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From Graveyards to Goldmines: Leveraging the Compliance Data Challenge

Over the past 30 years, the amount of data wastewater treatment plants typically generate has increased exponentially. Systems for storing and organizing that data have struggled to keep up. 

In many cases, water utilities have come to see the sheer amount of data on file as a liability rather than an asset: something that needs to be constantly monitored, corralled, and inevitably pushed to the side.

However, as some researchers have noted, that massive pile of data overwhelming your water utility has the potential to become a goldmine. 

When data is organized and shared effectively, it becomes a powerful tool for upgrading the efficiency and performance of your wastewater treatment system, anticipating disturbances before they happen and adapting to stricter standards of compliance.

The Explosive Growth of Water Treatment Data

One study showed that a single large wastewater treatment plant, serving 800,000 to 3 million people, can generate up to 30,000 data points. These include everything from sampling data essential for reporting compliance and meeting environmental regulations, to GPS coordinates, call logs, field notes, and more.

Such a large volume of data has an impact on individual personnel. For example: a single employee at a large water utility is often responsible for overseeing more than 40,000 backflow prevention devices, each of which generates annual inspection data. The system used to organize such data has an enormous impact on that employee’s day-to-day job, affecting their ability to share information, file reports, and ensure compliance.

On its own, the overarching project of compliance—particularly tracking permits—represents an enormous task. One water utility uses Klir to manage over 3,000 permits, a task that would be daunting without Klir’s fully configurable data management systems.

As Lluís Corominas, a researcher at the Catalan Institute for Water Research, writes

Plant operators have an overwhelming stream of data at their hands, which is very difficult to process and analyze in a timely enough fashion to allow for better understanding or proper decision-making.

The earliest tremors of this explosion of data generation can be traced back to the 1970s, when one of the hottest topics at international wastewater treatment conferences was data collection from sensors.

The sensors being used were adapted from other industries and ill-fitted for use in wastewater treatment systems, but attendees were already discussing the best ways to automate the collection and management of data in their plants.

The same report lists four primary reasons why managing water treatment data (referred to as information, control, and automation [ICA]) has since become such an enormous task:

  • Effluent quality standards, which became more demanding and complex
  • Economic factors, which encouraged water utilities to develop automated, money-saving compliance management tools that generated more data than prior solutions
  • Plant complexity, one of the most important driving factors, which increased as methods of water treatment advanced
  • Improved tools, such as advanced remote sensors, which generated more data for water utilities to manage

With such a large amount of information to deal with, one of the most important tools at a water utility’s disposal is data centralization.

Aerial View WWTP

The Importance of Data Centralization

Utilities are increasingly data-rich but information-poor. As Corominas notes, a large number of utilities have become host to “data graveyards,” massive stores of data that cannot be easily navigated or accessed. 

The data graveyard is a sort of invisible weight burdening a water utility, demanding resources to be maintained, causing a constant drain on time and money, but rarely producing outright catastrophic effects. 

Individuals may be forced to enter the graveyard on a regular basis, in order to dredge up information for the sake of renewing permits, for instance, or to confirm the status of different backflow devices. But each of these is simply a slow, laborious task–one that creates drag on standard processes without ever pushing them to their breaking point.

The cumulative effect of the data graveyard may be huge, but it’s difficult to see. That’s especially the case when pieces of it are owned by different individuals and teams, or scattered across multiple disconnected databases. 

If the cumulative effect of a data graveyard is difficult to grasp, its potential for good may be even more elusive. Your water utility could have a huge amount of data on hand that might be leveraged to speed up and improve processes, anticipate problems, and plan for the future. But so long as it’s a fragmentary mess and a headache to access, its potential is impossible to realize.

The first step in converting your data graveyard to a goldmine is centralizing it. Bringing all your data together in one place, under one administrative dashboard, lets you assess its potential.

The best tool for the job is a comprehensive software as a service (SaaS) solution. Learn more about why SaaS makes sense for water. 

Once your data is centralized and easier to navigate, it’s ready to be mined.

Gold Mining for Data

To push the metaphor to the breaking point, once you’ve converted your data graveyard into a goldmine, it’s time to start mining for gold.

“Mining for gold,” in this sense, means converting raw data into information—becoming both data-rich and information-rich. The biggest opportunities for leveraging data into information fall under three categories: machine learning, improvement of remote and real-time monitoring, and increased collaboration.

The Increasing Promise of Machine Learning

Increasingly, machine learning shows potential to have a huge impact on how water utilities leverage their data to improve operations.

