Change Leader: Water Infrastructure Needs New Policies To Match New Technology
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/3sDfez4
After more than a decade focused on the water industry with Innovyze and now Autodesk, Colby Manwaring has seen a variety of projects and implementations—some very successful and others not at all. To better help the clients he works with, he’s now focused on changing how they use technology as well as how they influence the policy change needed to enact better implementations and outcomes.
Although most water utilities and companies rely on digital technology, including digital twins, they don’t always use it as effectively as possible. Manwaring notes that some utilities implement the best products in design and modeling, but then get stuck in a “set it and forget it” mindset. They use a digital twin to optimize and plan the system, but then put it in the backroom and don’t take advantage of the investment and power they have.
“Unfortunately, things are dynamic, things change,” he notes. “If a utility is not keeping up with the realities of their system day-to-day, week-to-week, it leads to poor performance and failures that affect communities.”
He cites Denver Water as a shining example of how to best use technology. For decades, it has used digital sensors to gather information about what’s going on with its water system. Denver Water now uses its data to create analytical and simulation models that provide dynamic feedback based on real-time information that can mimic the real system.
“In many water utilities, the planners and engineers don’t actually know what operational practices occur,” he notes, such as when a pump may be undergoing maintenance. “Therefore, the models and some of the optimization that goes on doesn’t take into account reality. It seems simple and obvious, but that’s the sort of thing that needs to happen to optimize the use of our water infrastructure.”
Autodesk recently formalized its partnership with the US Water Alliance to identify best practices and policy recommendations to influence the practitioners and policymakers in the water industry.
According to Manwaring, recent policy advancements such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Water Resource Development Act show an appetite for change and improvement. But policymakers typically aren’t expert practitioners in an area, so organizations such as the US Water Alliance provide expert input to improve outcomes.
Autodesk helped put forward specific policy recommendations in which state and local governments as well as public and private utilities should be encouraged and supported to develop and maintain up-to-date digital asset-management programs, using digital tools to optimize design, construction, operations and maintenance of water infrastructure built through public policy funding and recommendations.
“For many years, Innovyze and Autodesk focused on the engineers, on the users, on the technical experts in the water infrastructure industry,” notes Manwaring. “We are pivoting, purposefully, to better enable and support the lawmakers, the policymakers and the funding mechanisms, so those engineers and users see a pathway to use their skills and the tools that have existed, often for many years, to better the outcomes for the water industry.”
Set Aside 5 Percent for Technology
With significant amounts of money coming in from infrastructure legislation, companies and municipalities often wonder how much of a project’s budget should go toward the technology needed to effectively complete and maintain an asset. Manwaring has found it quite accurate to say 5 percent of the construction or “hard-asset” spend should be spent in digital technology to plan, optimize the construction, and create the recommended maintenance and operation schedule.
“That will ensure the funding is going to enhance safety and security, mitigate the impact of climate change, and really support resiliency, which is what we’re all after,” he says. “When you’re considering digital investment, 5 percent is a good place to start.”