Water utilities who already had remote access to their systems were at an advantage when Covid-19 lockdowns were introduced around the world. The information comes from a report carried out by technology consultancy Isle on behalf of the Water Action Platform collaborative initiative.
The study’s aim was to find technologies that can help water utilities deal with the coronavirus public health crisis. Isle’s technology analysts asked utilities around the world about their specific challenges in the technical, organisational and operational spheres.
Speaking on the Water Action Platform webinar on 20 August 2020, Isle’s Covid-19 lead, European director Matthew Stephenson said, “This technology review has involved a study of the latest global understanding of the virus in relation to water and wastewater. The most significant impacts on water utilities were the disruption and complication of lockdowns, social distancing measures and staff absence due to illness.
“From early discussions with some water utilities, those who already had remote access to their systems were clearly at an advantage when lockdowns began. One could argue that remote access to systems has been the single most important technology during the pandemic.”
Isle’s analysts found 28 technologies that remove or reduce the need to travel to site and offer incremental steps towards a more remote utility operation. These include KickTheMap, a mobile app developed in Switzerland, which enables users to carry out instant 3D-mapping, which Stephenson said was “very useful for initial site surveys and risk assessments”.
Another was Vuforia Chalk, an artificial intelligence platform from US-headquartered Rockwell Automation, which allows teams to communicate online and share knowledge intuitively. “Perhaps of real use in standby situations where there may not be enough time to get to site,” said Stephenson.
Some 200 technologies were reviewed by Isle’s analysts for the Technology Horizon Scan and 100 suitable solutions found, which are now accessible on a purpose-built online portal [LINK]. The review was split into four components:
As onsite training takes a back seat due to Covid-19, digital sessions are proving to be an effective alternative with far-reaching benefits, writes Ceris Van de Vyver, head of technology and training, at Isle UK
Water industry training programmes have had to undergo a transformation to ensure essential learning continues during the coronavirus pandemic. In developing its Programme for Water Professionals, global technology and innovation consultancy Isle has created an e-classroom which has already reached clients in South Africa and UK – all while the trainer is in Australia.
With fast-changing travel restrictions and varying global lockdowns likely to impact in-person training courses for some time, a complete shift to virtual learning was necessary. Isle ‘s training team created more than 30 new courses tailored specifically for a virtual audience.
As the crisis has proven, there is no industry more critical to public health and the global economy than water and wastewater. Underpinning it are highly skilled specialists, who are duty bound to maintain in-depth knowledge of ever-changing legislation and complex technical standards around the supply of water, treatment of wastewater and protection of the environment.
Addressing the climate emergency and tackling water scarcity are also priorities, as the industry takes urgent steps to becoming more sustainable, investing in smart, data-led technologies and accelerating digitalisation. Focusing on personal development and the upskilling of employees ready for future roles, not only expands the capability within the business and increases its resilience, it also reassures staff they are being invested in during an uncertain time.
Virtual training provides an opportunity to engage with employees who are likely to be working remotely, making them feel less isolated and ensuring they continue to feel valued. It can connect employees located in different countries and maintain team-working and camaraderie.
As a company that seeks out innovation for others, Isle aims to bring that spirit to its own operations and has sourced the latest digital training and conferencing tools, creating virtual courses covering water treatment, wastewater treatment, sustainability and leadership.
Topics range from catchment management, abstraction and financial regulations on the water side, to preliminary treatment, activated sludge and waste-to-energy in wastewater. Emerging pollutants, living buildings and innovation management are among the sustainability and leadership subjects and all courses can be tailored to individual companies.
While there are now new technical elements to consider, the main principles of virtual training are the same as in-person training – delivery is just as important as content if participants are to remain engaged and focussed. Isle’s trainer gets people out of their seats, stretching and moving around, she asks questions, encourages conversation and debate, is creative in her approach and makes people laugh.
