Right underneath our feet is a highly complex and incredibly crucial system of moving parts and flowing fluids, which humanity, both urban and rural, depend on. Wastewater is managed differently across the globe, different infrastructure demands different solutions. Though, one thing that the sector can’t ignore, no matter its location, is that new smart technologies can help prevent the next waste related disaster waiting to happen.
The wastewater system in Israel
According to data from the Water Authority, Israel continues to see an increase in the amount of wastewater that is being treated for purification, with over 85% of treated wastewater being reused, namely for agriculture. The amount of wastewater discharged into sewage systems goes beyond the massive number last tracked at 500 million cubic meters per year, of which over 90% is treated in a wastewater treatment plant. It is estimated that about 10%-20% of the wastewater discharged into the sewage systems is sourced from industrial wastewater.
Today, the most common practice used to oversee industrial users of wastewater in Israel, especially unpurified wastewater, is done through manual sampling that is carried out by the local water utilities. According to a Water Authority's report on effluent and wastewater published last January, the total amount of raw wastewater from all sources is estimated at 517 million cubic meters and that about 95.5% of the wastewater reaches the collection system. Wastewater that is not purified, is generally directed to agriculture, the sea and groundwater recharge.
Managing wastewater, commonly known as sewage, dramatically affects our lives but most people are not aware of its immediate and long-term effects. These impacts include exposure to toxins, impacting the quality of fruits and vegetables we eat, and even the effect on the sea and rivers we use to bathe.
The Attarot, an industrial area in Jerusalem for example, has gone through a technological transformation in managing its wastewater. In 2018, the industrial area registered 349 cases of blockage that caused street floods and the potential of exposure to hazardous substances. Only after implementing Kando’s technology, the utility saw a decline by over 40% of the observed blockages. Kando’s solution enabled the utility to pinpoint the contamination sources, and even their volume, which led to the reduction of pollutants in the wastewater system. This was a direct result of industrial users changing what they put into the wastewater system. All because Kando’s system was available, pinpointing which industrial user was impacting the wastewater in real time.
A proper and efficient dialogue led to a significant reduction in the number of blockage incidents, which eventually had a direct and distinct impact on the residents surrounding the Attarot industrial area, by reducing pollutants in the area.
One of the major findings was also the economic value for the authority, and in turn for the surrounding residents. The sewage lines that used to entail extremely high maintenance costs, today are managed with reduced maintenance incidents and reduced costs.
Sewage in The United States
The climate crisis brings a heavy load on old infrastructures throughout the United States. One of the infrastructures impacted is the water and sewage systems that were laid down in the 19th century. With the decline of these critical assets, decision-makers have begun to invest in renovations, repairs, and new technologies to overcome the gaps that have been created by climate change, industrialization, and population growth.
Management of wastewater in the United States includes manual sampling, similar to that of Israel. Grab samples often show an inaccurate result because they are collected and processed slowly.
In the last 12 months there have been a significant number of global wastewater and water incidents that show the need for better technology to manage water challenges. As an example, over the early spring of 2021 there were a number of pollution incidents that have been recorded close to the US Mexican border due to the pollution of the Tijuana River. Every day uncontrolled wastewater is discharged into the river. These are starting to show severe health effects of residents both in the US and in Mexico who live near the polluted river. Without a solution to determine where the pollution originates it will be challenging to improve the health of the river and the people living in this same area.
In another area of the United States, in September 2020, a sudden storm hit Washington pouring over 50mm of rain in under 75 minutes. The area that was hit with this storm, like many other parts of the U.S, has a combined storm and sewer system. This caused sewage to show up in regular faucets and other problems that impacted the health of residents.
Digitizing the Sewage Network – The use of Artificial Intelligence.
Wastewater flooding the streets, wastewater being discharged to oceans and rivers, public health hazards, and high operational costs, are but a few of the global challenges facing sewage systems worldwide, and particularly in Israel. One of the best ways of dealing with such challenges is to use technology to help us see problems and understand the network.
The Digitalization of the sewage network enables holistic management through real time data collection and uses processes like Big Data Analytics to more efficiently find solutions and actions to help operators solve problems. These processes, powered by AI, are the most advanced way to use data to find innovative solutions.
AI systems enhance human intelligence when using machines (esp. advanced computer systems). These processes include “learning’ (acquiring data and rules of using such data), “Reasoning” (using rules to reach assumptions or conclusions), and “Self-correction”. AI tools are capable of analyzing data and identifying network systems that are experiencing high contamination surges. This analysis is later turned into actionable insights which enables operational teams to reduce the impact of the incidents, track their sources, and generally reduce their occurrence. This is done by bringing data to the industrial user driving a behavioral change that reduces the contaminants in the network.
AI platforms require large amounts of data (Big Data) to operate optimally, especially if they are tasked with conducting complex activities such as analyzing wastewater activities within pipes. Two types of Big Data are essential for providing efficient intel: historical data and real-time data.
Historical data refers to data that is stored and kept by the water authorities. This data is collected from the network throughout a multi-year period.
Real-time data is driven by ongoing network activities that are measured by sensors and record parameters related to the wastewater quality, which transmit real-time reports to the cloud.
These two types of data are feeding an online analytics platform that is operated by AI systems and store, analyze and display information as actionable insights. Cleaning and certifying data is an essential step in the process, as is removing unreliable data. All this to improve insights and output quality.
Inside AI systems, there are advanced machine learning (ML) tools that allow for the analysis and correlation of data and to construct algorithms. The software itself can identify anomalies and patterns. With a smart model of water management, these tools are used to trace and predict sewage behavior. ML processes usually start with controlled data input and operators’ guidelines, that allow for the AI to identify patterns in the data and the characteristic signatures that are linked to the target processes. Through time, the system begins to learn by itself and formulates ways to improve the processes automatically. Let’s invest in these technologies and demand our cities implement them to help us all live a healthier life.