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Member Spotlight

Paul Costa, President and CEO – RJN Group, Inc.

Established in 1975, RJN Group Inc. is a 100% employee-owned, professional engineering and specialty field services firm with a focus on water, wastewater, and stormwater systems. RJN’s mission is to lead with innovation, ingenuity, and an unwavering commitment to the water environment, to help utility owners meet their level of service goals.

Last year’s passing of the $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act marks the most
significant investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in American history. What is the value of utilising smart, data-driven solutions in such investments?

Signing the infrastructure bill will help bridge a funding gap to address the aging infrastructure crisis and service risks many municipalities face.. The ever-evolving pool of smart data analytics and easily accessible data management tools will promote smart planning, enabling cities and towns across the country to maximise the benefit of every dollar spent on infrastructure improvements. Smart, data-driven tools harness the millions of data points captured by utility operating and monitoring systems and transform them into actionable roadmaps for daily operations, planning, and management. Success in today’s data-centric world requires utility owners and operators to move beyond sensor technologies. Informative, smart data tools promote rapid processing of large volumes of digital data, empowering utility owners, operators, and managers to efficiently manage, analyse, and ultimately make timely and informed operations, maintenance, and planning decisions.

What do you see as the impact of sewage overflow monitoring in the US? What is RJN doing to
help solve this challenge?

Every community leader, resident, and business is vulnerable to raw sewage exposure caused by overflows, backflows, spills, or other sanitary sewer system discharges. Each year, increasingly severe storms, coupled with deteriorating infrastructure, trigger events that impair protected receiving waters and devastate public and private property. The result is significant restoration costs and public health risks. While the impact of severe storm events cannot be prevented, well-planned sewer system monitoring, maintenance, and management programs fed by timely system data can lessen the risk and potential of wet-weather impacts.

RJN is developing smart monitoring solutions to offer protection from sewage discharges through real-time monitoring, early warning notifications that can proactively dispatch utility crews, and artificial trending routines to measure and forecast the potential for overflows.

Sewerage overflow monitoring often requires multiple technologies to track overflow conditions. As we say, no two overflow structures are alike, and each must be constructed with the right technology for the right hydraulic conditions. Our approach is to bring disparate data technologies into a single source. By communicating with any overflow sensor technology, we quickly put critical data and insightful analytics tools in the hands of our clients.

As engineers, we are passionate about working with communities to build long-range plans and solutions to ensure their sewer systems can continuously operate at design capacity and handle the increasing frequency of severe wet-weather events without impacting services to the community. Smart and engaging data-driven technologies commingle decision-centric details and put power in the hands of the decision-maker. When all data technologies are tuned to operate in concert, utility owners and operators will have a clear picture of conditions and problem points.

Beyond technological advancement, what do you see as the societal and environmental impact
of smart technology? What message can utilities convey to their communities?

Smart technologies are becoming a part of every person, business, and utility’s day-to-day life. As these technologies advance and evolve, they are becoming ingrained in daily work operations, changing the landscape of the traditional office work environment and the timeliness of critical work information. Critical operations information, data, and analytical tools make dissecting problems and predicting potential service issues possible in near real-time, whether working in the office, in the field, or at home. Utility leaders have the tools to fast forward to what’s critical, and proactively and efficiently deploy resources to ensure public safety, health, and social challenges. With 24/7 smart data and smart analytics, powered by artificial intelligence algorithms, utilities can assure community members of continuous water and sewer services, protection of their property, and efficient utility operations that focus budgets and tax dollars where needed.

How can young professionals passionate about smart water and innovation best prepare
themselves for a career in the field?

It’s exciting to see young professionals’ impact on the industry today; they bring a unique skill set, easily grasping and adopting new tools and technologies to redesign daily workflows. The industry’s future is bright as the water and sewer industry embraces advancing artificial intelligence tools for predictive and trending analytics, innovative inspection and sensor technologies for asset management, and single source management tools built with APIs and inter-system communications. Constantly evolving technologies are the norm for YPs who have grown up with smartphones, smart cars, and smart houses operating through smart apps. These tools are embedded in everything they do and every problem they solve. YPs looking to positively impact the industry should continue looking for smart solutions and consider the big picture as they embrace and apply these solutions.