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Phoenix using artificial intelligence to tackle wastewater problems

Collecting and analyzing samples from the Phoenix sewage system is the last job any person wants to do, so why not get a robot to do it? 

With Artificial intelligence becoming a commonly-used name, it’s not hard to imagine its impacts on human life. One unexpected example is wastewater management.

On Sept. 15, the City of Phoenix Water and Wastewater Rate Advisory Committee was briefed on new AI technologies that will soon be applied in Phoenix sewage pipelines. 

According to Assistant Director of Water Services for the City of Phoenix Nazario Prieto, illegal deposits are substances that are disposed of into the sewer system when it is against the law to do so. Before these deposits reach the water treatment plant, they run down sewer lines. 

“We have had times where the fire department has had to shut down a road because it smelled so strongly of gasoline,” Prieto said. 

Kando is a product that offers advanced detection of irregularities in wastewater networks, according to the manufacturer’s website. The product enables the tracking of illegal deposit sources and communicates impacts on both the network and public health. Even though the product looks discrete, just a small black box that can be placed just under a manhole cover, Prieto foresees important impacts of the device. 

These deposits can contain harmful chemicals that can not only impact public health, but also harm the environment, according to Brandy Kelso, Deputy Director of Water Services. 

“Anything in the sewer system that is not supposed to be there poses a threat to the environment and can lead to things like groundwater pollution or algal blooms,” Kelso said. 

According to Prieto, the City of Phoenix has utilized 15 of these detection devices to help track, and prevent illegal deposits. The sensors for the device are placed in the sewer line and over time, the artificial intelligence ‘learns’, or gathers more data to detect abnormalities. 

“We have found over the past nine months that the computer has done a good job of alerting us to situations that have led to active investigations,” Prieto said. 

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