Data, data everywhere…but never enough information to act upon. Utilities have faced this common problem for decades where only a fraction of data collected is ever analyzed and turned into valuable, actionable information. Machine-to-machine communications are creating new opportunities to collect data that have typically been manually collected and rarely evaluated.

By: Ken Thompson, CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions Deputy Director and Chris Macintosh, CH2M HILL Senior Technologist Intelligent Water Solutions

Ken Thompson will present on “Making Water Systems Smarter Using M2M Technology,� during the Utility Management Conference, on Thursday, February 19, at 10:30 a.m. For CH2M HILL’s full participation in #UMC15, click here.

Imagine being able to put a sensor anywhere in a water distribution system, or a wastewater collection system, to find out exactly what you need to know in near real time without being constrained by the need to supply power and communications to the sensor. The possibilities this machine-to-machine (M2M) technology provides for understanding critical influences on the system, such as water age, chlorine levels, inflow/infiltration influences, industry waste, and more, are endless.

Now consider the relationships that can be created between measurements taken such as water consumption related to wastewater produced at points in time, or wastewater flow related to weather or time of day.

Whether you realize it or not, a lot of these opportunities are available today—ranging from detailed water consumption with smart meters to water quality monitoring in water distribution systems, to flow and level in wastewater collection systems. However, the data produced by these sensors is only useful when it’s understood, interpreted, and connected to system operations.

Of course the amount of data generated by all of these sensors will increase with the number and capability of the sensors, so interpreting the data becomes the next challenge. The most common method for making the data useful is by generating trends based on time to show how parameters change. This is beneficial in some situations, but the timespan that needs to be considered may not be obvious. For example, do you look at changes over minutes, hours, days, months, or years? Correlation between parameters can also be useful, as can correlation between parameters and events.

In working with utilities, there are examples of all of these scenarios, where events were not understood because the data was not being connected. Nevertheless, events could have been predicted had the data been available and understood, or changes in operations could have prevented an event, such as a pipe breakage. The keys to this approach include identifying the parameters that will provide the most useful information, the locations that are most important, and then determining the best approaches to changing the myriad data points into useful, understandable, information.

In the future, we expect to see sensors become smaller and consume less power. We will see the use of wireless mesh networks and cellular networks become more ubiquitous, allowing ready access to sensors anywhere. Data analysis will be performed closer to the sensor allowing the sensor itself to be smarter about what is measured and when. However, with this technology comes the need for more data analytics to assist with the interpretation of the data. The prevalence and use of mobile devices by teams in the field will also present a greater capability—enabling a more clear understanding of what is happening at any point in time, at any location. We believe this will be a fantastic enabler for customer service and rapid return to normal operations.

For more information about smart water systems and M2M solutions, contact Chris or Ken.

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.


Chris Macintosh is a Senior Technologist with CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions team. Chris has been an electronic engineer and project manager for more than 30 years. His experience has included development of sensors and business intelligence software for contamination warning systems for water utilities and management of the development of IT security products. He is currently focused on the application of networks of sensors using M2M technologies for the water and wastewater industry.