Visualizing Sustainable Water Resource Management

Sustainable water resource management is greatly enhanced using 3D modeling technology

Water will become the most contentious and increasingly scarce resource. 3D modeling technology can help manage our most vital resource.

This past summer the United Nations issued a declaration proclaiming access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. The declaration further advised that UN member states provide both financial and technological assistance for developing nations to help insure these basic human rights are available to everyone.

There is much work to do, as more than 900 million people struggle every day to find clean water. Over 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation, and none are exempt from want for water and sanitation. Any faucet can run dry as modern cities grapple with aging water pipes, a shrinking workforce, and declining resources.

For both the developed and developing world, 3D modeling technology and Building Information Management (BIM) systems are becoming a key element for sustainably managing water resources across the globe.

In an article I wrote called Envisioning the Future: Sustainability in 3D,  I spoke  with Autodesk senior vice president Jay Bhatt talked of the power and possibilities of 3D modeling technology and BIM for sustainable building design and urban development.

Here we turn to Geoff Zeiss, director of technology for Autodesk. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Zeiss about the unique benefit this same technology brings to water districts, utilities and watersheds as they meet the challenge of sustainable water resource management.

Like Bhat, Geoff Zeiss’ enthusiasm and expertise is quickly evident. He takes seriously the mandate from the United Nations and Autodesk’s role in helping to make it a reality.

Here are some examples:

Increased productivity

Water districts are facing a common issue of workforce attrition. Many of the technicians and managers at water treatment plants are nearing retirement age, bringing a loss of both manpower and expertise that is not being replaced with enough new workers. Water districts are forced to manage with fewer, less experienced workers while demanding from those workers a greater degree of productivity and efficiency. Using 3D modeling technology allows a younger, leaner workforce to manage this task through comprehensive visualization of systems and infrastructure. Workers pinpoint areas that most need attention and better manage and maintain water treatment facilities.

Visualizing the past and the unseen

Zeiss indentifies management and updating inaccurate and outdated records as one of the biggest challenges facing water districts. Updating these records, many of them several decades old, is inherently difficult when most of the infrastructure they document is underground and unseen. Most districts have a backlog of outdated and inaccurate records of at least two years, says Zeiss.

A key factor in stretching a shrinking workforce and limited resources is through improved management of these “as-built” records. Using 3D visualization modeling of infrastructure and record keeping increases efficiency and streamlines the operation and maintenance of complex wastewater treatment systems.

For example, with Autodesk’s Topobase technology, utilities like Anchorage Municipal Power and Light are now better able to manage as-built records and infrastructure, enabling a seamless integration of all critical design information into a system workflow available throughout the entire organization.

Communications and design decision modeling

As anyone that has attended a municipal board or town hall meeting knows, communicating clearly the aspects of a complex project proposal so all interested and involved parties can understand is a challenge. But doing so is essential for the success of any public works projects, says Zeiss. Here again, presenting complex, highly technical information is vastly aided through the use of 3D modeling.

With the ability to clearly present all the aspects and scenarios of a project, the public is able to express their concerns more effectively and policymakers can thus make better decisions, all for the public good.

Reducing pollution, waste, and leakage

For both the developed and developing world, water pollution, watershed management, waste, and leakage are always at issue.

For industrialized nations, pollution from storm water runoff and dumping of sewage from overburdened wastewater facilities is a serious problem. An Environmental Protection Agency study released in 2009 shows that of the 25,000 treatment plants throughout the U.S., 9000 were forced to dump sewage into waterways feeding municipal water supplies between 2006 and 2009. According to Zeiss, the amount of leakage in the U.S. could supply the entire water-stressed state of California.

Projects such as the retrofit and design upgrade of Tallahassee, Florida’s Thomas P. Smith Reclamation Facility utilized Autodesk tools used by Hazen and Sawyer to model the region’s entire wastershed, from springshed to wastewater. With this information, project designers were able to reduce pollution into groundwater sources and more efficiently manage as-built records and infrastructure.

The situation for developing countries entail similar, but in some aspects distinctly unique, challenges.

In Brazil 60 percent of the water wasted comes from poverty-stricken areas populated with fevelas, makeshift shelter communities fed by substandard, undocumented water and sanitation.

Defined by Zeiss as “non-technical” leakage, waste from “non-revenue loss not due to technical problems,” can choke off entire watersheds, creating a positive feedback of increased pollution and disease.

The ability to map and visualize these unplanned, substandard distribution systems saves not only ecosystems and watersheds, but human life as well.

The watershed recovery project for the Sapolandia, Franco, and Quarenta watercourses near Manaus, Brazil is a case in point. Civil engineering firm Feguiredo Ferraz used Autodesk tools to develop designs for alternate routing, channeling, and drainage. The ability to presenting these plans digitally in “real time” led to better insight early in the process on how best to alleviate watercourse congestion and pollution.

Adapting to conditions on – and in – the ground

These few examples only scratch the surface of what is available from 3D modeling technology and Building Information. The adaptability of the technology has made possible unique solutions to the common global goal of sustainable water resource management.

No single solution

There isn’t one single answer to achieving the United Nations mandate for all the world’s inhabitants. It is ultimately beyond any particular process or technology.

But in a world with more people vying for increasingly stressed and scarce resources, we are obliged to use the best tools and technology at our disposal as we meet the challenge for a sustainable future.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top