Machine learning is, in brief, the process of using computers to analyze large amounts of data, discover patterns, and use those patterns to make predictions, solve problems, and answer questions. 

Already, machine learning has been applied to water utility data in order to track the spread of COVID-19, reduce energy usage, and detect compliance violations.

Machine Learning and Wastewater

By testing wastewater samples, infectious disease experts are already able to predict upsurges in COVID-19 infections three to seven days before standard swab testing does the same. 

That makes wastewater a window into COVID infection rates among particular populations—provided you have the tools to examine the data accurately.

While current systems for monitoring COVID via wastewater suffer some gaps in information—partly due to reduced detectability in people who have been vaccinated—machine learning has shown promise when it comes to predicting upsurges and tracking COVID’s spread.

What’s more, similar techniques can be used to track other viruses, such as norovirus and polio. You can learn more from our article on wastewater-based epidemiology.

Improving Remote and Real-Time Monitoring Capabilities with Water Data

COVID-19 lockdowns around the world fast-forwarded a general trend, across many industries, towards remote-first work policies. The lockdowns also drove home just how important it is for organizations to be able to access and manage their data remotely.

In this sense, water utilities were ahead of the curve: Many utilities already remotely manage thousands of infrastructure assets using sensors, controllers, and transmitters.

That remote capability is wasted, however, if data is fragmentary—stored natively on a variety of different media (harddrives, thumb drives, backup devices, etc.), accessible only by particular teams or individuals. 

Even utilities who stored data in a centralized fashion on their own local servers faced problems when moving to remote working arrangements, as personnel encountered technical barriers to accessing the organization’s intranet from offsite computers.

A cloud-based SaaS (i.e., Software as a service) is the best solution for utilities that want to make their data available to all relevant personnel, regardless of their locations, at all times. 

With the help of such a system, a water utility can:

  • Cut down on work-related travel and site visits
  • Put in place more accurate and effective alert and notification systems
  • Shorten response times when issues arise
  • Scale new operations quickly across the organization
  • Respond nimbly to staffing shortages or future lockdown situations

Get More Value out of Your Wastewater Compliance Program

Curious about how technology can help your utility tackle NPDES and other wastewater-related compliance challenges for good? Download the guide and book a demo of Klir today.

How Water Utilities Can Use Machine Learning to Reduce Their Electric Bill

In Singapore, the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant used machine learning to analyze its operational data, and were able to reduce aeration energy usage by 15%.

Instead of using reactive control mechanisms, which adjust wastewater treatment processes in reaction to changing nutrient levels, flow rates, etc., the machine learning algorithm in use at Ulu Pandan creates predictive models, making fine adjustments to the system earlier than it would otherwise.

Effectively, the automated systems at the treatment plant spend less energy playing catch-up with changing conditions—opting, instead, to literally “go with the flow.”

Detecting Violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) With Machine Learning

In theory, some water treatment facilities are more likely to violate the CWA than others—there’s just no way to know which ones. Unless you apply machine learning to the task, that is.

In 2018, researchers from Stanford demonstrated that machine learning could be used to predict the likelihood of particular water treatment facilities violating the CWA. In theory, with that information, inspectors could be sent to the facilities most likely to be in violation of the CWA, rather than to facilities with a very low likelihood of being found non-compliant.

As their paper in Nature Sustainability demonstrates, using such a system can double the number of violators caught, while allocating inspection resources more effectively. 

There’s also an element of deterrence at work: the researchers theorize that, if water treatment facilities know their data is being monitored and that a machine learning algorithm will be able to anticipate any future violations, they will be more diligent, working harder to ensure violations never occur at all.

Improving Collaboration with Centralized Water Data 

Machine learning and the rise of the distributed workforce are both exciting aspects of water utility data management. In fact, they could have a major impact on the future of how water utilities operate. 

But organizing and centralizing data has the most immediate impact upon a water utility’s most valuable resource: its people.

When data is accessible to all personnel, across all teams, collaboration becomes more fluid, easy, and intuitive. It’s easier for engineers, compliance professionals, operations management, and other stakeholders to take advantage of the utility’s vast store of data, and use it to everyone’s benefit.

Ready to Turn Your Compliance Data Into an Asset?

Klir’s compliance tracking tools help utilities get more out of their data while cutting down on administration and record-keeping work, create new opportunities for collaboration, and provide a level of system-wide visibility unmatched by other water data management systems. Learn more and book a demo today.

