Water Infrastructure Monitoring as ‘Preventive Care’
When it comes to health, everyone agrees that it is better to take preventive care measures than wait for diseases to occur or symptoms to worsen. Preventive medicine costs less and delivers better results, fuelling vaccinations, patient monitoring, early diagnosis and early treatment – and changing the way many diseases manifest themselves, if at all, in human populations. By continuously monitoring the population and treating diseases in their early stages, the public’s health is made better and enormous healthcare costs are averted.
The preventive care approach is perfectly suited to the world of water distribution networks. Here are the points of similarity we wanted to point out:
- To make preventive care a viable approach, we first needed to get the (science) facts straight. Preventive medicine, such as early screening for diseases, or vaccinations, became widely adopted only once we had the ability to better diagnose, monitor and treat diseases. In the same way, recent developments in the analysis of data coming from water networks has reached the critical point where we know that prevention works better than waiting from problems to happen.
- Preventive care resolves issues before they grow and become untreatable. Just like we try to avoid disease outbreaks or symptoms worsening before treatment becomes difficult or impossible, we can avoid dramatic bursts in the water infrastructure by identifying them when they are small and invisible leaks.
- Preventive care works better when it is constant and consistent. Many preventive care measures call for consistent screening – everyone over a certain age should be checked every year. Similarly, in the water world, by monitoring the network constantly and automatically, water providers or water infrastructure owners can have full visibility of their network, detecting leaks or other abnormal behaviors of the network in their very early stages when repairing or fixing them is still fairly simple. Just like in the medical space, early detection of water networks failures such as leaks, accidental breaches or even meter faults, allows early treatment and therefore avoidance of costly damages, as well as loss of precious water and waste of energy.
- Preventive care works well when certain at-risk populations are closely monitored. Similarly to the way genetics and epidemiology identify risk factors for specific diseases in certain individuals, geographies or populations, water infrastructure monitoring can identify high-risk areas of the network. Having a continuous and comparative view of the whole water network, utility personnel can prioritize areas for routine maintenance works and focus on their “high-risk patients” when implementing preventive maintenance actions or planning pipeline replacement.
Saying that, and watching the medical sector adopting the preventive approach (although monitoring populations is much more complicated than monitoring water networks), it is quite clear that the water sector will also move in that direction as the preventive care approach is more cost effective and beneficial in both the short and long terms. Smart metering and sophisticated monitoring systems are already here and gradually becoming more and more common, so it seems that it is just a matter of time until most water utilities will use them in order to make their work more efficient and avoid costly damages and repairs.
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