Municipalities and utilities face rising needs and shifting demands as water supplies evolve across the country. As these needs continue to burden resources, technology will be critical to help make timely and cost-effective solutions for infrastructure under enormous pressure.

One such technology that can be considered is smart sensor technology — specifically, a network of sensors that can monitor a system. Smart sensors offer a more consistent and timely approach to monitoring the demand, availability and health of water, our most precious resource.

For example, during large rain events, wastewater treatment plants can take a big hit if enough preparation isn’t done in advance — and, typically, you can’t predict when a storm is going to take place.

By utilizing smart sensors, cities can quickly make the decision to divert the flow of stormwater to a reservoir or basin to hold the water until the storm has passed — preventing overflow at the treatment plant and postponing treatment until capacity is available. Instead of spending large amounts of money building or upgrading a plant for one-time rain events, smart sensors can be installed to provide better operational control for these situations.

Even with the availability of smart technology, sometimes little can be done to eliminate the challenges associated with aging infrastructure that is taking place across the country. This means that municipalities and utilities are left with no choice but to build or upgrade. With these large monetary investments, it’s important to prioritize areas of improvement. Asset management is one innovative approach used to track and document the entire water system by placing value on each aspect.

With an asset management system, you can better determine if investments are being made appropriately and provide more planning upfront. This delivers better information to make smarter decisions when it comes to your water infrastructure.

In addition, if you’ve weighed all your options and established that physical upgrades must be done, a design-build approach can help save time and money on this large and crucial investment. Be sure to apply asset management and smart sensor technology tools to your new project to help extend its life and save money down the road.


Data monitoring is revolutionizing drinking water, stormwater and wastewater systems. See how one region is using a network of sensors to transform a body of water into a “smart lake” fit for a smart city.

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Patrick Clifford is a regional practice manager at Burns & McDonnell. In his role, he helps provide water industry clients with engineer-procure-construct (EPC) and other alternative project delivery solutions.