Why SaaS Makes Sense for Water Now More than Ever Before

Software as a service (SaaS) has transformed the way we build businesses, organize information and communicate with other people, but the water sector has lagged behind. Most utilities continue to use desktop-based legacy software to manage everything from compliance data, to assets, to customer billing and spatial data.

For a sector known for its conservative approach to technology and limited budgets, it’s understandable that utilities would be slow to embrace these tools. But SaaS applications present water and wastewater utilities with a unique opportunity to budget more effectively, improve internal processes, and buy tools that are uniquely tailored to their needs.

Here’s why and how utilities can fully take advantage of this exciting new wave of technology and services. 

What is SaaS?

If you’ve ever used tools like Dropbox, Shopify or Salesforce, you’ve used Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. They’re delivered to the customer through a web browser interface via the cloud, are continuously and automatically updated, and are provided to the customer on a subscription basis.

These tools have transformed the way we use software, making it accessible to anyone with an internet connection, easier to maintain and improve on the developer’s end, and also faster to deploy for the organization.

Today they play a crucial role in the modern workplace, particularly at large organizations where implementing new technologies and bringing users up to speed with new tools can be a challenge. But for water utilities in particular, SaaS presents a few crucial benefits:

1. Ease of Configurability and Integration

How ‘configurable’ something is refers to how easy it is to adjust and tailor an existing piece of software without altering a single line of code. The more configurable a system is, the more adjustments the user can make. SaaS applications tend to be highly configurable, making them cheaper and easier to use than custom-built software.

Software integrations bring together different kinds of software to produce a single, well-oiled, unified system.

Integrations don’t just save you time: they allow your system to do things that individual software modules simply wouldn’t be able to do by themselves, like pull data into dashboards, generate and submit reports, mine large datasets for interesting insights, and more.

Many SaaS applications boast powerful integration capabilities, making it easier to seamlessly integrate them into your existing processes. 

When it comes to the water sector, configurable SaaS with powerful integration capabilities presents an exciting opportunity. Gone are the days of using applications built for other industries with a raft of features you don’t need. With SaaS tools like Klir, utilities get all off the functionality they need, and nothing they don’t need.

Avoid Spreadsheet Overload With SaaS

Think you can get by on spreadsheets? Think again. Using spreadsheets as databases often creates more problems than it solves. Download the guide and book a demo of Klir today.

2. Continuous and Automatic Improvement

By their nature, SaaS tools are easier to update and improve. Instead of getting bogged down in manual patches or updates, developers can simply push them to the cloud, with little to no involvement needed from the end user.

On the developer’s end, this makes it much easier to build ambitious roadmaps and continuously improve. While users enjoy uninterrupted access to their tools, developers can monitor how they’re using them in real time and make adjustments on the fly.

Instead of improving reactively, developers can adopt a proactive approach to making the product better, anticipating users’ needs even before the user does.

It’s also important to note the service element of SaaS. Many developers today will go beyond what customers normally expect from a support team, using customer success teams to continuously liaise with and work on the product with customers to facilitate quick communication and iteration.

With SaaS, developers and customers will often work together as partners to set priorities, shape the product roadmap, and build a product that is truly responsive to the end user’s needs.

3. Pricing Is Simpler, More Flexible and Easier to Predict

Many traditional pricing models for software require you to pay for both a license up front, and also any maintenance, technical support, new versions and upgrades the developer releases down the line. If you plan on using that software for a while, those upfront and recurring costs can accumulate quickly and unpredictably.

SaaS solves this problem by rolling all of those costs—support, maintenance, upgrades, patches, new releases, etc.—into a single subscription fee, simplifying and making your costs more predictable.

Not sure you need all of the functionality of the full version? SaaS pricing also makes it easier to pick exactly what you need out of a software solution without paying for what you don’t with by-the-feature pricing.

This can be especially useful if you aren’t sure yet how many users on your team will be using a particular app, or how much your use of the app might scale in the future.

When it comes to SaaS, the name of the game is flexibility and speed. Buy and use exactly what you need, deploy it in your organization quickly, and let the developer take care of the rest.

Harness The Power of SaaS With Klir

We believe that utilities deserve world-class software custom-built for the water industry. Ready to see how scalable, flexible, continuously improving SaaS tools can help your utility overcome its biggest data challenges? Book a demo and get a tour of Klir today.

Configurable vs. Customizable Software: A Cost-Benefit Breakdown

As you explore software options for your water utility, you’re bound to run across the terms customizable and configurable. While at first glance these terms may seem interchangeable, they have completely different meanings.

