Meeting basic needs

Sandia pioneered water infrastructure risk analysis with expertise in geological & urban water systems.

Sandia scientist treats brackish water for human consumption.

Sandia specializes in helping cities determine which efforts will be effective in reducing their water risks and increasing their resilience.

Areas that can provide enormous cost-saving benefits for cities include reducing the amount of water used in energy production and innovative education campaigns targeted at changing consumer behavior.

Cities must be able to deliver sufficient clean water to their citizens, particularly during and after disruptive events such as earthquakes and floods. Equally, over the long term they must be able to acquire and sustain adequate water supply for future generations.

With respect to water systems, cities generally fall into three categories of resilience needs:

  • Cities with advanced water infrastructure must ensure that water quality and supply is resilient to natural and manmade events that cause infrastructure damage or water contamination, sudden and severe droughts, and long-term degradation of the water infrastructure itself.
  • Cities with limited water infrastructure typically have significant issues ensuring basic access to clean water for all or parts of their population. This includes populations within the city or just outside city limits that are completely unserved by city water infrastructure. These cities may be growing quickly and facing acute challenges with serving the water needs of the rapidly expanding population.
  • Finally, cities with no existing city-level water infrastructure may be mostly concerned with meeting basic water-supply needs. This may be achieved by drilling new wells, installing spring boxes, establishing water distribution systems, and deploying  education campaigns to ensure citizens are using water resources safely.

Common water challenges facing cities include:

Drinking-water treatment Cities may need basic or advanced technology to remove chemical and biological toxins in their water and monitor the quality of the water throughout their water infrastructure. And as cities' understanding of water risks improve (e.g., risks posed by arsenic and pharmaceuticals), so must water system requirements increase.

Wastewater treatment: Waste treatment (or the lack of it) has wide-reaching impacts on the health of a city's population. Changes in the water system itself can have unintended consequences in waste treatment; for instance, drastically reducing consumption of water through efficiency improvements can cause waste treatment processes to no longer function properly where alot of water is needed, for example, sewer systems.

Water-system decay: Basic piping and other infrastructure must be in place to deliver water to people, and even cities with the most advanced water infrastructure in the world are facing water-system decay.

Regional water-supply interdependencies: Cities often depend heavily on neighboring cities, regions, and sometimes even countries for their water supply. These interdependencies and the associated organizational relationships can be of the utmost importance to ensuring long-term water resiliency.

Cost recovery: Having a sustainable water system requires that water-provider revenues meet or exceed the cost of supplying water. This can be a significant challenge for communities in which large portions of the population may be unable to pay water tariffs imposed by providers.

Cities have  many opportunities for developing water-resilience enhancing strategies, including:

Energy consumption and production: Energy and water use improvements are inextricably linked. Water treatment consumes a significant amount of energy, and reducing the amount of energy used to treat water can result in significant savings for cities. In addition, energy production consumes large amounts of water, for example in cooling thermoelectric power plants.

Educational and behavioral changes: Water-education campaigns aimed at changing population behaviors can have measurable impacts on cities' water use and conservation. From a health perspective, cities may encourage methods of storing and purifying water at home and the proper placement of wells relative to runoff from other fixtures like farms or factories. To increase sustainability, cities may provide incentives to replace landscapes with low-water-use plants or purchase low-water-use appliances.

Sandia has extensive expertise in conducting full risk assessments on city water infrastructure, as well as resource prioritization to help cities determine where to focus efforts to maximize impact. Specific examples include:

Water infrastructure risk assessment: Sandia developed the United States' first water infrastructure risk assessment tool, RAM-W. The U.S. government now requires risk assessments of all its cities, using the Sandia risk framework.

Pipe and distribution models: Sandia has developed sophisticated models to examine pipe systems and water distribution and analyze how contaminants move in specific distribution systems. These include tools that can prioritize the placement of measurement tools and sensors throughout a system to maximize effectiveness and minimize costs.

Sandia also developed proprietary algorithms that can use data from existing sensors (avoiding the placement of new ones) to determine whether there may be a pathogen or contaminant in the system. For example, slow water flow combined with low chlorine levels in a part of the system may indicate the location of an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Contaminant removal: Sandia has developed technology to remove specific hard-to-deal-with contaminants such as arsenic from water sources. Sandia's technology was used to help clean contaminated water at the Fukushima site in Japan.

Long-term water resource modeling: Sandia uses proprietary tools to help cities estimate their long-term water usage, including the impact of climate change on water delivery, and to enable cities to understand potential tradeoffs in planning. The Sandia approach is unique in that it offers a larger picture than just that of a specific city by looking at neighboring cities, regions, or countries, and understanding how they impact the city's resources. Sandia can provide insight into a city's specific water interdependencies on other infrastructures such as energy, in a way that promotes collaborative work toward resilience to the benefit of water and energy stakeholders.