Water trends in sanitation networks for 2024: Technology to protect people

Sanitation systems are another core part of the water cycle as they manage the entire network from their source to their point of use or end-of-life disposal. Technology is also set to play a key role in these networks in 2024, not only to ensure that they run smoothly, but also to respond to extreme events and control the spread of disease.

Sanitary sewer overflows 

Most sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) occur during extreme rainfall events, when the system is unable to decant and treat all the water it collects. These discharges of untreated water bring environmental issues, causing water eutrophication, an increase in pathogens, as well as contaminating groundwater, seas and oceans. 

Technology that can predict events based on real-time monitoring of key points in sanitation and urban drainage networks, and also factors in meteorological information, is essential to prevent these problems from occurring. These are the so-called “early warning systems”, which facilitate decision-making by generating alarms, and reduce the time required to respond to these episodes, which are expected to become increasingly frequent and difficult to forecast in the current context of climate change. 

SSOs also occur as a consequence of clogging, mainly caused by fats (a phenomenon that has worsened due to today’s fastfood diets) and inappropriate disposal of wipes. In turn, infiltrations and broken sewers, caused by aging infrastructures, also lead to overflows. Infiltrations cause unwanted water to enter the network, with the consequent loss of hydraulic capacity and increased energy costs in the pumping and purification processes. The system must be monitored to detect sedimentation, infiltration and blockages in the sewers to prevent this phenomenon 

Therefore, sensors need to be perfectly positioned throughout the sanitation system to collect all the data needed to monitor performance and ensure its proper functioning. Over the next year, utilities will continue to rely on digital platforms to integrate and analyze all the data sent by sewer level and quality sensors, which will also include information on the status of the WWTP’s main sewers, pumping stations and relief points. 

This will lead to optimal preventive maintenance plans based on the risk of each asset, replacing the remedial cleaning schedule. Thus, optimal cleaning programs can be put together based on historical and real-time information from integrated systems and data (previous SSOs, the latest preventive and reactive work orders, GIS, etc.), and the application of risk-based statistical models. 

These smart digital platforms will also help to take action in the case of an extreme event, as the detection of sensor anomalies in sewers, assets and manholes will serve to assess the overflow risk. In addition, AI algorithms can provide the location and minimum number of sensors needed to prevent SSOs.   

water trends in sanitation networks for 2024: technology to protect people

Wastewater-based epidemiology 

Another challenge for sanitation systems is the control of infectious diseases. Population growth and climate change have brought new infections, and other previously eradicated diseases have now reappeared. Monitoring the spread of pathogens is essential to prevent and control these situations and protect the population. 

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is based on the analysis of wastewater to control infectious diseases. WBE acts as an early warning system to comprehensively monitor the emergence of new diseases via sampling campaigns and subsequent laboratory analysis of any biological threats in the sanitation network.  

In recent years, the growing interest in wastewater-based epidemiology shown by global organizations such as UNESCO and the World Economic Forum, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, has made technology a powerful ally in refining this preventive practice 

Molecular technologies, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can detect and quantify the genetic material of specific pathogens in wastewater, are an example of this.

In 2024, the digital transformation of WBE will also enable integration with public health systems, i.e., wastewater data can be combined with other epidemiological surveillance systems. This will bring a more holistic view of public health at community and national levels. At the same time, the use of advanced software and algorithms (via artificial intelligence) to analyze the collected data will help to identify trends and preempt outbreaks. 

Digital solutions can centralize the entire process on a single platform, including sample scheduling and monitoring at relevant locations, results obtained in the laboratory and the representation of these outcomes to assist the relevant authorities in their decision-making.

This creates a unique data model that brings together information from ERP, SCADA, clinical laboratories, GIS and third-party applications. If this data is further combined and standardized with demographics, hospital occupancy rates and government statistics, the model can provide valuable information to monitor the spread of viruses and act more quickly. An inclusive digital platform will therefore be able to combine different data sources, analyze them holistically and draw conclusions to generate reports and issue warnings if necessary. 

In 2024, WBE technology will progress, offering new use cases in the near future, including monitoring of other parameters, such as antibiotics, to track antimicrobial resistance. These are prevalent in wastewater, due to the occurrence of emerging contaminants. An additional use case can be developed in WWTPs. They are currently focused on the removal of organic matter and nutrients but, with technological advances, they will also be able to remove these types of emerging contaminants through sophisticated treatments. 

In short, in 2024, smart digital solutions open up major opportunities for sanitation systems to prevent and preempt SSOs and respond to them, and to put wastewater-based epidemiology to new uses, even including it in the smart cities roadmap. 

Idrica’s Water Technology Trends 2024 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including sanitation network. 

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