Customizable software can be modified with the help of a software engineer. Configurable software can be adjusted and fine-tuned by the end user. That’s the most basic definition—but the differences go deeper.

Understanding how customizable and configurable software options differ, and the pros and cons of each, gives you the power to make the most effective choice for your utility. In the long term, that saves you time and resources, smooths out bumps in the compliance and reporting process, and improves your bottom line.

Configuration vs. Customization: A Deeper Dive

Configurable software is adjustable within certain parameters set by the developer. Customizable software is, in theory, infinitely adjustable—so long as you have the resources to hire a developer to change the code for you.

The chair metaphor

Think of enterprise software as an office chair. 

Your configurable office chair lets you set its height, increase or decrease lumbar support, adjust the tilt of the seat—just about anything you need to make it “just right” for whoever is using it.

However, you can’t take it apart. If you wanted to make really fundamental changes—like adding a lever-activated footrest—you’d be out of luck.

Your customizable office chair is different. Sit in it for a moment, and you’ll realize there’s no way to adjust the height, the lumbar support, or the seat tilt. All of those are set by the manufacturer, with the aim of making the chair as comfortable as possible to the most number of people.

Good news, though: This chair can be taken apart. You just have to pay someone at the company that manufactured it to come over to your office and make the changes. Or, you may be able to hire a freelance chair engineer to take care of it instead.

Both types of chair, configurable and customizable, have their benefits and drawbacks. Climbing out of the chair metaphor and returning to enterprise software, that’s what we’ll cover below.

Configurable Software: Pros and Cons

The benefits of configurable software have to do with reduced cost and ease of maintenance, while the drawbacks have to do with hard limits on how much the software can be adapted or changed.

Pros of Configurable Software

Lower Initial and Lifetime Costs

Because configurable software doesn’t need to be customized for each user, it’s cheaper to develop and deploy on a per-user basis. Those savings are then passed on to the customer.

Since configurable software doesn’t need a computer engineer to make updates to code or perform maintenance, the cost of keeping it running is less than that of customizable software.

Straightforward Scalability

In many cases, the capabilities of configurable software can be expanded by upgrading to a more advanced pricing package, or by purchasing an additional package that integrates with the current software. 

In the case of customizable software, making such changes typically requires paying engineers to change code. That costs more money, takes longer, and requires more administrative back and forth.

Guaranteed Compatibility With Updates

Once an engineer changes software code, that software may no longer be compatible with upgrades from the original developer. So, even if you’ve managed to change the software to suit your needs, you may not be able to get updates essential for maintaining security and performance.

When you use configurable software, none of the changes you make as a user alter code. Your software is always ready to be updated, and often does so seamlessly and automatically.

Lower Cost of Cloud Hosting Is Passed On to End User

Cloud-based enterprise software is gradually overtaking locally hosted software in popularity, thanks to ease of maintenance and the reduced cost of hosting. 

Both configurable and customizable software can be hosted in the cloud, but only configurable software benefits from multi-tenant hosting. 

Multi-tenant hosting allows one instance of a particular application to run, while serving many users, each of whom has their own particular settings. Customizable software can’t do this, because each version of the app is different for each customer.

A technical detail like this may seem like it would only be relevant to a software developer. But it affects your bottom line: the reduced cost of running multi-tenant enterprise software in the cloud gets passed on to you, the customer.    

Cons of Configurable Software

A Definite Limit on Expandability

Configurable software is only configurable within limits set by the developer. If you require a high level of customization—beyond what the vast majority of users is looking for—you may find yourself constrained.

Too Many Options

Highly configurable software may present a huge swath of options to the user, making it adaptable to many different uses. For some, this can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate, compared to customized software that has been built for one specific use by one specific organization.

Configurable Software Tools Purpose-Built For Water Utilities

Klir brings all of your utility’s mission-critical data together in real time, so you can run a more efficient and sustainable organization. Book a demo of Klir today.

Customizable Software: Pros and Cons

While customizable software is more expensive than configurable software, and adapting it to your needs may be more arduous, it may still be the right choice for organizations with highly specific needs.

Pros of Customizable Software

Can Be an Easy Switch if You Already Have Engineers Working for You

If you already use a customizable software platform, but you’re upgrading to a new one, there’s a chance you already have in-house IT specialists or computer engineers working for you, or that you’ve developed a working relationship with contractors familiar with software in your industry. 

In that case, the cost of making necessary code-level changes to software may be less expensive or complicated than it would be for an organization that didn’t have these resources—making the cost-saving advantages of configurable software less significant.

