KARLSRUHE, Germany — Jan. 4, 2016 — Researchers in Germany and France developed tools for water utilities that enable them to respond quickly to pathogens or toxic substances in the drinking water supply, according to a press release.

The partners, including German research organization Fraunhofer, are working on a comprehensive monitoring, early warning and emergency management system that allows utilities to rapidly initiate countermeasures in an emergency situation, noted the release.

Impurities can enter the supply network as a result of repair work, industrial accidents or operational errors, as well as criminal or terrorist attacks, stated the release.

“In order to protect the population, we have to be able to detect the hazardous substances as quickly as possible and know how they will spread,” explained Dr. Thomas Bernard, a specialist for flow models at Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technology and Image Exploitation IOSB, in the release.

The researchers developed a mathematical model for simulating drinking water supply network hydraulics and the distribution of quality parameters in the piping system, reported the release. This identifies the best locations for sensors in order to ensure early detection of impurities.

If an alarm does go off, the online simulation model can help pinpoint the source of the contamination and calculate where the impurity will spread in the next few hours, shared the release.

According to Dr. Bernard in the release, calculating and predicting the likely path of the toxic substance was no easy task because the flow of water in the supply network is not identical everywhere.

“It changes depending on the pressure in the pipes, their diameter and geometry, and the number of users. And turbulence and chaotic flows occur in places where the pipe system branches,” he said in the release.

As part of the system, intelligent software takes current measurement values into account, such as opacity, temperature, pressure, chlorine and oxygen content, pH value and the amount of bacterial contamination of the water, noted the release.

But when critical values are reached the system first looks for possible causes, such as a pump being opened or closed. That’s because more than 90 percent of anomalies are caused by changes to operating conditions and are no cause for alarm, shared the release.

The new system has already been implemented in Strasburg, where hydraulic and water quality sensors in the pipe network collect data which is sent to a process control system, reported the release. In case of emergency, workers can initiate countermeasures such as flushing contaminated water or blocking off parts of the supply network.

You can find the entire release here.