Text by Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
College of Engineering
IBM recently awarded a Smarter Cities Challenge Grant to the city of Tucson and Tucson Water, which will work with the University of Arizona College of Engineering on technology to improve water reliability.
The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge is a competitive grant program under which IBM is awarding $50 million worth of technology and services to 100 municipalities worldwide through 2013. Teams of specially selected IBM experts will provide city leaders with analysis and recommendations to support sustainable growth, better delivery of municipal services, more citizen involvement and improved efficiency.
The city of Tucson was selected for its proposal to merge two technology improvements designed to increase water reliability. One will allow customers to better monitor water use, and the other will help Tucson Water operate more efficiently.
The UA department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics already works closely with Tucson Water and will advise the utility as the Smarter Cities technologies are implemented over the next year.
"We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Tucson Water on water resources research and beginning a new partnership with IBM," said Kevin Lansey, head of the UA department of civil engineering and engineering mechanics.
Lansey leads a $2 million National Science Foundation research effort looking at water reuse and supply systems. His team is working with Tucson Water to develop a computer model for water managers faced with the problem of using less energy while meeting increased demand for water.
Tucson Water delivers water to almost a quarter-million customers through a network of more than 4,000 miles of pipelines, 220 wells, 114 booster stations and 55 storage facilities, but the city's water treatment facilities are concentrated in a single area. Lansey's research project is centered on the concept of distributed water supply systems that require less energy to move water around the city.
Tucson Water currently replaces old water meters with automatic meters that can be scanned electronically, and much faster, by meter readers. Data from these new meters can also be acquired remotely using wireless technology, and made available to customers via the Web, smart phones or other technologies.
The two new technologies are well-funded. Tucson Water has allocated $50 million over the next 10 years to implement the new meters and about $21 million over the next six years for computer systems to manage and control the water infrastructure network.
With the support provided by IBM, Tucson Water expects to develop a plan to coordinate the implementation of these two technologies. The IBM grant is valued at approximately $400,000.
Tucson Water's new technologies will generate vast quantities of data that must be harnessed and managed to improve customer service and utility operations.
"IBM brings the ability to provide approaches and solutions to collecting and interpreting large data sets, like those collected by automatic meter reading systems," Lansey said. "The UA can contribute our knowledge base of current research in the water distribution and water supply domains."
Lansey also knows how important it is to get students involved in the research and in long-term technology implementations.
"They will develop knowledge of the issues faced by water utilities," he said. "And the knowledge they gain will be essential in transitioning academic results to practical implementation."
In addition to enabling the utility to move water more efficiently, using less energy, Tucson Water Director Alan Forrest sees these technologies aiding customers.
"Having these two technologies communicate with each other will benefit customers by allowing them to actually monitor water use on a daily basis," he said. Plus, "Tucson Water will be able to provide customers with immediate notification of suspected leaks or anomalous levels of water use."
College of Engineering