Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, managing water loss has continued to be a high priority for many utilities as they work to comply with state regulatory pressures to lower and account for non-revenue water and meet sustainability goals. The Village of Skokie, Illinois, who recently announced a strategic investment in an innovative, cost-efficient responsive analytics monitoring system, has been leading the charge in addressing this challenge over the past several years.
Since 1944, the Village has received its water as a wholesale customer from the City of Evanston. Approximately 7.65 million gallons per day of water is received under direct pressure from Evanston through three points of connection. The Village system includes a 4.9 million gallon standpipe, a 4.9 million gallon reservoir and approximately 207 miles of public and private mains.
We sat down with Max Slankard, Director of Public Works of the Village of Skokie, to discuss why they decided to take the next step in reducing water loss by utilizing remote monitoring technology. See the excerpts from the conversation below.
Why is it important for communities to invest in water distribution system management now?
The pandemic has caused noticeable changes in the ways that water systems operate, and changes in long-term usage patterns. For many communities, it has caused significant disruptions to water revenue streams, which impacts capital and operating spending. This will impact future rate setting, as there will be difficult struggles to balance the budget for revenue loss, juxtaposed against the economic decline and the relative inability of a marketplace to tolerate a rate increase.
All these factors make intelligent decision-making about dollars all that much more important. In this environment, managing water loss, while at the same time gaining access to data to more fully understand your system and how it operates with real-time information, seems more important than ever.
What motivated you to take the next step in incorporating advanced sensor technology, machine-learning enabled analytics software, and 24/7 engineering and operations center support in your water distribution management strategy?
Skokie receives its freshwater supply from Lake Michigan. As water continues to become a more precious and valuable resource, the societal cost and dollar value of water loss becomes higher. It is our sense that, over time, there will almost certainly be additional regulatory scrutiny on all water systems to improve our collective performance in the area of non-revenue water loss. Therefore, prudence and good management practices call for an evolution in our approach to this issue.
Skokie’s leadership is committed to sound management practices, inclusive of sound fiscal approaches as well as environmental stewardship. We have demonstrated our interest in pursuing new technologies in other areas of our operations, and so for many reasons we were very interested when the Aquify opportunity presented itself.
Prior to adopting advanced analytics and monitoring, how were you managing the Village’s drinking water distribution network?
Over the years, the Village has utilized a number of control measures to manage its system. These have included annual acoustical leak detection survey of its entire system, annual testing of the water meters of substantial industrial and commercial customers, and continuous replacement of water meters reaching 15 years old. Additionally, we conduct biannual testing of the City of Evanston’s gate meters that serve Skokie and engage in continuous replacement of antiquated and malfunctioning fire hydrants.
From a capital planning and analysis standpoint, the Village recently engaged the services of a newer venture called Fracta to conduct an analysis of our water system to produce a predictive failure analysis, which has helped us to prioritize our water main replacement decisions. This system operates by analyzing our water system hydraulically and then quantifying the likelihood of the failure of pipe segments based on age and material of pipes, soil condition and several other factors including break history. We have been pleased with our investment in Fracta and it is proving a useful guide in prioritizing our capital spending.
What benefits does the Village anticipate gaining by proactively managing its drinking water infrastructure?
The Village expects to gain several benefits. Most to the point, the Village expects to gain a whole new level of insight into how its system operates. Skokie’s system is typified as a low flow, low pressure system, and we are very curious to see how Aquify can take on the challenge of assisting us in identifying our leak events.
We expect that the Aquify system is going to have a real material impact on our water loss, resulting in immediate and near-term financial savings not only in terms of the water values, but also in terms of minimizing damage to other public infrastructure and the myriad of other indirect, but very real costs of unintended water loss.
Stepping beyond the near-term benefits, Skokie’s system, like that of many older, inner-ring suburban communities, has significantly aged. Many of Skokie’s mains were installed during the 1920s and 1930s and are nearly 100 years old. Like many such systems, capital dollars for reinvestment in Skokie are always limited and precious. We believe that the insights we will gain from Aquify will help us gain better understanding of our system to enable us to make better-informed capital spending decisions.