can offer at every time. In this approach, urban water services are particularly well positioned, thanks to its proximity to the city dynamics.

We can see a good example of the latter in the app developed by Aqualogy that allows citizens and tourists to check the water quality and other relevant information from the beaches on their smartphones in real-time. With this app, anyone -wherever he is- can decide to go to the beach or not at any time, depending on what is happening at that particular moment in his favorite beach.

The potential contribution of urban water services to the development and implementation of the smart city concept are  very powerful and varied. Moreover, as we saw earlier in another post, the smart city concept involves a very important competitive burden, currently configuring a basic concept to increase the competitiveness of the cities. Obviously, the concept of competitiveness is key in the economic context in which we are living. The most competitive cities will be those that offer a better quality of life for its citizens, within a friendly environmental framework. These features are what citizens choose to settle there and to improve personally and collectively. And in turn, that will make the city itself improve in a virtuous and continuous cycle. That is why the city administrators are taking that seriously the smart city concept, trying to carry out it in a context where economic resources are scarce and the corresponding projects must clearly and positively overcome the cost / benefit analysis if they are to be executed. And in this roadmap, urban water services can be great partners in the definition and implementation of optimal smart city solutions.

Based on an article I published in the journal “Blau” (issue No.5,  April 2012), published by the Water Services Association of Catalonia (ASAC)

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