Smart cities: Managing wastewater in the new normal

It is important for us to reflect on how we can be fostering liveable cities that allow us to not only survive but thrive. 2020 has been a trying year for everyone with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we should not lose sight of building resilient and sustainable cities as the Philippines continues to rapidly urbanize.

The Philippines has already set in motion its smart nation ambition — currently under construction, New Clark City will be the country’s first smart and resilient metropolis. The Philippines should not let its initiatives lose momentum.

Amidst the recurring urban problems that smart cities can address, such as flooding, traffic and overcrowding, there is one crucial pillar where technology and digitalization can help address — wastewater management.

With the growth of the economy and rapid urbanization in the Philippines, the country is facing significant challenges in terms of water and sanitation. Only 10% of wastewater is treated while 58% of the groundwater is contaminated — Metro Manila alone generates about two million cubic meters of wastewater every day*.

Additionally, the current pandemic climate has led to increased wastewater production. We are witnessing an exponential increase in medical waste making its way into landfills and oceans, which can adversely impact our health.

Water management in cities also presents its own unique problems. In cities where increasingly dense populations are driving greater space constraints, water solutions need to be constructed in a way that ensures minimal disruption to its residents and existing infrastructure.

As the Filipino government gears up to address the issues of universal water and sanitation services coverage by 2028, reliable and intelligent technology will play a critical role in enabling this transformation.

To make smart cities a reality, governments need to find the right partners to help bring this ambition to life. For example, water solutions providers like Grundfos have been increasingly integrating intelligence into its technology, such as pumping stations.

Pumping stations are crucial to the entire water and wastewater process — they are designed to collect and quickly move as much water as possible. With today’s technology and innovation, pumping stations can undergo advanced computer modelling of pressurised sewer systems, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) flow simulation and model testing to optimize the design right from the start, avoid future complications such as blockages, odors, power outages and flooding.

Notably, Grundfos recently worked with Lio Tourism Estate, located in El Nido, Palawan, to support their wastewater management efforts. Lio Tourism Estate was keen to find wastewater management solutions that will help them raise the bar for sustainable tourism. They were able to achieve this through applying intelligence to their wastewater management process, creating energy and cost savings whilst ensuring a space efficient, reliable solution.

In smart cities, smart wastewater systems can also meet the demand for freshwater by detecting and preventing combined sewage overflows and chemicals in wastewater with the help of IoT sensors. Effective wastewater treatment also allows us to get the most out of the water we have used by harnessing it repeatedly.

Freshwater is one of the most precious natural resources that is getting scarce day by day. By treating and reusing wastewater instead of simply taking in new water, this reduces water consumption, and further saves water for the community. Increasingly, we need to not see used water as waste, but instead as a resource that can be reused when it is treated and can be looped back into production.

We recognize that the technology to empower the smart cities transformation exists, but how do we start? Collaboration is key and needs to be done on a larger scale. The public sector brings the power to effect change, while the private sector brings the expertise, agility and the innovation.

On an international level, best practices can be shared between countries to replicate what works and take lessons from what did not work well.

We must also ensure that we have a citizen-centric design approach. Smart cities are built by the people, for the people, and must solve actual, pressing problems and bring value to citizens. As we continue to move towards greater industrialisation and urbanisation, our cities need to evolve as well. Water management is a key pillar in this transformation. Once we begin to reconsider our approach to water management, we will start the journey on building cities that are resilient against global crises of any scale moving forward.