Digital Advancements Support Sustainable and Resilient Water Infrastructure

March 18, 2021
Where engineers use engineering tools, operators use operational tools, and so on. But by opening those technologies up to each other through a digital twin, each part of the utility can get better insights.

In the four decades that we have been providing software-based applications and guidance for water professionals, a lot has changed. What hasn’t changed is this: the utilities that leverage their technology best will serve their customers best. Many utilities perceive their technologies narrowly—where engineers use engineering tools, operators use operational tools, and so on. But by opening those technologies up to each other through a digital twin, each part of the utility can get better insight than they would within their individual silos.

“Digitalization will serve as a lever to integrate with other globally recognized response patterns to modern threats. I call this the 4 big D’s,” says Richard Vestner, senior director, digital solutions at Bentley Systems. “It is where decarbonization, decentralization, and democratization add to digitalization. Collectively and across industries, actions in these areas can mitigate negative impacts of observed megatrends that destabilize natural ecosystems and lead to a loss of resilience. New strategies, thought-out solutions, and services that improve water quality and availability are required now, and digital twins have the potential to play an essential role in building sustainable and holistic solutions.”

And many utilities are advancing digitalization to address some of these complex challenges. You may be collecting electronic data in unprecedented volumes, such as output from smart meters, sensors, and various types of inspections. Yet, you may still struggle to use that data to support better decisions, in part because of insufficient digital technology to improve processes. The digital movement represents an opportunity for you to change how you work by more effectively leveraging data, but it also represents a risk. Good data is fundamental to good decision-making. But often, utilities struggle to effectively use the data that they already have and the data that they routinely collect because it is isolated in disconnected IT solutions, spreadsheets, and paper records. Without a way to effectively use data to address real problems, you may find yourself drowning in data while thirsting for insight.

Free Webcast! Join us for “A SmartMarket Briefing: Digital Capabilities of US Water Utilities

March 30, 2021 11:00 a.m. EDT / 8:00 a.m. PDT

The webcast will also be available on demand after the live event at 

To address this predicament, digital twins are a powerful strategy that many water utilities are beginning to adopt. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical asset, process, or system. For a water utility, a digital twin can be continuously updated with virtual operational data from supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, sensors, meters, and other measured sources, creating a real-time model that can be used in operations. A digital twin dynamically changes based on the data that it receives, allowing it to mature and yield valuable information that is not generated by a traditional static model—and that capability can drive business decisions.

“Openness has been a driving focus for Bentley for many years,” says Gregg Herrin, vice president, water infrastructure at Bentley Systems. “Our openness leads to flexibility, allowing utilities to interchangeably work in our products between AutoCAD, ArcGIS, ArcGIS Pro, and our own graphical interface. Our openness leads to interoperability, allowing utilities to combine information from systems like GIS, SCADA, simulation tools, and beyond. That same openness leads to scalability, allowing utilities to create, extend, and apply digital twins to help make better decisions throughout the organization.

The concept of a digital twin can be used at different scales, from an individual component like a pump or valve, to a subsystem like a water treatment plant or other facility, to an entire utility network. Digital twins can be useful in every phase of the asset lifecycle, from planning and design, to construction, to operations and maintenance. Also, digital twins can be useful to many different types of people, including engineers and designers; operators; and a range of stakeholders, including individuals inside the utility—such as executives—or outside the utility—such as the public.

As many industries have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is greater need to have a resilient workforce as well. Even though water utilities are considered essential services and, in that sense, can still have staff go into the office to support water utility operations, this shift to making data available from anywhere becomes increasingly important. The emphasis for the water utility is on the accessibility of the information in the field to investigate and assess issues, as well as respond quickly.

The result is an intelligent, connected digital infrastructure model that supports planning, design, construction, and operations for smart water networks. Digital twins of water systems provide accurate, reliable data that you can use to perform what-if analyses and make informed decisions throughout the lifecycle of a water system—from long-term system vulnerability and capacity planning to immediate performance monitoring and emergency response.

“We are proud of our history in helping so many utilities to become more effective, efficient, and resilient,” says Herrin. “But we are driven to make the future even better, and we are excited that we see so many utilities pursuing that future with Bentley.”

