The 3 biggest challenges utilities face with their storm, sewer, and flood models 

Meg Riley
Meg Riley July 12, 2022 5 min read

Modeling complex hydraulic and hydrologic network elements for water and wastewater is a huge job. Without modeling, it wouldn’t be possible to plan for capacity improvements, system expansions, and emergency scenarios. And it must be said, just like with any job, there are challenges and roadblocks in stormwater, sewer, and flood modeling that get in the way and slow down work processes. Let’s talk about the three most common challenges utilities face and how to resolve them. 

1. You’re unprepared for climate change and don’t know where to begin 

Climate change is affecting all of us, and it’s only getting worse by the year. However, impactful change will take time and utilities must still contend with more extreme weather conditions. But, how does your system perform under those conditions? 

To keep up, it’s vital that utilities regularly run forecasted and past rainfall events. Past, because it’s essential to collect data from past events and identify patterns in order to make the right predictions for forecasting. Forecasted, to prepare for moderate or emergency scenarios. Instead of relying on back-of-the-napkin estimates of the effects of climate change, you can use existing data to navigate your way through the coming storms. The latest in stormwater, sewer, and flood modeling technology enables you to run the actual event to see how the system performs. 

San Antonio looked at Hurrican Harvey’s devastation of Houston and asked themselves: How can we model the same situation for San Antonio?

For example, in the wake of Hurrican Harvey’s devastation of Houston, HDR Engineering used their existing flood model in our software to help San Antonio to understand how San Antonio would have fared in a similar situation, accurately modeling the unique USAR watershed characteristics for their location, including underground tunnels using pressure flow conduits and operational controls for a dam and two flood gates. This is the kind of innovative planning that cities and utilities should be doing to prepare for the unfolding flooding dangers that are increasing with climate change.

2. You struggle to update your models when situations inevitably change 

Modeling simulations are helpful for a great many things, but most especially they help to explain water issues to your community and provide mitigation plans for those issues. However, models can be difficult to maintain, as teams struggle with pulling in updated data into the model or onboarding new staff to input new developments. Why is this so fraught with challenges?

To begin with, to calibrate a model initially, much of the data is often entered manually and in a very time-consuming manner. There are ways to speed that up by importing data, but it can stil be time-consuming to extract the data from SCADA, or to go out into the field and collect it. All this before the data must be processed into a format that can then be compared with the modeling results.

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Once the data has been collected and your model created, you might think you’re in the clear. But, conditions change. If an operator wants to change a pump setting in the system, they may want to try it out in the model first to see how it’s going to affect the system as a whole before changing it in real life, outside the safety of the simulation. But if the model they’re using is out of date, it’s unlikely that the result from the model will actually happen in the real system once that change is made. So, to stay on deadline of the project, operators tend to simply make these kinds of adjustments based on gut feeling. When that happens, your team can’t fully trust the results.  

Who wouldn’t love a software program that makes everything easier? With InfoWorks ICM, you can: 

3. You spend too much time building models and not enough time analyzing the results 

Model build and analysis are both important to the process. So, why do utilities and consultancies only spend their time on model creation and not analysis? 

Simply put, building models can be time-consuming. Much of the time spent on a project goes toward aggregating data in the model and calibrating it, leaving very little time for analyzing it later. However, analyzing data is essential to making critical decisions and preparing for emergencies. 

Want to speed up your simulation? Whenever possible, we give you ways to safely do it.

But this can be sped up with InfoWorks ICM. Parallel computations in the software allow all of the cores on a CPU to be utilized rather than just one, letting you leveraging your computer’s graphics card (GPU) for even more simultaneous computations. Ultimately, this means that both contribute to speeding up hydraulic simulations. Rather than having to wait to run a model overnight for 8-12 hours so analysis can be performed, it’s possible to cut that down to 20-30 minutes with InfoWorks ICM. 

Most other hydraulic engines don’t perform parallel computations or take advantage of a graphic card’s power – or they can be costly add-ons. But InfoWorks ICM has built-in, customizable tools to automate the model building process, along with parallel computations and GPU to speed up run times, making more time for more you to analyze the results. 

A solution that’s reliable, fast, and streamlined 

We can help you save time with InfoWorks ICM, speed up your collaboration capabilities, and make clear, decisive engineering decisions. Speak with an expert to find out more.