Sustainable Water Supplies Require Pipeline of Reliable Data and Sustainable Workforce

Boomer Brain Drain May Sabotage Adoption of Data-driven Decision-making by Water Agencies in Need of a Younger, Fully Engaged Workforce

As water utility management prioritize capital investment for updating critical assets or they adapt to climate change, accurate and reliable data are requested to justify decisions. Awareness of aging U.S. drinking water and wastewater infrastructure has raised awareness of the industry’s aging workforce. Knowledge of in-house databases, custom applications, and integration with other business systems is walking out the door with the retirement or attrition of disengaged employees.

expandable data archive | photo credit

The long-term water information system serves as an essential data source to support operations and maintenance, planning, and reporting to regulatory agencies. Utilities commonly and extensively integrate the database with applications specific to other business areas such as customer billing, supervisory controls, and environmental / water quality compliance to meet diverse needs across the enterprise.

While existing custom databases may be adequate, water districts are seeing system architects or experts retiring and underlying hardware becoming obsolete and unsupported. Mid-level and younger staff find data management and evaluation increasingly cumbersome and time consuming. Key tasks require additional steps and additional time because older data management systems are inefficient and may be isolated. Additional effort is required for data transfer, processing and reporting. Time for deeper analysis to more thoroughly inform decisions is compromised. Unofficial workaround measures by individuals users often go undocumented, and inadvertently introduce inconsistencies to data management. System maintenance costs for internal labor also grow, while outsourced IT consulting services for integration with other utility subsystems may balloon.

Agencies with more ambitious goals for a robust data repository, workflow automation and better data analysis typically seek out KISTERS to replace legacy systems. Implementation of more reliable commercial software with increased functionality leads to increased use and productivity. Deploying its water information system saves water districts an upwards of 38 labor hours per week for data processing and validation as well as 26 labor hours per week for reporting.

As an anchor of the Great Lakes and the headwaters to the Mississippi River, Minnesota takes water quality seriously. In order to identify contaminants and make decisions to improve water quality, local watershed districts and state agencies alike are increasing the number of monitoring stations, adding to an ever-growing dataset of continuous flow and water quality data. With KISTERS’ technology, water districts now have secure and unlimited storage capacity – choosing to store raw data separately from edited data that inform reports, models and open data web portals and carefully maintaining audit trails of any and all data editing.

example of dry event stormwater runoff | photo credit Forester Media

Water data managers are more accurately and consistently calculating how much of each pollutant is present, delivering more reliable information to decision-makers without constraint on operational performance. Today’s data systems apply standardize rules to determine the duration of storms instead of personal discretion, which could report more variability in data than actually exists. Baseline concentrations of individual pollutants also provide context for each and every storm event in addition to annual pollutant load calculations.

“Automating the calculation of pollutant loads enables our staff to perform expanded data analysis and utilize findings to inform project design or program planning,” commented Britta Belden of Capitol Region Watershed District in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Water quality managers are also closely following how stormwater runoff carries phosphorus and nitrogen, which may result in excessive and harmful algae blooms (HABs), into freshwater lakes and streams or seawater coastlines. They’re identifying and mitigating a wide variety of nutrient pollution sources: lawn fertilizers, improper disposal of pet waste, compromised septic and sewer systems, or agriculture activities. By updating water data systems with KISTERS, state and local agencies have also integrated results from laboratory analysis to more quickly determine if algal blooms are producing harmful toxins, which can impair drinking water supplies, seafood suppliers, and recreational areas. Note: algae itself can be a beneficial nutrient to aquatic ecosystems and their complex food chains.

Automation of data quality control determines that on average, an overwhelming majority of water quality data does not exceed threshold values. Modern data systems are empowering personnel to fully focused on investigating and resolving the rare incidents when observed data violates limits, conflicts or data points are missing. When regulatory compliance is at stake, engaged professionals come to work knowing they contribute to improving quality of life and protecting public health in their communities.

Water professionals are more confident and collaborative than ever. With greater confidence in the quality of data collected and analyzed to address water-related challenges, water utilities and natural resource managers are concentrating on science-based decisions. Open standard web services provide flexible and secure options to share data with environmental scientists and consultants. Moreover, issues like periodic software updates and security patches are delegated to colleagues in IT and partners like KISTERS, both of whom ensure system capabilities meet present and future demands.