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How Effective Data Management Impacts Water Infrastructure

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Utilities that invest in data technology today are better equipped to meet requirements and public demand for transparency.

Quality drinking water is a vital element of our nation’s infrastructure. The public is more aware and engaged in water-quality issues than ever before, and people expect more transparency from their local utilities. Simultaneously, regulations that haven’t been updated in 30 years are now being revised.

Other cultural factors, including advancements in technology and a changing workforce, are impacting the way water systems today must operate.

To embrace these changes and prepare for those to come, water systems need to be equipped with the right technology to meet the moment. The ability to effectively manage and act on data is fundamental to future-proofing the water industry.

THE DATA MANAGEMENT PROBLEM

Water systems historically kept track of community water assets on paper. For many, those paper records were eventually transferred to a GIS system, Excel spreadsheet or some other system of record.

Since there has never been significant federal regulation around how this data is collected, there’s no consistency in the way it’s done and methods vary from community to community. On top of that, the data that has been collected is often siloed across various departments, making it very difficult for utilities to collect and aggregate.

Melissa Meeker, CEO of The Water Tower, a water innovation center in Buford, Ga., recently shared her thoughts with us on the data challenges facing utilities today.

“A lot of utilities don’t even know who owns (manages) the data that is needed … things are often siloed in utilities. Knowing where the data is, knowing how to access the data, knowing who owns the data, and then pulling it together can be a real challenge. Small utilities in particular don’t often have the resources. They may not have a dedicated IT person … there’s not enough hours in the day,” she said.

In this new age of water, having access to technology that allows data to be centralized and easily accessible across departments will be critical to helping utilities function more efficiently.

THE IMPACT OF LCRR

Whether they’re working in spreadsheets, disparate databases or still leafing through stacks of paper, new regulations will inevitably force utilities to modernize their approach to data management.

The Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) will require systems to have a complete lead service line inventory (LSLI), including both the public and private sides of the line. The LSLI will require careful tracking of assets and detailed management of data in order to maintain compliance and provide accurate inventory information to both regulators and the public.

Water systems that prioritize data and asset management will be better equipped to answer consumers’ questions and provide the transparency the public demands. They’ll also be in a better position to meet compliance requirements and get federal funding for the projects they need to complete.

MORE DATA MEANS MORE DOLLARS

Reliable, actionable data will be critical to securing funding for LCRR projects, as potential infrastructure dollars will prioritize “shovel-ready” proposals in which data has been utilized effectively to inform decision-making.

As part of the American Jobs Plan, $111 billion has been earmarked for removing lead pipes and improving water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure across the country. But it’s important to note that these funds are for the replacement of lines, not for inventory purposes. So that work and the associated data will need to already be in place to get your share of the funding.

Ike Moss, general manager and managing partner of KHAFRA Operations Services, recommends getting the wheels in motion as soon as possible.

“Get started now. There are going to be funds available, but you have to put your programs together and you’ve got to be ready to verify and justify what you’re trying to do in order to receive those funds. So the sooner you get started, the better,” he said.

THE FUTURE OF INFRASTRUCTURE IS DIGITAL

A strong infrastructure in any sector is built for the future, on a foundation of clean data and reliable technology to house that data. While the water industry has a long road ahead to modernize data and technology, innovative new solutions are making that work possible, and helping to usher in a new era of digital transformation.

“Utilities have such a huge opportunity with digital technologies. By harnessing data, we can really focus the limited resources that we have,” added Meeker.

Executive Report: How the Water Industry is Evolving and the Impacts of LCRR

To get a full picture of the current state of water and the importance of effective data management, the team at 120Water sat down with industry executives across the country to discuss their take on the market. These leaders also shared their perspectives on how utilities can best prepare for LCRR and ensure future compliance.

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