McKinsey&Company has published interesting interviews with mayors of U.S. cities on how open data not only makes for more transparent government, but also improves the effectiveness and efficiency of services. Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, described how his city is using data to improve the efficiency of wasetwater infrastructure that supports its 100,000 citizens.
Pete Buttigieg's perspective is that all of the data belongs to the people because the City created it while working for them. The City's challenge is to make it available—and not just available but intelligible. It’s not transparent if you just dump a giant pile of data online. The City worked very hard to make the data not only accessible but also usable on their open data portal.
In the U.S. about 770 cities mostly in the Northeast and Northwest have combined sewers. I've blogged previously about EPA consent decrees designed to reduce the discharge of untreated sewage into surface waters with Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Chicago. These have imposed legally binding investments of between half a billion to multi-billions of dollars on these cities, for many of which this represents a huge financial burden.
About two years ago, the EPA annouced an agreement with the City of South Bend which required the City to make an estimated $509.5 million worth of improvements to its combined sewer system to significantly reduce overflows of raw sewage to the St. Joseph River, which among other things is used for kayaking compeititions.
The City of South Bend ws one of the first cities to move its wastewater management into the cloud. South Bend has invested $6 million to implement the smart sewer system, but they estimate that it has helped avoid $100 million in capital expense by better using the infrastructure they already have. It has enabled them to stay ahead of their EPA consent decree and avoid the very expensive capital construction projects that other cities have faced.
Implementing smart sewers in the cloud
South Bend's combined sewer system collects storm water, sanitary sewage, and other pollutants which it conveys to South Bend's wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). During wet weather events, and during some dry weather time periods, a portion of the sewage that flows through the combined sewers is not conveyed all the way to the WWTP; instead the raw sewage is discharged into the St. Joseph River. Currently, on average South Bend discharges over 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage resulting from 80 combined sewer overflow (CSO) events annually.
South Bend partnered wit the University of Notre Dame and local technology company EmNet to develop a way to keep sewers from overflowing. In 2005, EmNet created a system called CSOnet (Combined Sewer Overflow Network) which relies on wireless sensors installed under manhole covers to monitor water levels in sewer pipes. The system consists of 115 sensors that communicate live updates every five minutes wirelessly to a central control center. Based on the water levels measured by the sensors, "smart" valves can be opened or closed to redirect flow into pipes where capacity is available.
South Bend is using IBM's Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities software-as-a-service. The cloud service allows public works officials to view aggregated data related to water management in real time, to help predict where incidents will occur.
in its first year of operation, the cloud based wastewater management system has practically eliminated dry weather wastewater overflows and reduced wet weather overflows by 23%. If they had done what other cities have and simply expanded the sewer system they estimate it would have cost the city an additional $120 million in capital expenditures.