Smart grid technology is changing the game for the water industry by providing utilities with a powerful tool to better integrate and manage large amounts of data—helping streamline operations and enhance the facility’s security.

By Ken Thompson, CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions Deputy Director

Although the United States has one of the safest public drinking water supplies in the world, the consequences of contaminated drinking water remain a sincere concern. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made it a top priority to address the security of our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructures.

To help this concern, Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), as part of a larger Water Security initiative grant from the EPA, developed a comprehensive contamination warning system (CWS, now called Surveillance and Response System –SRS) for the city’s drinking water system. Philadelphia was among five cities selected to participate in pilot programs to help pave the way for water utilities around the nation to develop new security technologies for detecting and monitoring water supplies.

The project, which began in 2009, is now complete and already PWD and other utilities have observed significant operational benefits, as well as increased security of their distribution systems. CWSs make it easier to accurately detect contaminants with enough time to react and resolve the issue before contaminated water is widely distributed to consumers.

The CWS pilot program was developed using a systematic approach and incorporated six major components, including:

  • Online water quality monitoring
  • Sampling and analysis
  • Enhance security monitoring
  • Consumer complaint surveillance
  • Public health surveillance
  • Consequence management

The first five components listed include the routine day-to-day operational activities. These components and the associated data streams become more useful for utilities after being integrated and channeled into a single database – or Smart Grid dashboard—which automatically analyzes the data to detect contamination events, alerts PWD staff to potential water quality issues, and provides them with response actions under the Consequence Management component.

Smart Grid technology has been utilized by the power supply industry for years, but it a relatively new concept in the water industry.  In a time when resources are limited, the workforce is changing as the Baby Boomer generation retires, infrastructure is aging, and staff is being asked to do more with less, water treatment and distribution networks can benefit immensely by integrating smart technology with existing systems. Utilities need better information to make decisions and the Smart Grid shows utilities how to optimize water quantity, water quality and cost, while at the same time balancing priorities.

Right now, many utilities struggle to make sense of the raw data collected and make critical decisions using , at best, 40% of the data generated. Using the EPA funded pilot projects and CWS work as a foundation, utilities can identify ways to better manage data and make good use of the tools available to handle the data generated at their facility.

A series of white papers were developed with PWD in conjunction with the EPA pilot program. The papers contain a substantial amount of information on each of the CWS components and discuss the feasibility and benefits of incorporating CWS technology. The series is available for free download at

Ken Thompson serves as Deputy Director for CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions team. He has more than 32 years of experience and is deeply involved in research as a Project Advisory Committee Member for AWWARF and WERF projects; a member of the Water Reuse Research Foundation research advisory committee; and a project manager for AWWARF, WERF, Water Reuse Research Foundation, and NWRI research projects. Prior to joining CH2M HILL, Ken worked for public utilities for 19 years in water, wastewater, and recycled water system operations, process evaluation, water quality, and regulations.