Supporting Water Resources Management Through Technology

Sept. 25, 2017
WaterWorld spoke with Ken Adamson, vice president of Bentley's building, electrical, plant, and structural detailing applications, to understand some of the key water management challenges and drivers in the market and how technology is making an impact.

Around the world, technology advancements are supporting water resource management initiatives by helping to optimize capital and operational costs and facilitate communication. WaterWorld spoke with Ken Adamson, vice president of Bentley's building, electrical, plant, and structural detailing applications, to understand some of the key water management challenges and drivers in the market and how technology is making an impact.

WATERWORLD: When we talk about water resources, what are you seeing as some of the key challenges that are facing the industry today?

KEN ADAMSON: From a broad, global perspective, I see two major challenges. The first is water stress, or the stress on water resources. If you look at fresh water distribution across the globe, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population but 29 percent of the fresh water available, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. To put that into perspective, consider Africa, which has 16 percent of the world's population but only 10 percent of the water resources and Asia holds 60 percent of the world's population and has only 33 percent of the water resources, according to Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (GPS). There is an evident challenge surrounding the demand for clean water and how to adequately supply it.

We also don't realize another startling fact: only 8 percent of fresh water is used for human consumption, according to Citi GPS. Most fresh water is used for agriculture and industrial purposes, such as in the extraction industries, which include oil and gas, power, or mining. Consequently, water stress is not solely about the human consumption of water, it’s also about agriculture and industry.

The second challenge is ecological and environmental. In the United States, for example, climate change is a rising concern. However, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) recently conducted a survey of its members in the “State of the Water Industry Report” and found that 45 percent of U.S. utilities' plans around water do not address impacts from climate change. Outside of the U.S., other issues that drive environmental challenges include disease prevention and control. There are some areas where water supply challenges have resulted in innovation, such as in Singapore, where the NEWater initiative involves recycling wastewater back into the fresh water supply, according to “The Energy-Water Nexus and Climate Change” report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy.

WW: You've mentioned several global water resources issues. I would imagine that around the world there are a lot of significant differences in requirements. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

KA: In Europe and the Americas, we think about water in terms of a western mindset. The UK, for example, was one of the first places to put in modern-day water supply and sewage treatment systems. In 1854, a physician named John Snow traced the outbreak of cholera in London to a contaminated hand pump that caused the spread of the disease.

In the early 1900s, the UK built its water infrastructure. The U.S. followed soon after and expanded its systems in the 1950s and 60s, essentially to what it is now. The U.S. population in the 1950s was 180 million. It's now 330 million – an 85 percent increase, according to a 2016 World Resources Institute report, “Global Baseline Water Stress Analysis” — and yet we have not significantly changed the way in which we think about our water treatment and supply.

Of course, challenges in the U.S. center around its aging infrastructure. The AWWA lists replacement and refurbishing of water infrastructure as the number one priority in its list of the top five water infrastructure priorities in their 2017 “State of the Water Industry Report.” The second listed priority is financing, a prime concern because the public has a limited understanding of water infrastructure requirements and, therefore, the country struggles to attain taxpayer support to finance those improvements.

In the UK, we see an older system but population growth has not been as dramatic as in the U.S. The UK population in the 1960s was 50 million and currently the population has reached 65 million, only a 22 percent growth, according to the Office for National Statistics. Here, Infrastructure improvement tends to be government-mandated, so educating the public about water infrastructure needs isn't as critical in the UK as it is in the United States. China, in comparison, has seen their population surge from 650 million in the 1960s to 1.3 billion today, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. Their water improvement challenges are largely driven by government mandates and focused around cleaning up industrial contamination and providing a clean water supply to its people. Additionally, in India disease prevention and control are still major concerns in the water infrastructure sector, especially in rural communities.

It is evident that different areas of the world have diverse water infrastructure challenges that require individualized approaches as to how needs are prioritized.

WW: What types of solutions does Bentley offer that can help meet these challenges?

KA: Aging infrastructure in the U.S. prompts the need for brownfield development, or the capture of the existing as-is state. Communities are generally not investing in new facilities but are instead revamping existing facilities or attempting to stretch the capability of a current footprint to supply more water for larger, growing populations. With brownfield data capturing of the existing condition, is the best method to understand and optimize what is available.

Energy efficiency is another challenge to be met. Water is a huge consumer of power, particularly the pumping over exceptionally large distances, a common occurrence in the western part of the U.S. Any optimization of power usage for pumping water is very important.

The third challenge is what I call “visualization of projects.” This is particularly critical for large capital projects like treatment plants, and it speaks directly to the issue of financing and public education that require public disclosure, public involvement, impact on the environment, environmental reports, and the like. The ability to visualize projects is extremely useful as a communication or education capability to ultimately support “rate based” investments.

In places with major growth, like China and Singapore, there is an emphasis on new, large greenfield projects with a different set of requirements. These are billion-dollar projects that typically use global resources for engineering and contracting and large teams of people. Once financing is secured, often from government agencies, these projects must be scaled up quickly, brought online, and deliver a clean water supply as soon as possible. Communication improvements across the different teams is critical for bringing a facility online quickly.

Bentley also provides solutions on the operations side. “Optioneering” is a means by which you can look at different options for any design process, weighing alternatives. We also offer capabilities that allow comparison of the capital costs, implementation schedules, and operational costs of the facility once it’s been built.

WW: Do you have an example you could share?

KA: In Singapore, they are using groundwater, recycled water, and fresh water brought in from Malaysia. Each activity has a different cost point in terms of treating sewage, pumping up from groundwater, or purchasing the supply from Malaysia. These all need to be optimized on a day-to-day basis to determine the most efficient supply mix in terms of energy as well as costs. Bentley offers solutions that meet those challenges.

WW: Are there any recent projects that stand out as exemplary?

KA: Every year, Bentley holds The Year in Infrastructure Conference, which highlights some of the world's most outstanding infrastructure advancements. Two years ago, the Changi WRP Phase 2 Expansion Project, in Singapore, focused on water reclamation and building the second phase of a large underground system for collecting the wastewater that would be treated in the plant. The project team used Bentley’s AECOsim Building Designer application as well our civil applications to design the project. For the treatment plant itself, OpenPlant software, AECOsim Building Designer and ProStructures applications, were used to design the facility. This successful project now treats 920 million liters of water a day.

This year, there are three project finalists competing for top honors in the BIM Advancements in Water and Wastewater Plants category. One project is from Tongzhou, China, where the goal is to reduce groundwater extraction from about 75 percent to 25 percent and develop a new water supply serving 900,000 people over 155 square kilometers. The project also sought to reduce groundwater pumping and limit power expenditures. AECOsim and OpenPlant applications were used in designing the facility and Bentley’s civil products helped with the tunneling and piping network, which tied into existing infrastructure.

Another project, located in the Jinshan District of China, is a sewage treatment venture requiring 23 kilometers of new piping from Shanghai for the new treatment facility. Servicing 20 million people, this large-scale project required extensive cross-team coordination and Bentley's ProjectWise facilitated collaboration and information management on the project.

WW: What would you say is an underlying take-away from the trends you're seeing?

KA: Going back to Dr. John Snow, his work reminds us why we have a need for clean and safe water treatment in the first place. When we talk about infrastructure, we most often think of roads, bridges, or airports, but we rarely think of water supply and treatment. It’s good to remind ourselves of the importance of water as a resource for agricultural and industrial use as well as for drinking water. Bentley’s continuing imperative for the water industry is to provide the proper technology to help its customers accomplish their goals and to meet and exceed the global need for water.