Toronto bridges data needs in water network project

The City of Toronto is replicating a model of its water network that will make it easier for its asset management group to plan capital expenditures.

Bentley Systems Inc., a software provider based in Exton, Pa., said the city

had received an award for the Toronto Water Integrated Network Skeletonization (TWINS) at its annual user conference. The city used Bentley’s WaterGEMS Skelebrator to create a separate data set to support the business processes of its asset management group.

The Survey and Mapping Unit of Toronto’s Technical Services division has long maintained detailed data about the city’s 500 miles of water mains, more than 65,000 water valves, almost 42,000 hydrants and 450,000 service connections, said Kevin Tierney, supervisor of foundation mapping. This emulation of the real-world water network is critical to engineering and maintenance crews, he said, but has become overly complex for its asset management group. About three years ago, the city began debating what should be included in the model.

“Asset managers didn’t believe that valves should be nodes (in the network model). Survey mapping and operations believed they should be, because that’s how you operate the network,” he said. “We needed to convert all the data into one standard, or create a process to allow them to render the data to different specifications.”

The twin network created through the Bentley product is about one quarter as complex as its predecessor, containing 76,989 pipes compared to the physical network’s 307,956 pipes. Determining which parts of the network are mapped in the distribution model is called skeletonization, and it proved key to satisfying the distinct needs of the two departments, said Toronto’s manager of mapping services Bob Gaspirc.

“The concept is, you might have 10 line segments between point A and point B, and the computer has to look at 100 attributes as it’s touching each one of them,” he said. “If you could figure out a way to reduce it from 10 line segments to one, you can significantly speed up the compute process.” 

“When you’re introducing new technologies, the user isn’t always in a position to utilize that today,” Gaspirc said. “In some cases, you’re mapping for challenges of tomorrow. But you still have to give the client the end user view of what they want.”

Tom Wolski, senior advisory product manager at Bentley Systems, said Toronto, like many other municipalities, faced a geospatial challenge.

“If you bring all this data into the hydraulic analysis, it just gets really bulky, the files get really big,” he said. “They’re getting rid of the detail that you don’t need, but in an intelligent way so that you don’t lose any of the accuracy.”

Toronto is unusual in that it has expertise to do physical database design and test against business requirements internally, Gaspirc added. The city also used a number of contractors for the project, he said.

TWINS is still in the construction phase, though three quarters of the city have been included in the network model, Tierney said. Toronto Water was the first key client, as its users needed a view of the sewer and water network data for the 450,000 residential and 15,000 industrial, commercial and institutional water accounts its manages.

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