Status of U.S. Water Utilities Digital Advancement

Water utilities have been chronically underfunded for decades, and an estimate from the American Water Works Association found that a USD 1 trillion investment is needed to meet the drinking water system needs in the United States. To better understand how this industry is leveraging digital capabilities to its benefit and address these historical challenges, Dodge Data & Analytics and its partner Bentley launched a new study and report titled “The Digital Capabilities of US Water Utilities SmartMarket Brief,” which established a benchmark for municipal water systems and the readiness of this market for digital transformation. The findings showed that the ability to gather, share, and analyze data and other digital resources are essential to improving the effectiveness of operations and maintenance, capital planning, and emergency preparedness. They will play a significant role in digital transformation and their future capabilities.

While water utilities clearly understand the value of data, and 87% of them reported that they gather data digitally, 50% of all respondents believed that they are gathering less than half of the data available to them. In addition, two common issues prevent them from conducting their work efficiently across their organizations:

  • 90% said that data is isolated in disconnected IT systems, spreadsheets, or paper records, which prevents effective operations and maintenance at their organization on occasion (45% say frequently)
  • 68% reported that lack of visibility across stakeholders interferes with effective capital planning on occasion (43% say frequently)

Nearly three quarters of responders reported that they are in the process of digital transformation at their organization, demonstrating a commitment to improving their digital capabilities. However, when it comes to how engaged they are with eight different types of digital capabilities, the findings indicated that they are still in the early stages of that process.

  • The strongest scores were tied to effective management and sharing of data. But even in these categories, only 12% or fewer reported very good to excellent capabilities, around two-thirds had moderate to good capabilities, and between one-quarter and one-third still had limited to no capabilities.
  • Gathering information in real-time—whether directly from the assets or from reality capture tools like drones and laser scanning—is a particular challenge, with around half of respondents reporting that they had no or limited capabilities in these areas.
  • Only about 4% reported that they have digital twins in place (i.e., a digital version of the asset with real-time data that can be used for planning and operational purposes).

“We find consistently in our research that people are at the heart of a successful adoption of new technology,” says Steve Jones, senior director of industry insights for Dodge Data & Analytics. “The technology is the tool, but as the case study featured in the SmartMarket Brief reveals, the real value comes from the insights it provides to help them to do their work more effectively.”

“The Digital Capabilities of US Water Utilities SmartMarket Brief” includes a more detailed examination of the status of many operations and maintenance, capital planning, emergency preparedness, and response activities and functions. It helps to benchmark the industry’s progress toward its digital future. The report is available for free download at

A webcast entitled “A SmartMarket Briefing: Digital Capabilities of US Water Utilities

Will be held March 30, 2021 11:00 a.m. EDT / 8:00 a.m. PDT

The webcast will also be available on demand after the live event at

Digital Innovators in Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Projects & Operations – The Americas

Aegea – Because a portion of the population does not have proper sewage coverage or access to clean water, the Brazilian government wanted to fast-track coverage by encouraging investors to build or operate current plants. However, handing over asset information for publicly operated and managed facilities proved difficult because of disorganized information. Aegea, a private group of water and sewage utilities, was looking for an integrated approach and recognized the need for a collaborative, digital twin solution. The result was the BRL 20 million Infra Inteligente Program that combines BIM and asset management, transforming water asset lifecycle data into understandable 3D models that contain specifications and real-time access to asset operations. Aegea plans to save millions by switching from reactive to proactive maintenance, which will extend the life of their assets.

Hatch – With team members in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Hatch was responsible for the design and construction of a new tunneled outfall that will send treated wastewater from the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant into Lake Ontario. They needed design applications that combined computer-aided design and engineering analysis for the estimated CAD$ 350 million wastewater outfall project. They also had to minimize costs while considering the underwater soil and environmental features. Hatch’s engineers predicted the geological boundary conditions below the lake to steer significant design decisions. They collaborated across several time zones in a connected data environment to keep the project on time and under budget. They delivered a high-quality design by using digital models and structural analysis, conserving CAD$ 25,000 in resource hours. They also saved more than CAD$ 45,000 on paper and printing, as well as consolidated their design team to save more than CAD$ 350,000.

