TACC’s Stampede2 Supercomputer Simulates Water Supply in Inter-utility Agreement Study

utility study TACC Gorelick et al

May 20, 2022 – Mark Twain is attributed with the quote “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting!” But what if cooperation brought more benefits than going it alone, when it comes to urban water services?

A new study of water supply in the North Carolina Research Triangle has found that agreements between water utilities can help mitigate their risks.

The research used supercomputer grants on the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Stampede2 system awarded by the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

utility study TACC Gorelick et al
Agreements between water utilities can help mitigate their risks, in research that used Stampede2 supercomputer simulations of water supplies from six population centers (colors) in North Carolina, a new study has found. ResearchTriangle. Water demands in millions of annual average gallons per day are given from 2015 to 2060 on inset plots based on utility projections (Hazen & Sawyer, 2020; TJCOG, 2014). Credit: Gorelick et al.

The findings are generalizable to any location where water providers allocate regional water resources among users who face supply and demand challenges and affordable financing for infrastructure improvements.

“We found that cooperation between utilities could benefit both their water supply and their financial needs compared to more traditional independent planning and management,” said David Gorelick, postdoctoral research associate at the of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Gorelick works at the Center on Financial Risk in Environmental Systems, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) Stampede2 supercomputer is an allocated resource of the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study was published in March 2022 in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The authors started with a computer model that they developed with regional utilities in North Carolina.

“Their participation gives us a great deal of confidence that our results will be used to at least inform their behavior and to help avoid some of the bigger pitfalls when it comes to making big, long-term financial decisions of hundreds of millions of dollars about water infrastructure such as new reservoirs or wastewater treatment plants,” Gorelick said.

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The model accurately simulates their long-term risk management and infrastructure planning decisions out to 2060.

“This work is not possible without XSEDE supercomputing resources,” said study co-author David Gold, a doctoral candidate in Cornell University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Gold and his colleagues assessed the water supply system of North Carolina’s research triangle of about two million people, bounded by Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, over millions of future states to 2060. This has led to the discovery of water management strategies that are robust for a wide range of future conditions.

“Without supercomputing capabilities, we don’t know how the water supply system responds to different kinds of uncertainties, whether it’s population growth or climate change,” Gold said.

“It cost us a lot to be able to use Stampede2,” Gold added. “If we were to try to run these simulations on our desktop computer, it would take us over 15 years to do all the simulations we ran with Stampede2 in just a few hours.

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A utility-scale computer model of the region was developed, using WaterPaths stochastic simulation software, a utility planning and management tool. The risk of failure has evolved based on the dynamics of reservoir capacity which changes according to hydroclimatic conditions, human demands and management decisions which combine weekly portfolio management with long-term annual investments in infrastructure.

Some of the risks of inter-service agreements include exposure to asymmetric partner growth or the inflexibility of the agreement structure itself to respond to ups and downs in supply and demand.

Interestingly, the authors hypothesized that more flexible agreements might benefit partners more by allowing them to adapt to changing conditions.

“In fact, we found that utilities were at more financial risk in these cases,” Gorelick said. The study found that with less flexible arrangements, utilities are limited to mitigating their own risks. But when agreements can be updated over time, each utility is more exposed to the risks and uncertainties of their partners.

“We found that cooperation is a good thing. But what and how cooperation happens can be very important to water utilities, and therefore the water rates we all pay to get our water bills,” Gorelick said.

A simple example of an agreement studied in the paper was a fixed allocation agreement, such as that for a new reservoir or a sewage treatment plant. Because municipalities and local governments in the United States can enter into inter-local agreements, utilities can partner and be assigned fixed allocations of storage or processing capacity in a shared project from the outset.

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If a utility, for example, pays for 20% of the development of this plant, it is allowed to use 20% of its capacity.

“Why these types of agreements are important, and why we wanted to test at least a few of them in this study, is that agreements are widespread and highly customizable from place to place,” Gorelick said.

So far, there has been very little research effort to assess their performance in terms of the provision of public services and financial objects.

Says Gold: “Today, our water supply systems face greater challenges than ever. But, we also have tools that we never had before, in terms of supercomputers. By using resources, such as those available at XSEDE, we are able to level the playing field a bit. When we think about the challenges and uncertainties of population growth and climate change, these computing resources allow us to better understand the potential effects of these changes and help us develop sustainable management strategies that can ensure the reliability of our water supply for years to come.

Source: Jorge Salazar, TACC

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