"Pay me now, or pay me later!"
Many Canadian cities, towns, communities, and First Nations are looking to make major improvements in their fresh water distribution projects in 2021. On December 17, 2020, the federal government announced the formation of the Canada Water Agency. The goal of this new agency is to bring coordination to the various levels of administration of fresh water with a worthy goal of providing clean, safe water to everyone - regardless of where you live in Canada. This governmental harmonization is an excellent step in the pursuit of this goal and METERCOR supports federal government’s action to eliminate all roadblocks to what should be a right of citizenship in this country – clean, fresh water!
Far too much fresh water is not being delivered properly, or is being delivered with horrible inefficiencies that are almost incomprehensible to imagine. Fresh water losses in the mains and service connections are estimated to range from a low of 7% to a high of 50%. All of this water must be purified before it is added to the distribution system – that cleansing costs a lot and is rapidly increasing in cost every year. So, to pay a fortune to clean the water and then not to deliver it to the people is simply unacceptable.
What can be done beyond coordination of the various levels of government? Municipal waterworks operators can make smart strategic technical decisions for superior visibility of their water distribution plants to allow faster and better decision-making as a result of the greater situational awareness. Technology does exist to make the fresh water waterworks far more visible. Here are several ideas that need to be embraced in 2021 and beyond.
1. Digital Meters
Most water meters installed today are of the older, analog designs used for the past 100+ years. Displacement water meters, often called Positive Displacement (PD) meters, are the most common water meters for residential and small commercial properties. They contain mechanical parts (an oscillating piston or nutating disk) that are displaced, or moved, as water flows through the meter's main chamber. They are the least expensive water meter to purchase. However, they have some serious issues. As they age, they under-report flow consumption dramatically resulting in serious financial losses in revenue to the municipality. As well, they fail much younger as they age and replacement parts are hard to come by, even on eBay. The days of analog are behind us in every other technology domain, yet analog technology continues in water meters. Why? It is a foolish decision to buy these analog meters in today’s digital society. The new, digital ultrasonic meters are far better meters. These digital meters are able to measure water flows to far lower rates and survive for many years longer compared to an older mechanical, analog water meters. Yes, they cost somewhere between 5% to 20% more to buy compared to the initial costs of an analog meter, but the ROI over the 15-to-20-year lifespan greatly offsets the initial capital costs. The ROI is perhaps 2x to 5x better for a digital water meter compared to an analog water meter. Go digital!
Not all network topologies are the same. Municipalities have choices to make when selecting the network to connect their water meters. They can look to star, mesh, or cluster tree topologies. Vendors pitch options such as LoRa, private networks, and public cellular options. But the majority of waterworks in North America make use of networks in the licence exempt ISM band of spectrum from 902 MHz to 928 MHz. The cluster tree topology offers the best signal coverage for the cost and is proven and robust. It is affordable and can be easily serviced. LoRa is limited in data rate and features, other star topologies have gaps in coverage and require expensive tower installations. And cellular is simply too expensive and eats battery power down to days and less then a week, so for water and gas meters, it is not viable.
Water networks in Canada must connect to meters buried in the depths of basements, hidden in closets, sunk into outdoor pits, or trapped in confined spaces. All wireless technologies are challenged to connect to these Canadian water meters. But the free spectrum ISM band cluster tree design is the most powerful way to connect and is easiest on the batteries for sustained, reliable, and available connections. Go cluster tree!
The headend is where all of the date flows. It is the cash register of the smart water meter network. It is where the billing occurs so municipalities can collect their revenues and to pay for their waterworks. Yet, we see old, tired, and heavily manual processes in place today. Spreadsheets are used to move data via ‘sneaker net’ and this is one of the last industries to not have automated their billing systems. It is like going back in time 20 to 30 years.
Municipalities are giving away many financial opportunities by not updating their headends to the latest systems and platforms. These waterworks are shipping Big Data to the headends. This Big Data can be monetized and made to work for the operators. Analytics and artificial intelligence need to be added.
What? You cannot afford these platforms? But you do not need to purchase them, they can be used as a service today on an ad hoc basis and deliver great insights, alert operators to non revenue water, pinpoint leaks, and make sense of how the distribution plant works. All while being automated and error checked to avoid missing bills, or billing mistakes, and lost revenues. Again, this is a ‘no brainer’ decision to stop the bleeding of revenue. It is time to make smart water networks actually smart. Go intelligence!
4. Installation Services
It is reported that perhaps 90% of all faults in waterworks systems can be traced back to poor installation procedures and processes. Municipalities choose the lowest cost installation vendors. We understand - it is the public purse. And bureaucrats need to be prudent to work in the best interest of the ratepayers. Sure, no argument.
But, cost always needs to be in balance with quality and schedule. There is no escaping quality work. If corners are cut to save a buck, then it will inevitably come back to haunt you with failed joints, leaks in basements, non revenue water costs, and road repair cost from gushing water mains.
Select an installer that is trusted, experienced, and has the continuous improvement processes and procedures hardened over decades of expert success. It is perhaps the greatest cost saving possible. Go Quality!
There was an old television advertisement that cried out, “Pay me now, or pay me later”. This is the painful truth for waterworks’ projects in 2021. You get what you pay for, and if you want to pay less over the lifespan of your project, then you need to make smart decisions right from the outset.
Build it once, build it right!