Utilities Turn to SmartCover’s Real-Time Data Sewer Solution to Support Healthy Cities and Ecosystems
Corey Williams knows the value of sewers. “In most cities, sewer networks are part of the critical infrastructure that supports our communities. We might not ever give a thought to them, but we all depend on these networks every day. You can imagine what our cities would look like without them.”
Sewers may not be visible, but they are vulnerable, adds Williams, CEO of California-based SmartCover. In the United States, utilities face between 75,000 to 125,000 sanitary sewer overflows per year, releasing more than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage into the environment, untreated. “Leaks, breaks, corrosion, obstructions, population density, extreme weather – these things all have an impact on sewer networks and the surrounding ecosystems.”
To maintain these critical underground networks, he says, wastewater utilities need “eyes and ears” below the surface. “Utility managers need smart solutions that they can use to help them make important decisions, to centralize information and make it easily accessible, and to protect data for future use.”
Getting smart about sewers
Founded in 2005, SmartCover pioneered the first remote monitoring software system designed to give utilities real-time, actionable insights about their wastewater, stormwater, or combined collection systems. Today, more than 500 utilities in the United States and Canada use the company’s technology.
Williams says that most utilities in North America receive minimal data from their collection systems. When they suspect an issue in the sewer network, utilities usually set up temporary instrumentation to determine the location and nature of the problem. This approach heavily depends on the team’s existing knowledge of the system. With no consistent data stream about the network, it can also involve a bit (or a lot) of guess work.
“Consistent, real-time data opens doors,” he says. “When we deploy our sensors, the feedback is instant, thanks to our proprietary software. Within hours, utilities can begin to accurately pinpoint issues, determine the nature and urgency of the required fixes, and plan how to address them. It’s easy and quick to see the value.”
Improving performance across the system
As part of a smart wastewater strategy, SmartCover installs rugged, reliable sensors throughout sewer networks to detect water levels and H2S (also known as sewer gas). The data these sensors collect is securely transmitted to centralized software. Using AI-driven analysis and millions of data points, including inputs from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), SmartCover’s software delivers insights that utilities can use to inform critical decisions.
With this data, utilities can identify, track, and prevent inflow and infiltration issues, as well as overflows, blockages, and hydrogen sulphide levels. “With real-time monitoring, it’s like having sentries on guard 24/7, 365 days of the year, in any type of weather,” he adds.
Identifying the problem areas and tracking system health are the main benefits of this smart sewer solution. Further benefits associated with automation include making more targeted decisions about operations. For example, with more data available about their systems, utilities can schedule cleaning, repairs, and maintenance, and choose to “roll a truck” only when absolutely necessary. In fact, SmartCover has helped its customers reduce the need to clean the lines by at least 75%, saving hundreds of gallons of treated water.
Achieving utility resilience
It’s a time of great change for the wastewater sector, Williams says. “Our industry is preparing to adapt to a new normal with regard to climate change, but we’re also undergoing huge cultural shifts,” he says. “Utilities are facing a ‘silver tsunami’ and, with it, they risk losing valuable institutional knowledge.” In the United States, as many as three million water and wastewater workers – or one-third of the total national workforce – will need to be replaced over the next decade due to retirement.
Preserving and collecting centralized knowledge about sewer networks is perhaps one of the highest priorities during this time, Williams adds. “While smart technology will never replace the need for human expertise, integrating the right solutions can play a role in preserving that knowledge and making utilities more efficient and adaptable to future conditions.”
Keeping sewers healthy for the future
With visibility to what’s happening underground, utility managers can also prioritize and target future infrastructure investments to repair, replace, or expand their systems to serve growing and underserved populations, protect ecosystems, and adapt to the changing climate.
Returning to the necessity of sewers, Williams says the sector needs to act. In the United States, water and wastewater projects are underfunded by some $67 billion. Many of the wastewater projects involve building pipelines to meet new capacity requirements.
“These projects are costing cities and towns millions of dollars,” he says. “At SmartCover, we’re not only preventing sewer spills. We’re helping utilities defer – and, in some cases, eliminate – those massive capital costs. Not everyone can afford to build new pipelines. It’s time to think creatively and use smart technology and tools to help us make the best use of our existing critical infrastructure.”