national study-research-water assetsMohammad Najafi, associate professor of civil engineering, is using a $410,000 grant from the Water Research Foundation for a project to find and assess innovative technologies for monitoring water assets. Photo: University of Texas at Arlington.

National Study Aims to Assist Water Utilities

A University of Texas at Arlington civil engineering researcher is leading a nationwide study to find and assess innovative technologies for monitoring water assets.

Mo Najafi
Mohammad Najafi

Mohammad Najafi, associate professor of civil engineering, is using a $410,000 grant from the Water Research Foundation for the project.

“We hope to streamline water asset monitoring so water utilities can make timely decisions and optimize their maintenance activities,” Najafi said. “We will investigate the utilization of existing and innovative asset-monitoring technologies—such as drones, sensors, fiber optics and more—for both horizontal and vertical assets. Considerations for both large and small water utilities will be given.”

Water Authority participates in national study

The San Diego County Water Authority is among water agencies involved in the project.

“We are happy to collaborate with the University of Texas at Arlington and the water utilities that have come together on this project,” said Martin Coghill, operations and maintenance manager with the San Diego County Water Authority. “It’s an exciting time to be in the water industry with new technologies being developed to help manage water assets more efficiently and effectively. Sharing our experiences and learning from others’ experiences has a huge value for us, our regional partners, and the industry as a whole.”

scanny-national study-innovation-technology-San Diego County Water Authority

In 2022, the San Diego County Water Authority was granted its first utility patent for a device that inspects interior sections of water pipelines that are inaccessible or not safe to inspect without expensive specialized gear and training. Inventor Martin Coghill calls the tool “scanny.” Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Other water entities involved in the project include DC Water, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, CDM Smith, Dallas Water Utilities, Greater Cincinnati Water Works, Dallas County, Tarrant Regional Water District, WaterOne, American Water, WSSC Water, Great Lakes Water Authority, Orange County Utilities and Underground Infrastructure.

Vinayak Kaushal, assistant professor of civil engineering, will serve as co-principal investigator. Zahra Borhani, program manager at the Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education (CUIRE), and Diego Calderon, a doctoral candidate, are part of the UT Arlington team for this project. Najafi leads CUIRE, a research, education and outreach organization that is part of UT Arlington’s Department of Civil Engineering. Since its inception, it has focused on assembling exceptional and broad-reaching engineering and technical talent to address the needs of underground infrastructure on regional, state, national and international scales.

Water infrastructure part of national study

The project will perform a comprehensive literature review on the topic, hold conferences and webinars among water utilities and industry leaders, provide case studies of what is available and make recommendations and guidelines on what to use in the future. Najafi will look at above-ground water infrastructure like reservoirs and dams, as well as below-ground infrastructure like pipes and mains.

Najafi said the project will identify gaps in water utility monitoring and make recommendations to fill them.

“Water monitoring now consists of using sensors, drones, fiber optics and advanced metering infrastructure. Other technologies are on the market and currently being used, but not by everyone,” he said. “We hope to issue a best practices guideline for water entities.”

Melanie Sattler, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, said Najafi’s project will give water entities better information now and in the future.

“Water monitoring is essential to providing the resources needed for life and growth. This project does just that,” Sattler said. “Knowing how much water you have is vital to planning for the future.”