Managing Data to Protect Water Resources for Future Generations
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Managing Data to Protect Water Resources for Future Generations

By Melissa L. Meeker, Director of Development for the Water Innovation Center, Department of Water Resources, Gwinnett County Government

Melissa L. Meeker, Director of Development for the Water Innovation Center, Department of Water Resources, Gwinnett County Government

With an aggressive focus on water supply resiliency, Gwinnett County (located immediately to the northeast of the City of Atlanta) is boldly developing a Water Innovation Campus to meet the water resource needs of our vibrant and growing region. At nearly one million people, Gwinnett is considered one of the most diverse and fastest growing places in the US. The water need projections for residential, agricultural and industrial users in our region are formidable, and the need for innovative solutions, especially digital, to maximize efficiencies in our facilities, improve decision-making, and better address customer needs is clear. Our approach is to integrate applied research, emerging technologies, collaboration with academia and industry, job training, and active, and inclusive outreach.

Water utilities are inundated with data. Data is collected throughout the water and wastewater facilities, at pump stations, throughout the distribution and collection pipes, at people’s homes, at fire hydrants, in local streams and in pretty much any other water body. Data is collected in multiple ways and covers a variety of water quality and quantity parameters. New technologies are developed daily in the form of sensors and data management tools that provide more data, which then can be managed in a way that can be leveraged by the entire organization. As a result, our IT needs are multiple and are more closely aligned with challenges faced by the energy sector, not traditional municipal organizations. Specifically, how does a utility actually manage this large array of data streams? How do we manage and manipulate this data to be predictive to inform and drive maintenance activities? How do we protect our water infrastructure from breaches? And how do we synthesize data for stakeholders and decision-makers to convey what they want and need to see, especially when we need them to support millions of dollars in new infrastructure? The challenge is not just for the water utilities, but for you, the CIO as well.

Our response to these challenges is to develop a Water Innovation Center, a 63,000 square foot LEED-certified building containing a demonstration facility, laboratories, classrooms, and public spaces. Of specific interest will be the ability to demonstrate and test new technologies and data management systems using real utility data–giving those of us in the industry the ability to look at new systems in parallel to demonstrate the differences and benefits of each. From there, our team of expert partners will use test groups and surveys to determine what information, and in what formats, best resonate with stakeholders. Our goal is efficiency and superior public service and given this every changing technological world and the IOT; we have a responsibility to be forward thinking.

As utilities continue to increase the amount of data collected, literally millions of data point weekly, and the public demands transparency and access to data, we are developing partnerships with many groups, including research and trade organizations, universities, equipment manufacturers, and service providers to design the facility’s programming needs.

Our vision for advancing water resources has officially begun - we broke ground at this amazing facility in October and were joined by over a hundred partners– just as excited as we are to get started. We hope you will join us on this journey to push our industry to be better and smarter in how we manage data in order to protect water resources for future generations.

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