4 Key Data Management Milestones to Ensure Water Sustainability

treatment plant

By Rich Prinster


With the global population expected to hit 8.5 billion in the next 10 years, the demand for water is rising inexorably. Many areas of the world are already facing either water shortages or water that’s unsafe for human consumption.

When it comes to water scarcity:

  • Four billion people live in water-scarce and stressed regions — one billion of whom have no access to safe drinking water;
  • Two-thirds of the world population faces water scarcity for at least one month every year;
  • The over-pumping of underground aquifers are depleting water tables in many parts of the world, including America, India, and China;
  • Dams and lakes across America are drying up from drought and overuse; and
  • Droughts and natural disasters cut off access to potable and sanitary water anywhere in the world – Haiti is still known as a “pipeless nation,” after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

When it comes to water pollution:

  • Globally, there are almost 1 million deaths per year from waterborne diseases;
  • 21 million Americans are getting water from systems that violate health standards; and
  • 33 major U.S. cities have skirted water quality testing, the worst among them being Flint, Michigan; Toledo, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; and the Colorado River basin.

The bottom line – if we remain on the same path, the world is facing a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030, according to the United Nations. So, it’s no surprise that the World Economic Forum ranked the water crisis in the top 5 of global risks for the eighth consecutive year.

While the supply of water cannot be increased – we can’t control how much rain falls – there are ways we can manage it better to reduce waste and contamination.
The UN General Assembly launched the Water Action Decade 2018-2028 to create urgency and encourage action in transforming how we manage our water. Each of the four workstreams outlined in the Action Plan Resolution rely on data quality, data management and knowledge sharing to address water challenges.

While the action plan is straightforward, the sheer magnitude of our water problems can be daunting. To avoid analysis paralysis and apply the UN’s action plan to real-world problems, governments, utilities and industries that manage and use water should strive towards four water data milestones:

  1. Water data consolidation to break down data silos
  2. Water data analysis to turn raw data into actionable insights
  3. Internal knowledge sharing across organizations, government departments, and international bodies
  4. External knowledge sharing with industry and the public to educate, inform, and encourage respect for our most important resource

UN's Water Action Plan Resolution

Water Data Consolidation

The first milestone is to break down some of the data silos that currently exist. Many government agencies are entrenched in legacy systems which can hinder progress. While many have been automating data collection in several areas for some time, few are examining the data sources alongside one another to connect the dots and uncover real insights.

Understanding the relationships between the consolidated water data sources is powerful. It can unveil insights we would never have found otherwise and offer correlations that we can use to test new hypotheses about the cause and effect of different water activity.

For example, we might detect a spike in water temperature from one set of data and an increased level of chlorophyll in another set. Alone, these trends may not raise an alarm but when read together, they indicate signs of agricultural runoff pollution that can cause harmful algal blooms.

When it comes to data consolidation, organizations can start small and chip away at the problem, breaking down data silos one by one to showcase the benefits in real-world scenarios.

Case in Point:

Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) manages Northern Kentucky’s wastewater and stormwater and has kept its rivers clean for over 70 years. Various departments work together to clean 37 million gallons of water per day. They conduct an average of 40,000 analyses, oversee inspections of 55 industrial users and 200 food service establishments, that also require collection of FOG data and permitting.

SD1 breaks down silos with Linko, a software tool that consolidates data across all teams to create efficiencies and ensure better water management across the region. For example, daily lab results sync with compliance data to alert SD1 of possible compliance issues; when regulations update, they can automatically change them across their consolidated system; and state reporting across all events easily.

“At the end of the day, if you aren’t familiar with pretreatment, you would think that it’s just comparing a number against the limit. If that were the case, Excel would work. But, regulations change, interpretations change, and having a software platform that keeps up with that saves time and improves compliance,” says Sarah Griffith, laboratory and industrial pretreatment manager at Sanitation District No. 1.

SD1 allows different teams to gain value from consolidated data. For even greater benefits, data consolidation should occur not just cross-functionally, but also at a state, national level, and international level. This would involve alignment in the procurement of water data analysis platform tools and the collaboration between various IT and data science teams to build out the sufficient teams and processes.

Linko Online Dashboard

The Linko Online Dashboard provides at a glance compliance information which can be configured by end users through the drag and drop widget interface.

