Dubuque uses smart meters to get a handle on water consumption

IBM's cloud environment will help collect and analyze data

The City of Dubuque, Iowa, has teamed with IBM on a project to better understand water consumption and conservation in the municipality.

The Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study’s goal is to show how informed and engaged citizens can help make their city sustainable. The study started in September and will run to December, and initial study results will be available by the end of the year.

Initially, 300 volunteer residents will participate. Dubuque is in the process of installing smart water meters throughout the city. Over the next several months, data will be collected and analyzed, providing information and insight on consumption trends and patterns that will enable both the volunteers and city management to conserve water and lower costs.

Dubuque is upgrading its entire water infrastructure, installing 24,000 new water meters, said David Lyons, the Smarter Sustainable Dubuque project manager. A little over 300 of those meters have advanced capabilities that will monitor water consumption every 15 minutes and transmit that information in an anonymous fashion to IBM Research for analysis, Lyons said.

Dubuque has worked with local manufacturer A.Y. McDonald to integrate a device called an Unmeasured Flow Reducer. This device is designed to augment the water meter in providing the most accurate measurement possible during low-flow use.


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IBM Research is using a cloud computing environment to collect and analyze data, said Milind Naphade, program director for Smarter City Services and Smarter Cloud with IBM. “The idea is to validate cloud computing as a mechanism for collecting and managing data and to lower the barrier for entry for cities,” Naphade said.

Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand.

IBM has built the IBM Smarter City Sustainability Model, which is a cloud delivered asset that provides the city with an integrated view of its water consumption, and energy management. The system is being piloted in 300 residences throughout the city of Dubuque.

The data being collected will be anonymous and contain no confidential information. In the cloud, the data will be analyzed with triggers to spot potential leaks and anomalies, and help volunteers understand their consumption in greater detail. Volunteers can only view their own consumption habits while city management can see the aggregate data.

Every volunteer in the study has a personal identification number that they will use to access a Web portal. The volunteers will be able to view a range of historical and real-time data about their water consumption.

As a result, they can institute best practices to conserve and lower water costs or repair leaks, Naphade said. For instance, Dubuque is matching 50 percent of the cost to repair leaks. Also, the volunteers can use social networking tools such as chats to share best practices with each other anonymously.

Dubuque 2.0, a local initiative to engage citizens in sustainability, is collaborating with IBM and the city on the pilot study to facilitate participant involvement.

The water study is a part of a larger sustainability initiative by city officials to improve the way the city and residents use resources. Dubuque, which has a population of 60,000, has a progressive mayor in Roy D. Buol, who is concerned about sustainable growth, Naphade said.

The vision is for an integrated sustainability system where data from many different city systems and citizen activities can be used to inform sustainability efforts. For example, people can learn how to reduce electricity costs by saving water and learn how to improve health and wellness outcomes by reducing vehicle miles traveled.

A pilot study on electricity usage in nearly 1,000 Dubuque households is also underway and is funded by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence.

“The water pilot is just the tip of the iceberg, the piece above the water line,” Lyons said. “The key piece is community engagement. You only get sustainable change if you can engage citizens.”

 

 

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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