Potentially Limitless Customization

If you have a unique set of circumstances that sets you apart from everyone else in your field, you may need a software platform that can be considerably altered to suit your needs.

While configurable software is typically designed to meet the needs of a diverse set of customers, there are some cases where the options available to you just don’t fit. In that case, customizable software may be your best bet.

Cons of Customizable Software 

Expensive to Develop and Deploy

As covered in the Pros of configurable software section above, customizing software to suit your needs costs you (or the developer) considerably more than purchasing configurable software and adjusting its settings.

Potential for Getting Locked Into an Older Version

Since there is typically no guarantee that customizations you make to your software will be compatible with future versions, you may not be able to access updates from the developer—putting you at risk of performance issues or even security breaches.

High Cost of Maintenance

Changes to customizable software that may require hiring a computer engineer can be handled in configurable software by changing settings, upgrading your pricing package, or purchasing a new package from the developer. The result is a higher bill and more work to employ the services of an expert.

Need for Greater In-house Technical Expertise

Even if you hire an experienced engineer to make changes to your customizable software, you aren’t off the hook in terms of tech knowledge. 

Communicating your needs to an engineer, and communicating their feedback to stakeholders in your organization, requires a certain amount of familiarity with technology and the software development process. That may be a small amount, if your engineer is particularly good at communicating and the changes you’re requesting are fairly straightforward. Or it could be a large amount if neither is the case.

Whereas configurable software is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, customizable software, by its nature, requires some background in tech, and a willingness to get “in the weeds” when it comes to technical matters.

Why Configurable Software Makes Sense for Water Utilities

If it seems like configurable software is—for most users, most of the time—the best choice for the majority of users, that’s because it is.

But a few factors make configurable software the higher value option for water utilities in particular.

Every Water Utility is Different

The water utility of Juneau, Alaska has different needs from the water utility of El Paso, Texas. But each requires a software solution that can be adapted to fit its specific situation. Configurable water utility software like Klir is designed with such differences front of mind, so it’s a complete solution for every user.

Your Bottom Line Matters

When budgets get cut, the last thing you need is to sink thousands of dollars into hiring engineers to customize software you’ve already paid for. Configurable software is cheaper to adapt to your specific needs, and cheaper to maintain.

You Can Give Feedback on Changes That Matter

The developer of your configurable software didn’t personally alter the code to your specific needs, but that doesn’t mean they ignore their clients. All successful enterprise software platforms got where they are because they listened to their customers’ feedback while planning updates and new features. 

To take Klir as an example, we’re continually fielding suggestions and new ideas from our clients, so we can keep delivering a product that suits their needs while providing the most configurability possible.

Harness The Power of Configurable Software With Klir

Ready to see how configurable software can help you build a more resilient, streamlined and effective water utility? Book a demo and get a tour of Klir today.

Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Is Already Here. How Should Utilities Prepare?

Wastewater-based epidemiology is a scientific field that’s surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Researchers have used wastewater to predict surges before they happen — a breakthrough that’s helped governments focus on preparation instead of reaction. 

And it isn’t limited to COVID. Once the pandemic becomes endemic, researchers will still be on the hunt for pathogens that can cause issues for public health. In the best-case scenario, scientists could catch the next pandemic before it happens.

But the strategy requires gathering and sorting through huge amounts of data. That presents privacy and data management issues for utilities to overcome. We spoke with two experts about the possibilities of wastewater-based epidemiology, and what utilities should be doing now to prepare.

What Is Wastewater Epidemiology?

Think of wastewater-based epidemiology as reading tea leaves, but grosser. 

Scientists take samples of human waste and analyze them for pathogens, like the virus that causes COVID-19. Researchers can then use the data to predict surges based on trends in where the pathogen is found and how much of it is there.

That allows local governments to ramp up public health measures like expanding health-care facilities and instituting mandates like masking or lockdowns.

The International Effort to Track COVID Using Wastewater

Most people have learned about wastewater epidemiology through the pandemic. Researchers’ ability to predict COVID trends has led to the field’s expansion

Some public health officers have found it’s less helpful in their municipalities, though they’re sometimes not sure why. In a sign of the field’s still-emerging status, experts have debated just how much wastewater sampling can tell us about COVID.

In the United States and Canada, and many other jurisdictions, wastewater sampling decisions lie with local governments, limiting the data’s scope. But projects like COVIDPoops19 show the method’s worldwide spread and a glimpse of what it could become.

