The Smart Cities Movement is Missing Something Big

The global smart cities market is anticipated to reach $2.57 trillion by 2025. While most of the worlds’ attention in remote sensing has been focused on the sexier elements of smart cities – smart buildings, smart cars, and, of course, the always-cool-but-slightly-terrifying drones – there is a huge untapped opportunity lurking right underneath our feet.

Millions of miles of sewer infrastructure remain a very expensive mystery with a multi-trillion-dollar price tag. The U.S. spends $50 billion annually on capex & opex associated with managing our wastewater infrastructure. As a result of aging, overuse, and water quality issues, the U.S. is poised to spend $1.4 trillion in upgrades, excluding $3.6 trillion in impacts to coastal infrastructure as a result of climate change.

Aging and inadequate stormwater infrastructure costs cities billions of dollars every year as these add up at a per-city level:

  • Decisions about when and where to “roll a truck” or perform “proactive” maintenance are being made without the benefit of any data or predictive insights, leading to higher costs when unexpected emergencies inevitably arise.
  • Teams are sent out daily to investigate backups and overflows after the fact, instead of being able to track issues at their desks, before they become a problem.
  • Tracking and identifying the sources of pollutants that impact aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, recreation, and community health are made on an emergency/reactive basis nearly 100% of the time.
  • State and federal agencies levy fines in the hundreds of millions annually on cities where stormwater (or worse, and often, sewage) runs into rivers, oceans, and lakes. These fines eat up municipal budget that could otherwise be used to provide value-added services to citizens.
  • Green infrastructure and other improvements are often made purely based the presence of (and investments made by) new developments and in gentrified (or gentrifying) neighborhoods, not necessarily where these BMPs are needed most, and nor where they may function best.
  • BMPs are constructed according to spec; while these BMPs cost millions to design and install, cities rarely, if ever, monitor the effectiveness of the systems once they’re in the ground. Just imagine if you could demonstrate real, measurable improvements based on data!

And yet, without access to good data, city managers are left guessing.

Without date-driven insights, they cannot possibly understand what has already happened. And accurately predicting what’s likely to happen after a storm hits, or a pipe fails, or a new office complex goes up, is, well, a pipe dream. And this is just the beginning. Climate change will exacerbate all the above problems and will soon make stormwater one of the most visible problems that city mayors/managers will have to address. It’s already among the most expensive.

According to the U.S. EPA, consolidating monitoring, data analytics, automation, and control capabilities associated with stormwater infrastructure alone could potentially generate up to $320 billion in cost savings from the total expected capital expenditures and operating expenses for different water and wastewater utilities between 2016 and 2020 (U.S. EPA 2018).

Between streamlining maintenance, reducing pollution, eliminating fines, and creating effective use-based permitting, the real-time insights that StormSensor generates could collectively save communities 10s of millions of dollars each day.

And then – capturing empirical data, combining it with forecasted conditions, and identifying high-risk areas based on historical events and system conditions give us powerful predictions that help cities reduce future disaster-related response and recovery costs, protect citizens, and design resilient & sustainable communities.

This need is not limited to cities, counties, or even the United States.

It’s a problem that affects literally every person on the planet.

At StormSensor, we are excited to be part of the solution.





About the author

Erin Rothman

Talk stormwater with With more than 15 years of environmental consulting experience, Erin observed so many opportunities for innovation in the stormwater industry. With those in mind, she founded StormSensor to enthusiastically embrace new technology to help solve the problems of an age-old industry.