Transforming Water Utilities: AI Training and Building a Resilient Workforce

Davar Ardalan
4 min readMay 23, 2024


Environmental Engineer John Oliver Smith (right) of Haley Ward attending the 2024nCWEA/CSAWWA meeting

As a journalist dedicated to exploring the synergy between technology and community empowerment, today’s CWEA/CSAWWA 2024 Joint Spring Meeting in Perryville, Maryland, was both inspiring and deeply resonant.

The conference was more than an educational opportunity; it was a call to action to more proactively discuss how technology can serve as an equalizer. It underscored the necessity for inclusive, forward-thinking strategies that harness technology to enhance the well-being of every community.

The keynote and the panel on the Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force provided invaluable insights into the challenges of water resource management and emphasized the necessity of equitable, proactive infrastructure strategies to ensure all communities have access to sustainable resources.

Notably, speakers like Kishia Powell of WSSC Water, Lauren Buckler of Baltimore County, and Dr. Robert Summers of EcoLogix Group, highlighted the need for empowerment and resilience in urban planning.

(R-L) Panelists Kishia Powell of WSSC Water, Lauren Buckler of Baltimore County, Dr. Robert Summers of EcoLogix Group, Inc., and Ethan Vidal of Xylem.

There were numerous references to how utilities need more resources, skilled workers, and funding to address these challenges effectively. I believe that AI can be a very viable solution in this context.

As an advocate for the role of AI in societal enhancement, I see a powerful parallel between the strategies discussed today and the potential of AI to transform engineering and workforce development.

AI can be a great equalizer, enhancing decision-making and efficiency across various sectors, including water management. AI tools can be deloyed to optimize system operations, predict maintenance needs, and manage resources with precision.

The transformative potential of AI underscores the urgency of investing in AI education and training. These early days are ripe with opportunities to establish a foundation that benefits all members of society.

Training the current workforce to use AI not only streamlines operations but also empowers traditionally underrepresented communities by equipping them with cutting-edge skills and ensuring ethical usage.

Another significant part of today’s agenda that stood out was the discussion on Data Center Operations. Led by several speakers including Dotun Olawunmi from DC Water and Micah Vieux from Loudoun Water, this session explored the complexities and innovations in managing water operations for data centers, which are pivotal in today’s digital economy.

The conversation delved into how data centers consume vast amounts of water for cooling purposes and the strategies to optimize this usage through technology, thus ensuring these facilities operate more sustainably.

The scale of water consumption is significant; for instance, Microsoft experienced a 34% increase in global water usage from 2021 to 2022 due to AI projects like GPT-3 according to the Associated Press. In Iowa, one data center used approximately 11.5 million gallons of water in July 2022 alone, representing 6% of the district’s total water usage for that month​​.

In Virginia, where more than 300 data centers find their home, particularly in Northern Virginia, the story is similar. These centers, instrumental in the data-driven economy, have collectively poured more than $37 billion into the state’s economy over two years. They require vast amount of water for cooling.

Delving deeper, the paper “Making AI Less ‘Thirsty’: Uncovering and Addressing the Secret Water Footprint of AI Models” provides a critical look at the broader implications. It estimates that by 2027, global AI demand could result in water withdrawals ranging from 4.2 to 6.6 billion cubic meters.

Recently, I met the CEO of two innovative AI companies in the engineering space. Transcend, funded by AutoDesk, has developed software that can help you generate conceptual designs for wastewater treatment plants using AI technology. Additionally, Joist is a marketing enablement platform tailored for engineering and construction firms. Understanding and potentially integrating tools like these, or developing proprietary technologies, is crucial for staying at the forefront of industry advancements.

On July 26, my husband environmental engineer John Oliver Smith and I will further explore the practical applications of AI in engineering at the Florida Engineering Summit in Miami. We will discuss how AI enhances team capabilities and drives critical initiatives for long-term sustainability and equity.

Given the focus of my forthcoming book, “AI and Community,” I deeply learn from attending events like this because it is just the beginning of our journey. We need to come together to find ways to bring AI to communities. Today I was reminded again of the power of community-focused collaboration in driving meaningful change.

This content was created with the help of artificial intelligence, which helped organize the narrative, check grammar, and summarize important information to improve clarity and flow.



Davar Ardalan

Founder TulipAI. National Geographic, NPR News, SecondMuse, White House PIF Alum.