Kansas City’s Smart Sewer Program Taps IoT for Monitoring and Maintenance

Kansas City adds IoT technology to its Smart Sewer Program aimed at protecting public health and the natural environment. The initiative is a 25-year, multi-billion-dollar investment that aims to use robust asset management technology to optimize 2,800 miles of aging sewer pipes that handle the city’s flow of wastewater and stormwater. 


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Image credit: Kansas City Smart Sewer Program

In Kansas City, MI, IoT technology is helping to improve water quality and rehabilitate the city’s aging sewer system infrastructure. The 25-year initiative, the Kansas City Smart Sewer program, is the largest single infrastructure investment in the city’s history. With an estimated  program budget of $4.5 billion to $5 billion, the Smart Sewer project will modernize and optimize the nearly 2,800 miles of sewer pipes that handle the city’s wastewater and stormwater, spanning about 318 square miles. The program consists of 150 different contracts, including 87 for design and technical services.

The smart city project initiative was sparked originally by a 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree. That mandate required major cities to implement an overflow control plan that would eliminate raw sewage and stormwater overflows into surface water. For Kansas City, that meant it had to ensure its overflow was successfully routed to six wastewater treatment plants located throughout the city. 

Separating Stormwater from Wastewater

Some parts of the sewer and overflow water system in Kansas city are extremely old, dating back to the 1860s. Over the past 150 years or so, the city has made incremental improvements to the system, upgrading the clay pipe that is still in place and operational in some areas. 

Two types of sewer systems support Kansas City: combined and separate. In the combined sewer system, stormwater and wastewater are collected in the same pipe and routed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment. These are the oldest pipes in the city’s system and located in the older neighborhoods and business areas of the city.

The separate sewer system developed as sewer technology advanced. It became best practice in all cities to collect stormwater and wastewater in two different pipes. Wastewater is collected and conveyed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment, and stormwater flows directly to nearby rivers and streams without treatment.

When it rains in Kansas City, the combined sewer system that uses one pipe to carry wastewater and rainfall can quickly fill up and reach its capacity and overflow, discharging a mix of wastewater and stormwater directly into local streams and rivers. 

The IoT Underground

KC Water’s Smart Sewer program consists of 120 wet-weather specific overflow control projects.The program is committed to capturing approximately 88 percent of the combined sewer flows and eliminating wet weather sanitary sewer overflows.

Special Assistant City Manager Andy Shively came onto the project in 2012 and decided to improve the existing infrastructure, rather than building anew. Shively also wanted to assess the real conditions of the system before beginning upgrades. And that’s where the IoT technology came in, to provide the data needed to create a robust asset management system that can evaluate the likelihood of a sewer failure.  

Using strategic, data-driven solutions and overflow control technologies, the Smart Sewer program uses IoT technologies to make sure pipes are in working condition and monitor system performance to guard against failure, as well as hold down repair costs. 

Manhole covers outfitted with sensors

Image credit: Kansas City Smart Sewer Program

Here’s how it works:

  • Kansas City’s Smart Sewer network includes sensors attached to manhole covers that monitor and measure water flow and depth at critical points throughout the wastewater system.
  • The system compiles the sensor data into a platform that uses an artificial intelligence (AI) system. The software can predict how the sewers will perform during challenging weather events, such as severe thunderstorms or torrential downpours that can cause flash flooding.  
  • The AI system incorporates microclimate forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to determine where to store or direct the wastewater.
  • This information is subsequently electronically sent to pump stations and in-line gates.
  • The sewer system then works in real time to optimize the conveyance, storage, and treatment of the storm water and wastewater coming into the system.
  • The system also uses closed-circuit TV to allow system managers to inspect sewer pipes for any signs of deterioration and indicate any spans that need to be repaired.

To date, more than 448 miles of sewer have been rehabilitated and about 45 percent of the city’s sewer system has been digitally inspected.


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