A new piece of software, which was a finalist in the 2019 Digital Utility Awards, will use machine learning to predict sewage overflows, and potentially avoid overflows entirely.

Unitywater and GHD have developed the sewer overflow prediction tool.Unitywater Manager, Asset Knowledge and Performance, Ivan Beirne, said the tool was a win for the environment and the utility.

“While this tool is still in the testing phase, it has demonstrated the ability to accurately predict wet weather impacts faster than previous hydraulic models used to predict sewage overflows.

“Sewage overflows are priority one jobs, which must be responded to within one hour and can pull our field crews away from other planned work. If we can predict sewage overflows and manage our network accordingly, we can avoid diverting crews to these jobs and this is really beneficial for us,” he said

Mr Beirne said the tool used radar precipitation echo images, and harnessed the relationship between rainfall patterns over time with sewer overflow events.

He said it consisted of two machine learning components, a radar echo ‘nowcasting’ model and a sewer overflow prediction model.

The ‘nowcasting’ model produces short term (0-6 hour) rainfall radar image forecasts using the previous two hours of rainfall obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the overflow model then predicts the likelihood of a sewage pump station overflow.

“Once used operationally, the model will feed live rainfall radar data from BOM to produce overflow risk scores,” Mr Beirne said.

“We can then determine those pump stations most at risk and take preventative action.”

GHD Digital Solutions Lead (Water and Innovation) and Director Digital Labs, Saskya Hunter, said, “Working on this project with Unitywater has been extremely valuable, both in terms of the digital nature of the solution that has been developed and the opportunity to explore new ways of working through AquaLAB — our co-creation program for the water industry.

“We are excited by the promise that the prediction tool shows, and the broader benefits that it may provide to the environment and the water industry.

“GHD Digital is working hard to make co-creation a reality through our AquaLAB initiative, and we are pleased that Unitywater has been prepared to come on the journey with us for our pilot project,” she said.  

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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