Its creator, University of California Merced professor Colleen Naughton, said she hopes every city in the world will eventually have its own wastewater epidemiology outpost — though she noted it’ll take a while to get there. Even though it’s cheaper than individual testing, “it still requires resources and … utility-level sampling, and then courier services, and then labs to analyze it,” she said.

What Could Wastewater Epidemiology Be Used for in the Future?

Some experts believe COVID tracking is just the beginning. 

Naughton noted that the method was used to track polio outbreaks in the past. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now hopes to catch influenza, norovirus, fungal infections, hepatitis A and B, and antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) pathogens — bugs that have evolved to be resistant to antimicrobial drugs. 

“We’ve had large hepatitis A outbreaks in California and Michigan, so it would have been nice to have more of a warning system about that,” she said.

Experts have long warned of AMR “superbugs” that could ravage the world in a similar — or worse — way to COVID-19. Wastewater epidemiology could potentially identify them before they spiral out of hand. 

Wastewater testing could also be tested for opioids and other illicit drugs to combat the overdose epidemic, Naughton said.

Future-Proof Your Sampling Operation With Klir

Interested in learning how better data management can help you run more effective sampling programs? Book a demo of the Klir sampling module today.

What Challenges Will Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Create for Drinking and Wastewater Utilities?

Naughton and epidemiologist David Larsen raved, unprompted, about partnering and working with wastewater treatment plants. 

“They don’t get a lot of recognition for their important role,” Naughton said. “We go to the treatment plants and they’re always running around, you know, the phone’s ringing off the hook, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll take an extra sample for you.’ It’s just been amazing what they’ve done to help. So we really appreciate it.”

Plant operators are “really excellent people,” Larsen said. “They’re a huge contributor to this public health initiative. And so I’m just really glad to be working with them and they’ve been great so far.”

Clearly, utilities are doing something right. But for those that want to get ahead of the game as wastewater testing expands in the coming years, the professors had some tips:

Equipment and Staffing

Some water utilities have absorbed extra epidemiological sampling requirements with ease. But others — especially rural and smaller plants — don’t have the equipment, time, or staff to spare, Naughton said.

Some that can only do a grab sample once per day have tried to time it with the morning flush to get the most data, Naughton said. But the “gold standard” of 24-hour composite sampling yields more complete data, Larsen said. 

Naughton recommended small utilities keep an eye out for programs like the one from the CDC and Water Environment Federation (WEF) where they could apply for free autosamplers. 

Smaller plants will also have more difficulty hiring enough people to carry out the sampling, then shipping it off, Larsen said. 

Lots of government grants are going to labs for analysis — but more cash should be flowing to utilities to hire more staff to carry out the increased sampling load, Naughton said. Public health is “chronically underfunded,” Larsen said, adding that any increased burden shouldn’t come out of utilities’ budgets.

Coordination With Researchers

Scientists analyzing wastewater samples rely on utilities’ knowledge of their systems, the experts said. Things like the amount of industrial waste the facility processes, or how much salt is used on the roads in winter can make a big difference to sampling, Naughton said. 

“So when we see things that are weird with the data, they can be like, ‘Oh, that clarifier went offline then, or we had this industrial flow,’” she said. 

Developing those relationships is critical to a smooth working partnership, Larsen said. 

“Know who the epidemiologists are and know who the environmental epidemiologists are,” he said.

Naughton added that she invites utilities she works with to meetings so they can ask questions and engage with public health departments. 

Data Privacy

Health data is a sensitive topic, and utilities need to make sure security is top-of-mind.

As the population sample decreases, the privacy risk increases, Larsen said. Sampling for COVID-19 and other illnesses at a city level can’t put any individuals’ or groups’ data at risk. But what data is made public from sampling at smaller levels must be considered thoughtfully, the experts said. Generally, sampling becomes a data privacy risk at under 3,000 people, Naughton said.

“It’s public information that public money is going towards… so you should see that data. But we do need to be sensitive to how that data is shared and what it’s used for, and if it’s targeting communities more than helping communities,” she said.

Larsen recommended reading the World Health Organization’s guidelines on public health surveillance. Arizona State University has also studied the field’s privacy implications.

And if local public health units opt to sample for drugs, Naughton said it should be to find out which neighbourhoods need more support — not to increase incarceration or otherwise punish communities.

Homework

Fortunately, there’s lots of reading on wastewater-based epidemiology for utilities to do — potentially an “overwhelming” amount, Naughton said. 