Water Data Analysis

Water utilities can struggle to get real value from the data at their disposal. IT teams often lack insight into the use cases that would help them justify the allocation of resources to water data projects and departments and teams don’t know what they don’t know.

So where can organizations start? Firstly, IT teams should collaborate with managers across the organization who can ask the right questions of the data. These questions should map back to the goals of the organization:

  • Water utilities may ask questions to ensure safe drinking water for citizens.
  • Water purveyors may ask questions to understand water loss within the system.
  • Environmental agencies may ask questions to find solutions in extreme weather scenarios.
  • Good data creates demand for good information. In other words, once you know what you can know, you will want to know more.

Case in Point:

The City of Riverside is a perfect example of a utility provider that maximized their use of data to gain powerful insights and subsequent operational efficiencies. Riverside Public Utilities (RPU) has been providing water and electricity to 70,000 customers since 1895. The utility is proactive in tackling challenges head on and data plays a central role in how it meets those challenges.

RPU implemented WaterTrax to consolidate and automate water quality sample data transfers from the laboratories. Today, the system integrates with their internal business intelligence tool, OSISoft PI System (a vehicle used for centralizing data sourced from other business units including SCADA), Esri GIS, and Asset Management/Work Order System (UWAM).

The integration enables RPU to view current data from systems that were previously siloed and isolated. This integration has provided the utility with a more holistic view of their distribution system samples, treatment plant process control samples and groundwater well samples. Data is visualized in team dashboards and has had a significant impact on the operations team, helping them improve the efficiency of water quality management.

“The API integration has really improved our ability to quickly make decisions based on real time data. The advantage of combining information from SCADA, UWAM, and WaterTrax gives us the big picture in one place and allows us to improve performance and operational efficiency,” says Robin Glenney, water quality administrator at Riverside Public Utilities.

The City of Orlando shares geographical rainfall intensities

The City of Orlando shares geographical rainfall intensities with crews for maintenance checks on storm water drains and the public to gain insight on areas to avoid during these events.

Internal Knowledge Sharing

Data consolidation and analysis will bring an era of water transformation. Today, the biggest water users are power plants, farmers and water utilities. Sharing data will help us identify the industries and communities that use water well, and those that don’t. This knowledge sharing can go a long way to establishing best practices and forming helpful water regulations.

Case in Point:

The State of Wyoming has great insight into how their water is being used. They use this data to make smart decisions about conservation, about permit approval or revocation, and about innovation. The Wyoming State Engineer’s Office monitors continuous recording devices in over 400 streams, reservoirs, and canals, and operates numerous other continuous recording stations in cooperation with the USGS, the National Weather Service, and other federal and state agencies.

All water data is collected, reduced, and compiled using AQUARIUS software to consolidate all the disparate data so they can process, visualize, and manage their water data in one dashboard. The state can now ask questions of the data like:

  • How much water is available?
  • How much is being used and by whom?
  • How much additional water is being used for agriculture?
  • How much additional water could be taken out of the system?

This helps the State make better decisions about current water permits. “We are now sharing data with our users in real-time, helping them as well as us make better management decisions. Before we implemented AQUARIUS, that was not possible,” says Loren Smith, water division superintendent at Wyoming State Engineer’s Office.

External Knowledge Sharing

According to a World Bank study, the projected economic impact of water scarcity is estimated to be as much as 6 percent negative GDP in certain regions by 2050. To solve a global problem, we need global collaboration.

The only way we can solve our water problems and avoid these shockwaves is by harnessing our data. Today, however, only 45 percent of government data is clean, accurate and in a usable format to glean real insights. If organizations can’t get a handle on the data soon, they run the risk of falling further and further behind as the rate of technological change increases.

“If we can connect all water data, we can proactively predict issues, and ultimately protect life,” says Aquatic Informatics CEO Edward Quilty. “By sharing this data with the public, with regulators, and with international bodies, we can raise awareness and drive real change.”


Rich Prinster is Linko strategic business development manager for Aquatic Informatics. He has been with Aquatic Informatics for more than eight years where he has helped hundreds of municipal pre-treatment programs address data management issues with Linko software. He focuses on bridging data silos within water utilities to enable better, more timely decisions.

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