Using a training platform such as Mentimeter, online courses can still be interactive, with quizzes, polls and Q&As. By keeping group sizes small – with a maximum of 12 delegates - everyone becomes involved.
Isle’s other services that have gone digital – such as its Technology Approval Groups (TAGs) – will see much larger groups coming together and it has to be accepted that not everyone will get a chance to speak during the event. On occasions such as these, it is particularly important that all participants have an opportunity to leave comments, ask questions and give feedback afterwards and for their input to be acknowledged.
The same approach applies to Isle’s new open access Water Action Platform which includes a web platform and webinars dedicated to collaboration, knowledge-sharing and learning in the global water sector, launched to address Covid-19 challenges.
Isle is looking forward to running face to face training and TAG sessions again but the willingness of utilities, end-users and technology developers to continue to take part and engage with each other virtually, proves how adaptable they can be.
Perhaps in the long-term, a greater mix of approaches to training, knowledge-sharing and networking can be expected. Workplaces are unlikely to see a complete return to how they were before, training budgets may be cut as financial implications of the crisis begin to hit and anxiety around travel may remain for some time.
At the same time, online tools will continue to evolve and expand, employees will become more confident using them and travel time and costs, such as overnight accommodation, will be saved, making virtual training and learning programmes a permanent feature for many organisations. It is reassuring to see the water industry embracing the opportunity to interact, share and learn in new ways.
More details about Isle’s Programme for Water Professionals can be found here: https://www.isleutilities.com/training
A new wastewater treatment system installed in a town in the Czech Republic will protect valued fishing ponds and raise the quality to required EU environmental standards.
Packaged wastewater treatment plant provider WPL installed a below-ground system in Klimkovice, in the country’s Moravian-Silesian region, as part of a municipality-led project to construct a first-time sewerage network to serve 340 of the town’s residents.
Some 110 properties will connect to the new system, replacing ageing septic tanks that had been seeping into streams which flowed into the popular fishing ponds, impacting the quality of the waters, which have protections under the EU’s Water Framework Directive. The project was welcomed by the local community and its successful completion marked with an opening ceremony.
Frantisek Lindovsky, WPL’s manager for central Europe, said: “It was the municipality’s aim to protect the ponds and provide a clean and healthy environment for the fish, which is why the decision was taken to invest in a new sewer network and sewage treatment plant. WPL’s technology was considered the most suitable because our treatment units are modular, compact and ready-to-use.
“The completed system, which will be fed by the town’s new sewer network, will significantly improve the quality of the local streams and fishing ponds and ensure they meet the environmental standards set out by the EU.”
The project team had to overcome significant challenges caused by high groundwater levels, which hindered installation of the treatment tanks. To manage this, engineers built a temporary well so that water could be continually pumped out and levels kept down throughout construction.
The installed treatment plant – WPL’s Hybrid-SAF biological system – comprises units designed to control chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) suspended solids, and ammonia. A remote monitoring system was also installed. The high environmental standards required included 30mg/l BOD, 110mg/l COD, 40mg/l suspended solids and 20mg/l ammonia.
To protect the below-ground units from excess groundwater the excavation was fully backfilled with water-resistant concrete. A small biological pond was also constructed by a municipality-sourced supplier to provide tertiary treatment and extra capacity was built into the system to cater for population growth.
The scheme was financed by the EU Cohesion Fund, which aims to promote sustainable development, and the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic.
The mayor of Klimkovice, Jaroslav Varga, said: “The area’s fishing ponds are used for fish farming as well as leisure, so it was important to protect them. Installation of the project was executed without any problems and WPL worked with us very proactively. We’re happy they will assist us in the first few months of operation.”
Lindovsky said: “The mayor considered this to be a very successful project because it was on time and within budget and they wanted to celebrate completion with drinks and a speech. As wastewater treatment specialists it is very satisfying to see the pride taken in the new system and the level of appreciation for the environmental benefits it will bring.”
The site will be managed by the municipality with WPL providing supervision and support.