She pointed to resources from the Canadian Water Network as a great starting point. Videos like the WEF’s that show what happens to samples can be helpful for utilities as well, she said. 

“Our plants love seeing the data, and getting it back, and (knowing) that it’s being used for something,” she said.

Better data management can help utilities better prepare for wastewater epidemiology

Wastewater epidemiology requires sampling large amounts of data. Klir’s sampling module allows you to stay on top of it all, so you can be ready when researchers come knocking.

Book a demo today to find out how Klir can help you streamline data throughout your organization. Learn more and book a demo today.

Preventing Backflow With Better Customer Relationships: A Checklist

“I heard only people with lawn irrigation have problems with backflow.”

“How do I know this backflow assembly is really necessary?”

“Okay, so what’s the least expensive assembly I can buy?”

Sound familiar?

Water suppliers and backflow inspectors hear these questions from customers all the time.

While it makes sense that customers might have some questions about backflow, an uninformed or uncooperative customer can also create problems.

  • They could balk at the price of a new device, delaying installation and creating administrative and compliance headaches.
  • They might forget about inspections, leaving inspectors waiting at the door.
  • They can ignore easy-to-fix hazards existing in their own plumbing system, increasing backflow risk in general.

The fact is that effective cross-connection control is just as much about technical challenges as it is about nurturing good relationships with customers and ensuring they understand their responsibilities and obligations.

To do that, water suppliers have to be creative. Here are three successful approaches we’ve seen, and how they can help your backflow prevention program succeed. 

1. Arm Yourself With Good Educational Materials

In addition to being a leader in backflow training and research, the USC Foundation for Cross-Connection Control and Hydraulic Research is an excellent starting point for water suppliers looking to raise awareness around backflow.

The foundation’s customizable brochures, video guides and slideshows all do a great job of explaining concepts like backflow, back siphonage and backpressure to a non-specialist audience, providing you with everything you need to start an awareness campaign in your community.

The American Backflow Prevention Association’s educational materials are another excellent resource, and its Buster Backflow series even provides younger readers with an entry point into the subject.

If you’re keen on producing your own materials, the backflow incident case histories published by the AWWA and the EPA can also be invaluable. These vivid, at times jarring incident reports aren’t shy with the details and include reported cases involving:

  • Gallons of seawater entering the soda fountains at a fast food restaurant
  • Propane entering a town’s water system
  • Blood coming out of a Michigan hospital’s drinking fountains 

Chapter 2 of the EPA’s official Cross-Connection Control Manual (PDF) includes more than a dozen of these stories, each of which do a great job of communicating the dangers of backflow.

Prevent Backflow With Better Data Management

Interested in learning more about how better data management can help you run a more effective cross-connection control program? Download the guide and book a demo of the Klir backflow module today.

2. Set Testers and Inspectors up for Success

While they might not have the time to educate every single last customer, testers and inspectors can certainly help—provided you give them the right tools.

In addition to arming them with good information and literature they can leave with the customer, ensuring inspectors have access to accurate and up-to-date information about your cross-connection control program is the best way to set them up for success.

That includes:

  • Ensuring testers are clear on each customer’s responsibilities.
  • Ensuring individual customer information is recorded properly and up to date to prevent confusion or delays during the inspection.
  • Informing inspectors of any risks or hazards that are specific to that customer.

One way to do this is to keep all backflow and cross-connection control-related data together in one system that inspectors can access themselves, eliminating the need for time-consuming paperwork chasing.

3. Cut Down On Administrative Work

If having a good backflow brochure and taking care of your inspectors is important, educating and engaging with community members directly is essential.

But building relationships with local businesses, institutions and other important water users in your community can be difficult when you’re stuck in the office taking care of administrative work.

Cross-connection data management software like Klir can help free up some of that time by:

Automating Away Repetitive Work

Klir automates a lot of the busywork involved in maintaining asset inventories, creating inspection schedules and capturing cross-connection data in general. If you’re currently using spreadsheets or software that wasn’t built specifically for backflow, switching to Klir could save you hours of work per week. 

Simplifying Inspections

Backflow professionals often tell us how difficult it can be to get backflow data in and out of a water supplier’s system. Customer files can be difficult to access, and inspection reports can be time-consuming to fill out.

A dedicated backflow data management solution like Klir solves these problems by bringing all backflow data into one accessible, easy to use system, giving inspectors access to all of the information and forms they need in a web-based app.

