There is heavy rain that overwhelms the sewer system, and the water ends up in somebody’s basement. Clean-up and repair costs add up quickly, not to mention the emotional burden. With a system long overdue for repairs and replacements, experts believe that AI will prove a useful ally in allocating the limited resources in the best possible way.
The pandemic has made plain how vulnerable national sewer systems are. Perhaps the most visible effect has been frequent sewer clogs from face masks. A recent example took place in Florida, where a clog caused by surgical and N-95 masks resulted in a leak of at least 300 gallons of untreated sewage in June (I). When the wastewater system fails, the consequences include both unwanted discharges as well as potential health hazards to the community.
With a projected lifespan of about 50-100 years, a large part of wastewater infrastructure is likely to fail more often without repairs and replacements. A 2019 report from American Water Works Association states that 38% of network maintenance is completed as an acute reaction to failure. The report also mentions that since 2017, the rate of proactive maintenance has stagnated (II). Lack of resources being an obvious limitation, experts are now suggesting to look into AI and data-analysis for help with efficient allocation of available resources.
A wastewater leak is often detected by individual citizens, either by sight or smell. With a bit of bad luck and a remote location, a leak may continue unnoticed for weeks or even months, spreading pathogens and other particles in the environment. In addition to leaks caused by sewer clogs, the aging infrastructure may also let rain water in the system through cracks and loose connections, causing treatment plants to function at a stretched capacity. This is where the data analysis comes in the picture.
“While data analysis cannot fix the underlying problem of insufficient funding, it can help allocate the existing resources in the best possible way”, explains Julia Kariniemi from the Finnish startup Neuroflux. When network measurements are combined with other data sources, such as weather data or electricity consumption, it is possible for AI to pick out even small deviations from normal operation. All of a sudden, water utilities get visibility underground: whether it is an acute clog or a long-term challenge with a loose connection, it can be detected, and proper measurements taken.
“The water field is digitalizing”, Kariniemi points out. “Water utilities have been collecting data from their network for years, and now there are tools that can help them take maximum advantage of it. As a result, communities are provided with safer, more resilient wastewater management.”
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Neuroflux is a water management software that uses AI to interpret data, helping water utilities make informed decisions. Connect with Neuroflux at www.neuroflux.fi.