The SmartAmerica Challenge encouraged companies to think about innovation and technology in a new way. Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and CH2M HILL have been collaborating with the intent to develop sustainable connectivity solutions leveraging machine to machine (M2M) cellular technologies that will help water utilities improve water quality, receive reliable information and manage water resources in the City of Cincinnati. The project was presented at the SmartAmerica Expo, held in Washington, D.C., on June 11.

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

CH2M HILL and Qualcomm Technologies participated in the SmartAmerica Exposition on June 11 in Washington, D.C. The event was a culmination of a yearlong challenge aimed to show the potential benefits of cyber-physical systems. Watch this video to learn more about the project.

In December 2013, the White House kicked off the SmartAmerica Challenge as a way to foster collaboration among diverse companies and business sectors including transportation, energy, manufacturing, healthcare, disaster recovery, security, climate/environment and others. Teams were challenged to dream up innovative ideas for connecting devices and systems—more commonly known as the Internet of Things. The initial purpose of the Challenge was to pilot solutions that have potential to improve the economy, add jobs, create new business opportunities, conserve resources, and maybe even save lives.

The Challenge drew interest from more than 150 participants. Projects were diverse, ranging from healthcare improvement solutions to energy saving solutions in construction to enhanced water distribution systems for smart cities.

Working with utilities across the U.S., including the City of Cincinnati who continues to invest in leading edge technology, CH2M HILL, in collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies, developed a project concept that would enable utilities to more efficiently and effectively manage water resources by connecting water systems using wireless technology and sensors placed throughout the water system. The enhanced distribution system is capable of detecting and collecting more information about what is happening in the utility’s water system. By gathering more data and having the technology in place to process the data in real-time, utility operators have access to the information they need to make rapid decisions in order to prevent water contamination events, better manage drought, and prevent water loss and potential system failures caused by leaking pipes or asset failure.

Beyond managing water supplies, intelligent water systems are also beneficial for protecting public health. CH2M HILL worked with several cities, including San Francisco, New York, Dallas, and Philadelphia, to develop comprehensive water contamination warning systems as part of a U.S. EPA Water Security Division, Water Security Initiative grant program. Integrating data from online water quality monitoring systems with public surveillance and customer complaints records, as well as data collected from water samples, the systems provide the utilities with more information about their water quality, and if something goes wrong, the operator is alerted and proper procedures are in place to ensure that the public is notified before a disaster occurs.

While there is a multitude of potential solutions that can address water infrastructure challenges at the local level, introducing new technologies, like those mentioned, in our water and environmental systems, will transform the water industry and represents a step change in how water resources can be managed more efficiently and effectively to affect environmental impact on economic growth.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that without investment, deteriorating water infrastructure will cause American businesses to lose $734 billion in sales between now and 2020, and the cumulative loss to our gross domestic product (GDP) will be $416 billion. In addition, the U.S. economy will lose almost 700,000 jobs by 2020 and 1.4 million jobs by 2040, with those losses spread both through sectors traditionally employing people without extensive education and knowledge-based sectors.

Learn more about the collaboration on integrated water communications solutions here.

Ken Thompson serves as Deputy Director for CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions team. He has more than 34 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.