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Where will digital take the water industry?

Digital is key to unlocking the systems approach to water management that’s needed to address the diverse social, environmental and economic challenges facing the water industry, write Sally Watson and Judy Anderson.

We’ve travelled to 2040 and discover that water utilities have been reaping the benefits of digital transformation for nearly two decades.

Data-based solutions have enabled more resilient, better value supply to customers, and helped companies to minimise capital and operational carbon emissions, and reduce their use of power and chemicals. This has contributed to an increasingly healthy aquatic environment.

Digital twins are key enablers

Digital twins are key enablers

Digital twins play an important role. They draw in diverse historic and real-time data on: aquifer levels and river flows, water quality, water demand, wastewater discharge flows and pollutant levels, energy and chemicals consumption, land use, meteorology, capital and operational investments, carbon emissions, customer sentiment, demographics, and much more.

Digital twins provide analysis, modelling and decision-support to enable water providers to rapidly respond to evolving situations, from fixing leaks and other asset failures to preparing for impending floods.

Scenario-based planning enables them to explore and act on diverse issues, from population growth to worsening climate change and biodiversity loss.

How digital technology can support water resource management. Read more

Stronger customer relations

Stronger customer relations

Service providers came under intense pressure in the early 2020s to address their duty of care to society and the environment.

They focused effort to engage customers and other stakeholders in decision-making, improving communication and collaboration to build trust. Digital twins played an important part in this.

Visualisations show the impacts of different interventions, helping all stakeholders to understand how they and others will be affected, and their part in achieving desired objectives and outcomes. For example, customers can see how their behaviour affects water use, complementing providers’ efforts to encourage efficiency.

Data on water quality, particularly in rivers and coastal areas used for recreation, brings benefits for customers and companies alike. It reveals the frequency and severity of pollution incidents – people can see when it is safe to go into the water. It also makes clear the need for new wastewater infrastructure, assisting dialogue between providers and their customers about the practicalities and cost of providing it.

Data shared between water companies and other agencies responsible for public safety strengthens flood warning and management, so communities can protect against impending floods and plan adaptation to long-term changes in flood risk.

      Sally Watson is Mott MacDonald’s digital leader for water

      Judy Anderson is Mott MacDonald’s global practice leader for water

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