Why Fiber is the Right Connectivity Platform for Smart Water Facilities | Critical Infrastructure Investment | Corning

Have you Heard of “Smart Water” Facilities? You will - And Fiber Makes It Possible

By Gayla Arrindell
Published: April 20, 2023

As improved cellular and broadband connectivity bring digitalization to a wide swath of industries, the utilities industry in particular is poised to reap the benefits of digital transformation.

There are two main factors driving the “smart water” facilities movement. The first is cost pressure from lost water due to aging and inefficient systems at a time where water resources are scarce, and infrastructure is strained. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) infrastructure report card, of the 16,000 publicly owned wastewater systems in the US, 81% are at design capacity and 15% have exceeded that capacity. ASCE also estimates that 6 billion gallons—the equivalent of 9,901 Olympic-size swimming pools — of drinking water are lost every day, adding up to approximately $7.6 billion in lost revenue.

The need for modernization is clear—and the urgency has been underscored by recent water shortages and failures of infrastructure. The good news for municipalities and utility companies? We’re in a moment of a historic investment. With the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there is $50 billion in funding available to repair and replace America’s aging water delivery systems. Still, utilities need to make sure they’re not just creating temporary solutions, but engineering future-proof infrastructure that can meet the needs of today and tomorrow. Technology can be a way to address that challenge, especially if that technology is built on a connectivity platform using fiber.

Digital transformation for critical infrastructure

Water and sewer utilities, like much of the other critical infrastructure around the country, are undergoing a long-needed digital transformation. It’s an evolution with tremendous promise, but also significant risk—and needs to be carried out carefully and strategically. The communications structure at many of these facilities is siloed and inefficient. That’s starting to change as Internet of Things (IoT) sensor-driven technology turns these systems into intelligent, constantly communicating networks.

Smart metering and monitoring are examples of “smart water” technology this new connectivity will power. These smart meters can detect leaks, for example, based on the flow of water throughout the facility. Of course, detecting those issues is only part of the smart water solution; the ability to process and analyze the information at near-real-time speeds is what will truly drive efficiency and savings. And, to do that, you need a powerful connectivity backbone that covers every inch of a plant.

Other potential use cases for a fully digitized water and sewer facility include video surveillance, better asset management/maintenance tracking, and location-based services. A strong connectivity platform will also lay the groundwork for future smart water technology use cases like automation and augmented reality that will allow technicians to diagnose problems with equipment remotely.

Why fiber is the key

Digital transformation is coming to the utility sector at an interesting time, as the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) is reshaping the dynamics of industry. In the past, facilities like water treatment plants may have had siloed, dedicated systems: for example, a Wi-Fi network for the plant’s main office that was completely separate from a radio system controlling the gates and sluices that move material through the facility. But as operations modernize, there is a strong need for one underlying connectivity solution that serves as a platform for a holistic approach to digital transformation.

With its virtually unlimited bandwidth, fiber provides a future-ready, reliable and secure platform for the connectivity needs of water and sewer facilities today and into the future. Fiber cables are resistant to electromagnetic interference (EMI), vibration, moisture and temperature variations, and can cover longer distances with less maintenance than other systems, like copper. And its ease of installation is superior to mesh wireless solutions that rely on towers and obtrusive radio equipment.

Bringing Elmhurst’s water treatment into the digital age

One example of a municipal water system transformed by fiber optic technology is in the city of Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

The city’s public works department knew it needed to upgrade its operations and bring them into the digital age. Yet Elmhurst’s facilities presented a unique challenge for the municipality: its facilities are dispersed across a wide-ranging campus with 17 buildings spanning 18 acres, and 10 sanitary lift stations located throughout city. The city first considered a mesh wireless network, but this proved unworkable due to difficulty in obtaining right-of-way access for the equipment and towers. In addition, issues such as legacy, proprietary wireless equipment and squatters on the public works department’s licensed frequencies made this approach unfeasible.

Corning stepped in and collaborated with Concentric Integration to design an end-to-end fiber optic solution that met the city’s needs. Since there were already some road and piping improvements in the works, fiber ducts were an easy add-on. The new fiber network now enables connectivity for a SCADA/OT network, cameras and other security systems, and an outdoor WiFi network for tablet connections at work sites.  The city now has a smarter facility and with a site-wide fiber network in place, it is not just ready for the smart water technologies of today but also for future smart water technologies that may arise.

The end result: a highly reliable and scalable infrastructure that could meet the needs of a growing city. As a bonus, Elmhurst also decided to run additional fiber across the city, providing high-speed broadband connectivity for other public work sites, as well as to the police and fire stations.


A unique opportunity that must be seized

Operators of municipal water and sewer plants stand at a pivotal moment. With resources at their scarcest, the need to raise efficiency by bringing operations into the digital age has never been greater. And with historic government subsidies for infrastructure investment, the time to act is now. Fiber optics represents the strongest, most resilient and most forward-looking way to deliver holistic connectivity to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

To learn more about our solutions for water infrastructure environments click here. For more information on our deployment with Elmhurst click here.

Gayla_Arrindell with Corning Optical Communications

Gayla Arrindell, Market Development Director, In-Building Networks, Corning Optical Communications
A 25-year leader with an excellent mix of international and corporate level sales, marketing and business development experience in the telecommunications Industry. A graduate of the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in Chemical Engineering and a Six Sigma Black Belt. Gayla previously led the 3M Communication Markets Division (CMD) Business Units for Wireline, Wireless and Structured Cabling. Since the acquisition of 3M CMD by Corning Optical Communications in June 2018, Gayla has joined the Corning In Building Networks team as a Market Development Director. She is on the Board of Directors and Marketing Committee of APOLAN, represents Corning on the TIA Smart Building working group and is a strong industry advocate for future-ready fiber networking.

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