How to stretch your water supply with rich data models

If you haven’t struggled with a water shortage yet, your time is coming. And likely soon.

There is only a tiny fraction of states that haven’t struggled with this issue yet, and that number shrinks a bit each year. That’s why it’s critical to make every drop count.

One solution is to turn your data into a rich model. As Council Lead Partner Gannett Fleming explains below, such models are valuable for everything from developing a Goldilocks approach to managing your reservoirs to deciding whether or not your community can sustain a big development. — Kevin Ebi


By Amanda Hess, PE, CFM, Gannett Fleming

It is a sobering reality for cities across our country: most will face a water crisis.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office expects that 40 out 50 states will likely experience a water shortage in just the next few years. 

Water scarcity is a crisis for any community. Utilities must take the guesswork out of managing water to safeguard against shortages, and they are using smart custom computer model applications to do it.

These site-specific applications input climate, water usage, and hydrological data for systems that vary in complexity from a simple single reservoir to multiple reservoirs, river intakes, and wells working in conjunction. The smart, personalized computer models are capable of simulating a variety of operating assumptions, variations in demand, conservation measures, complex regulatory restrictions, water quality parameters, and many other factors. The end benefit is the ability to smartly evaluate countless “what-if” scenarios so that decisions can be made based on real data.

For example, Gannett Fleming developed a computer model to assist a water supply operator in a city of about 250,000 people make daily operating decisions. Initial analyses showed that providing reliable water supply in years of drought required supplemental pumping from another source.

Activating the pumps too soon or in non-drought years would be a costly waste of electricity and energy. Activating the pumps too late into the drought would present the risk of running out of water. Based on current data, the computer application analyzes patterns in order to inform the operation of pumps, allowing them to be turned on at a time that is “just right.” 

Using a custom computer model can also help determine if water supply can support new industry, increased residential needs, and other demands of a thriving population.  A city of about 50,000 was recently approached by a new company interested in building. The custom application built by Gannett Fleming determined whether their water supply could meet the increased need this company would present. 

Water shortages impact families and business owners and may deter future development. They can cost jobs and drive out residents. Smart cities turn to water management through custom computer model applications to help maximize and optimize their current supply in both dry and wet years.

Amanda Hess, PE, CFM, is a Hydrology and Hydraulics Group Manager and Senior Project Engineer in Dams and Hydraulics at Gannett Fleming. Amanda can be reached at ahess@gfnet.com or 717.763.7211 ext. 2707.