Making Your System Self-Serve

No one likes getting sternly-worded inspection reminders or water shutoff warnings. Making cross-connection control a self-serve process is one way around this, which is why we’re so excited about Klir’s community module, which will soon allow users to do exactly that.

Take Control of Your Cross-Connection Data With Klir

Klir’s backflow module helps utilities schedule, organize, and run effective cross-connection control programs, making it easier than ever to manage backflow data with powerful dashboards, asset mapping and project management automation. Learn more and book a demo today.

How To Spend Less Time Administering Backflow and More Time Preventing It

Backflow can bring contaminants in homes and businesses back into the main drinking water line, threatening public safety, undermining trust in the water supply, and creating legal and financial headaches for water suppliers.

We all have a role to play in preventing backflow, but in most cases responsibility ultimately falls with local water providers and inspectors. The problem is that many backflow prevention programs are under-resourced and compete with other priorities like distribution, water quality and even FOG, overburdening operators and forcing them to juggle many hats. 

The tools utilities use to manage their cross-connection control records don’t help either. 

Outdated software, spreadsheets and even paper forms and files create headaches for workers in the field, while administrators at the utility spend hours hunting down test reports, correspondence with customers, and important information about backflow devices.

All of that extra recordkeeping and data entry work is adding up, preventing operators from focusing on tasks that actually add value like inspections, surveys and infrastructure management.

Here are three ways to cut down on the amount of time operators spend administering backflow prevention and more time on actually preventing it.

1. Streamline Reporting and Data Entry

Cross-connection control generates a lot of data, and making sure that data is captured and organized the right way can be a challenge.

Take something as basic as the forms inspectors fill out when they carry out routine backflow assembly tests. Properly filling one out can take a significant amount of time because:

  • Test forms can vary by jurisdiction
  • Different submission requirements might require paper mail, fax or email submittal
  • Forms will often try to fit many different test types–RPZ, DC, DCDA, RPDA, and PVB—onto a single page

Doing everything you can to minimize data entry time and remove as many sources of friction from this process as possible keeps inspectors happy and productive while cutting down on delays and unnecessary work.

One essential piece in your toolkit: a web-based, configurable reporting tool like Klir that simplifies inspection management and provides a user-friendly interface for risk assessment, survey, test and incident report data entry.

Replacing a spreadsheet or paper-based process with a web-based one can save inspectors hours of data entry time per week and free them up for more important tasks.

2. Increase Data Accessibility 

Getting data into your system is important. But getting that data back out and into the hands of the people who need it most is crucial, especially if your water system experiences a backflow event.

In addition to potentially endangering public safety, causing denial of service to customers and loss of revenue for the utility, backflow incidents can put a huge administrative burden on water providers.

One study by the American Backflow Prevention Association (ABPA) found that operators spent an average of 494 hours investigating each backflow event, incurring an average personnel cost of $14,800 per incident. Another study from USC put that figure at $16,143 and found that one utility had spent more than $1.6 million responding to a single event.

Keeping risk assessment, survey report and inspection data in one easy to use system can make a world of difference during a backflow investigation, helping: 

  1. Cut down on time lost hunting down information
  2. Improve response times and ultimately cut down on risks to public safety 
  3. Simplify backflow incident reporting

It bears remembering that most large water providers are legally obligated to keep these records. Not keeping them in a dedicated data management or recordkeeping system could create issues around liability and even result in fines, especially if a backflow incident ever occurs.

3. Bring Everything Together Into One Dashboard 

We’ve talked about the personnel hours and costs involved in a backflow investigation. But what about the day-to-day work of scheduling inspection routes, corresponding with customers and reporting to regulators?

Those priorities can be difficult to stay on top of when you’re tied up with record keeping and paperwork. But they’re also precisely what we create more time for when we do a better job of managing backflow data.

Powerful dashboards like Klir can do exactly that, giving administrators easy access to their entire backflow prevention program at a glance and bringing it all together into one detailed report, making it easier to:

  • Plan and manage inspections
  • Track important program metrics like new installations and enforcement actions
  • Stay on top of compliance, violations and correspondence with customers

Take Control of Your Cross-Connection Program With Klir

Klir’s backflow module helps utilities schedule, organize, and run effective cross-connection control programs. Most importantly, it gives organizations the means to keep comprehensive digital records on all their cross-connection activities. To learn more, book a demo today.

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Book a demo with our team and receive the latest industry insights and exclusive offers.

We will reach out shortly to find a time that works for you.

Request a Demo

Book a demo with our team and receive the latest industry insights and exclusive offers. We will reach out shortly to find a time that works for you.