SABESP – When SABESP wanted to reduce water losses in São Paulo, Brazil, they relied on insufficient methods, potentially causing customer dissatisfaction and revenue loss. They realized during their study of the city’s Cursino supply sector that to develop informed, valid improvement proposals, they had to overcome old infrastructure, irregular topography, demand increase, and data collection. They also recognized that identifying critical areas and inadequate pressures, as well as analyzing renovation alternatives, required developing digital twins. With a digital twin, they could transform their asset database into a dynamic hydraulic model of the water supply for the Cursino sector. The digital twin solution is expected to yield operational benefits that are estimated to save close to BRL 850,000 per month (once the project is fully implemented) in recovered water volume. It also serves as a benchmark for improving water supply services to other areas of the city.

Digital Innovators in Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Projects & Operations – Europe and Asia

Águas do Porto – AdP improved the entire urban water cycle in the city of Porto, Portugal by commissioning a smart water management platform (digital twin) called H2PORTO based on Bentley applications. By unifying the data produced by formerly siloed systems, AdP has improved the accuracy of the data produced from sensor readings to nearly 99%. It included the following: water service interruptions fell by 22.9%, number of sewer collapses decreased by 54%; repairs for pipe burst and sewer and service connections improved by 8.3% and 45.5%, respectively; volume of non-revenue water dropped by 3.5%; integration of real-time data and producing information available to teams in the field produced operational gains of 23%; and remote access to H2PORTO allows technicians to update digital twin information while in the field, resulting in operational gains of 23%.

DTK Hydronet Solutions – The engineering firm was hired as the consultant to deliver Dibrugarh’s water infrastructure network, providing continuous pressurized potable water to all 25,391 houses in the region of Assam, India. However, it was impossible for them to work with conventional file sharing methods and conduct hydraulic studies within the stipulated timeframe. Additionally, the network had to address non-revenue water (NRW) concerns. DTK needed to establish a connected data environment and digitalize engineering workflows and asset management. DTK completed the entire design in 50 days, saving 40% in design time and 15% in inventory costs. DTK analyzed over 100 operational scenarios, resulting in a smart water system that will limit NRW to no more than 15%. DTK achieved a paradigm shift in digital engineering practices, resulting in improved water asset and risk-based management.

India’s Guwahati Water and Sewerage Department – The water utility wanted to improve coverage of the potable water supply by 70%. However, previous manual hydraulic design methods were error-prone and inefficient. NJS Engineers India was tasked with delivering modern, intelligent water infrastructure, but had to overcome technical, coordination, and engineering challenges, as well as high pressure concerns. To manage and share data among over 100 firms, NJS needed to establish a connected data environment. The team created a digital GIS environment that helped save 2% in planning and construction costs, reducing drawing production by 60%. Then, with hydraulic modeling, they were able to identify and develop solutions for the high-pressure distribution system, saving 6% in overall project costs. This digital twin created for the project helped promote lifecycle asset management. NJS delivered a fully digitalized water supply system, improving visibility and standardizing business processes that are expected to reduce operating costs.

POWERCHINA ZhongNan Engineering Corporation Limited – The Shenzhen Water Group wanted to build an internationally renowned smart water project that crosses buildings, transportation facilities, and pipelines, supplying the future Nanshan Water Treatment Plant and benefiting 1.5 million people. They hired POWERCHINA ZhongNan Engineering Corporation Limited to create high-quality, ecological 3D designs of the raw water pipeline. Their models were also required to apply to the project’s full lifecycle and last a century. To achieve these goals, POWERCHINA ZhongNan knew that they had to use a collaborative design platform to create digital twins for analyses, quantity calculation, and simulation. By creating digital twin models of all components, the team was able to reduce design time by one month, saving CNY 4 million. Simulation guaranteed accurate design and reduced labor and material waste by 20%, lowering energy consumption.

A massive construction project for a river pump gate involves many engineering disciplines, contributing service teams, and relocating and installing underground pipelines. This new access to the sea is meant to reduce frequent flooding in Shanghai. The short design timeline and vast amount of work made Shanghai Water Engineering Design and Research Institute realize that, instead of using traditional methods, they needed to generate a 3D reality model while simultaneously importing BIM models into finite element analysis software. The project was the first in which they would apply BIM technology to all aspects of design and construction. Shanghai Water Engineering Design and Research Institute improved the 3D models by working collaboratively and efficiently in a connected data environment, so all disciplines could simultaneously design components of the project. They uncovered several construction process collisions using Bentley’s BIM applications, reducing rework, cutting costs, and shortening the building schedule.

About the Author

Teresa Elliott

Teresa Elliott is Sr. Director Digital Twin Marketing for Bentley Systems.

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