Artificial intelligence and smart systems in the integrated urban water cycle

Wastewater management has historically been considered as a system to eliminate a “purely urban” problem by collecting and conveying wastewater from population centres to the receiving waters as quickly as possible. The main aim has been to avoid health and flooding problems in the population centre where, in the best-case scenario, the wastewater underwent a treatment process and, in the worst-case scenario, was discharged directly into the environment. However, this situation has changed and urban drainage management must now address the important challenges of minimising environmental impact and becoming a key environmental protection tool.

Antonio Lastra de la Rubia – Coordination of network innovation. Sub-directorate of R&D&i, Canal de Isabel II

The implementation of smart systems and artificial intelligence (AI) is a key factor in terms of change and adaptation when addressing these challenges. Three AI and smart system projects being carried out at Canal de Isabel II are presented below, as well as a fourth example of the application of AI to drinking water supply.


Canal de Isabel II manages the integrated urban water cycle in the Madrid region, from collection and treatment to purification and reuse. It serves approximately 6.7 million people. Intelligent wastewater management is essential to optimise processes and aid decision-making.

Madrid manages a total of 15,000 km of sewers that convey wastewater to the Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs). Inspection and maintenance of the network is carried out periodically to identify corrective actions required and the optimum times for carrying out these actions. Traditionally, inspection activities have consisted of travelling around the network using remote equipment for inaccessible sections of the network, and a field team for accessible sections (a total of 2,400 km). In the first case, videos are taken of the route, while in the second, photographs are taken of points where there is a possible need for action.

The data collected are subsequently analysed manually in the office, with the analysis being subjective to a certain degree due to personal interpretations of these images. In addition, on-site inspection tasks in accessible sewers involve a risk factor for workers arising from the typical working conditions in this environment (poor visibility, presence of sludge, possibility of falling from different heights, possible presence of noxious gases…).

Published in: Nº79 FuturENVIRO April – May 2021