Around the Water Cooler: Monitoring Drinking Water Systems

By Robert Janke

Water TowerA reliable source of clean, drinkable water is a must for any city or community to survive and prosper.  We take for granted the clean, drinkable water delivered from the tap whenever we want to quench that thirst. But few people recognize or understand the complexity of our nation’s water system and what goes into the operations required to deliver this essential human need in an unfailing way, day in and day out.

As one of our nation’s critical infrastructures, water distribution systems face security threats ranging from natural disasters, like hurricanes and extreme weather, to intentional acts of sabotage or terrorism.

Obviously, it’s important to be able to quickly detect, assess, and respond to any kind of water contamination event no matter the source. But in order to do that, it is essential to have a real-time understanding of what is going on in the water distribution system. This would help water utilities be better prepared to respond to natural disasters or intentional acts of sabotage and could also alert them to other problems like leaks in the distribution system or water quality problems.

So how do we get a real-time understanding of water system operations? We integrate a utility’s infrastructure model with their real-time or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) data. We are testing and evaluating our real-time modeling software tools at the Northern Kentucky Water District (NKWD).

We are demonstrating how our real-time modeling software tools can be used to provide water utility operators with a better understanding of their water system and its operation. With our software tools, utility operators will have a “flight simulator” type of capability which will allow them to be better prepared to respond to emergencies and plan for the future.

To gain this understanding of the water system, we have developed an object-oriented software library called EPANET-RTX (EPANET “Real-Time eXtension”). RTX, for short, joins operational data from an already existing data system with an infrastructure model to improve operations and enhance security in a more sustainable and productive manner. RTX is built on the industry standard for distribution system modeling, EPANET, and leverages years of real-time modeling research and development efforts conducted by EPA.

RTX is open source software, and you can find it here. By making it open source, EPA hopes commercial companies will evaluate the technology and use it to develop commercial products.  We will continue to develop the RTX libraries which the water community will be able to use to (1) help water utilities field verify (validate) their infrastructure models and (2) develop RTX-based applications. These RTX-based applications will enable water utilities to better manage, operate, and secure their water systems.

To learn more about EPA’s research to keep our water systems safe and secure, please visit:

About the Author: Robert Janke is a research scientist intent on making sure our water stays clean and drinkable. He works in EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center located in Cincinnati, OH. Scientists in Cincinnati have been working on clean water issues for more than 100 years. Along with Rob Janke, the RTX project is being led by a multi-disciplinary team composed of Steve Allgeier, Michael Tryby, Lewis Rossman, Terra Haxton, and John Hall.