Smart water cities: water management in the cities of the future

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Smart cities are the best alternative to last century public policies and technologies, whose approach can no longer cope with current challenges, such as population growth, water security and climate change.

The pandemic has accelerated innovation and the adoption of new digital technologies, with the aim to solving this problem. The digitalization of water in cities, in order to transform them into smart water cities, is a complex process. However, it is the only way to offer an excellent service to the population and build a safer and sustainable future.

Salvador Herrando Idrica

In this interview, Salvador Herrando, Smart City Services Manager at Idrica and CBOO at Nexus Integra, shares his view on resource management in the cities of the future.

What challenges do cities face today?

Cities, as the nerve centers of our lives, face the same challenges we have as individuals, to the same extent.

This can be summarized in the need to accelerate technological innovation, which is reinforced in an increasingly global environment. Citizens demand that public administrations offer more and more innovative services. These, in turn, must respond with unprecedented agility.

The result is a powerful political tool that is usually highlighted in government programs, but which represents a great risk when it comes to putting it into practice. The public innovation model is very different from that of private companiesincluding large corporations, in terms of the selection and testing of solutions, technological partners, internal leaders… This implies that the digitalization of a city is a great project of extraordinary complexity.  

Is it possible to improve the quality of water and guarantee its supply in cities? What role can technology play?

Yes, the quality and performance of the water supply can certainly be improved, as well as any other aspect related to its collection, distribution or supply. Technology is everything: the improvement in construction techniques, the materials used, data analysis and so forth, is what allows for a more efficient management of infrastructures.

This approach can be applied to all public services, such as energy management of street lighting and public buildings (schools, libraries, sports centers…), traffic management or parking lots, and environmental management, just to give a few examples. Technology is the key to being effective, but the most important factor is that the methodology of integral management converges. 

What are smart water cities? How can we turn this idea into a reality?

The management of water and energy in a Smart City is possibly the greatest challenge of the current digitalization. To make it possible, the first step is to have information on the infrastructure, including both static data (network layout, supply points, administrative data on installation and materials…) and dynamic data (network status, real-time flow and pressure…).

With this data it is possible to generate what is known as a digital twin, which is a model that represents reality and allows the simulation of any situation that may affect the network and the supply, anticipating problems and avoiding, in many cases, that they occur. It also makes it possible to prioritize investments in the renewal of the network and its equipment, to improve water quality and even to prevent water-based attacks. 

It is essential to have this technology base in order to apply the appropriate technological solutions.

What are the benefits of digital transformation applied to cities, and more specifically to their water management?

Digital transformation is not an end in itself. The benefits it brings about are clear, but above all it builds the basis for implementing fast coming technological solutions. If steps are not taken towards it in a structured way, it will be increasingly difficult to incorporate the solutions.

In fact, this happens in all public services, private companies and entities. We are talking about a change in the management paradigm in which it is necessary to start from the foundations. We must have a good knowledge of the elements that must be integrated into the solution and take firm steps to accompany digitalization in its different aspects.

The benefit will ultimately be a more efficient use of resources, with a public cost that will allow for reinvestment in a higher quality and efficiency.

Do you think the pandemic will accelerate the digitalization of cities? Will we see new trends in the adoption of certain technologies

The emergence of Covid-19 has highlighted the need for agile management mechanisms and methodologies to adapt to unforeseen situations that affect the lives of citizens.

In my opinion, this impacts on public services in the short, medium and long terms, so it must be demanded to any public administration. The aim is to reduce the impact of this type of scenario as much as possible.

We have seen how technology in wastewater treatment helps to detect the virus, and how automatic capacity control systems help to reduce its spread. However, it has also become clear that much remains to be done in this regard and, above all, that it is essential to have a technological infrastructure that allows for the development and deployment of integrated solutions in the field of any public service.

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