Smart Water for Resilient Cities is all about integration and interoperability

BLUE PLANET Berlin Water Dialogues 2021 | An event recap

2021’s first BLUE PLANET Berlin Water Dialogues was special in two ways: On 25th February, the conference format not only celebrated its 10th anniversary but also its digital premiere. Debates around solutions to the challenges of global water management took place entirely virtually, allowing nearly 700 participants worldwide to join this vibrant conference and interact with speakers and other guests via the online networking tool. High-ranking international guest speakers presented innovations in asset management processes and discussed water utilities in smart cities. The next event is planned to be held in November 2021.

In the welcoming words, Julia Braune, General Manager at German Water Partnership and Frank Bruckmann, CFO at Berliner Wasserbetriebe both highlighted the important opportunity for the international water industry to meet online and to enter into dialogues to improve the global water situation. Bruckmann also mentioned the newly published digitalisation index of the German water sector. Digitalisation was the overarching framework topic of the conference. Under the umbrella theme Smart Water for Resilient Cities, the program was divided into two topic sections, focusing on Innovative Asset Management Processes and Water Utilities in Smart Cities.

Innovation is key

„Innovation is crucial to help the water sector achieve the sustainable development goals and the European Green Deal ambitions“, Claudia Castell-Exner, President of the European Federation of National Associations of water services, EurEau, set the tone in her keynote speech. She presented immediate needs such as the innovation of analytical methods, creating sustainable business models, and above all digitalizing the water sector. “It is vital that we plan and consistently invest in our systems according to the long-life cycles for our assets. In this ongoing process, innovation is a key factor for us”, Castell-Exner stated.

Different perspectives, one goal: detecting sewer damages using AI

Initiating the first topic of the day, Regina Gnirß, Head of Research and Development of the Utility Berliner Wasserbetriebe, provided a comprehensive introduction, pointing out opportunities and challenges as well as showing a simulation of sewer systems for different investment scenarios.

Current challenges such as old infrastructure, new demands from increased runoff and an aging workforce call for innovative technology. Insights on the benefits of using Artificial Intelligence to detect damages in sewer systems were given in the framework of three different projects with similar objectives. The AUZUKA project presented by Daniel Sauter (Berliner Wasserbetriebe) aims to achieve the detection of sewer damages by (semi-)automatically using novel 3D camera technology. The project SEMA presented by Mathias Riechel (Berlin Center of Competence for Water) developed a quality-assured aging model for the condition of Berlin’s sewer system and future investment needs. And the Swiss company Hades AI, represented by Co-Founder Christian Koch, uses machine learning to automatically detect defects in sewer inspection videos and inform cities when and how to repair them, saving tax money, reducing CO2 emissions and wastewater leakages.

In four subsequent break-out sessions participants had the opportunity to join discussions that built upon the presentations and looked at “Innovative tools for asset management strategies”, “Guidelines for the assessment of wastewater networks”, “Physical modelling of sewer failures” and “IoT networks and sensors: smart sewer systems”.

Integrating smart water concepts in cities

“Smart City is not about technology. It is about enabling a sustainable urban future facing – and in need of – rapid change”, Prof. Jochen Rabe, CEO of Berlin Center of Competence for Water and professor at the Einstein Center Digital Future introduced the second part of the conference on Water Utilities in Smart Cities. In his opening remarks, Jochen Rabe explained how resilience informs the development trajectories towards the overarching goal of sustainability and both, the opportunities and risks associated to the Smart City within this transformation.  Jochen Rabe was challenging the audience and the water sector to engage more deeply in the Smart City debate and to deploy digital means as a key enabler to analyse, communicate and eventually operate the SUSTAINABLE SMART WATER CITY.

Walter Kling from the City of Vienna joined this paradigm and presented Vienna’s achievements in smart city water management. Vienna is developing a smart city framework which includes water supply in all its strategy areas – a success story that continues to be written.

It’s all about integration and interoperability

A great illustration of an integrated approach is the Digital Water City project, which was presented by Sofia Housni (Greater Paris Sanitation Authority – SIAPP) and Nicolas Caradot (Berlin Center of Competence for Water). Its core aim is leading urban water management to its digital future by solving water challenges in five European cities, e.g. creating an early warning system based on a forecast of bathing water quality in Paris or fostering public involvement in urban water management in Berlin – using fifteen digital solutions.

Discussions in the following break-out-sessions examined that the integration of water – as a physical asset – with the digital world is still at an early stage, but efforts are underway for this to change very soon. One of the biggest challenges is to instill trust in smart solutions. There is a need to break up siloes and enhance interoperability.  

Furthermore, it was concluded that governance is one of the key bottlenecks that need to be addressed, because there is still a discrepancy between policy and “tech-readiness”. When considering utilities, it was stated that characteristics of utilities being smart are to be inclusive, green, sustainable, and resilient. And to achieve this, for utilities to be effective and smart, capacity is a key pillar – together with governance and finance.

A global story with local storylines

Wrapping up an intense afternoon filled with project insights, expert discussions and 1-on-1 networking Paul Fleming, Global Water Program Manager at Microsoft concluded: “Water is a global story with local storylines”. He highlighted that partnerships are a crucial success factor, and that water can be an asset to decision-making by way of a stronger role in policies.


The virtual afternoon has once again proven that international collaboration is imperative in addressing global challenges of the water sector. As water is not yet sufficiently featured in the smart city debate, global events such as BLUE PLANET Berlin Water Dialogues are a first step towards changing this. Many promising projects and innovations are already underway. Together, the water industry can create a sustainable water strategy for the future.

Watch a full recording of all sessions here.

Download the speaker presentations here.

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The next BLUE PLANET event is planned for November 2021. Follow our website for updates.

Ulf Stein

Dr. Ulf Stein studied landscape planning and nature conservation at Leibniz University Hannover (Germany), the University of Guelph (Canada) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). He completed his doctorate at the University of Kassel, where he also lectured freshwater ecology, water resource management and geographic information systems (GIS).

Dr. Ulf Stein joined Ecologic Institute in 2011, where today he coordinates the institute’s water activities as a Senior Fellow. His work focuses mostly on the enhancement of the European Union’s and German water policies and the sustainable management of water resources. His current activities include innovation projects that support digital transformation of the water sector.

Walter Kling

Walter Kling was born in Vienna, Austria on 21 March 1958. He decided to study environmental engineering with a special focus on water management and in 1986 enrolled at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.

He started to work at the Municipal Department 31 of the City of Vienna, better known as Vienna Waterworks. In 2011 he was appointed as Deputy Managing Director of Vienna Waterworks, a position which he still stays on.

Following his interest in the international context of water management, Walter Kling joined the work auf the Austrian Association and in 1993 he was delegated to represent Vienna within IWSA. He was an active member in IWSA with a special focus on the Standing Committee on Public Relations. Since the launch of IWA in 2000, Walter Kling supported the development of the new association in his region of East Europe by organising a number of events. Maintaining an excellent network of contacts he applied to organise the IWA – World Water Congress 2008 in Vienna. Starting from 2003, the Congress President Walter Kling served with great commitment to secure best circumstances for IWA, IAWD and the City of Vienna to run a successful conference. In September 2010 he was elected IWA – Vicepresident, re-elected Busan 2012and served in this position till 2014.

Currently he is conducting the Danube water program, a joint program of IAWD and the Worldbank.

An important background for this supporting work is his role as the General Secretary of IAWD (International Association of the Waterworks in the Danube catchment area) which he started in 1993. Founded by an initiative of the Mayor of Vienna, IAWD is a long-term partner of IWA in various activities. Following the interest of Vienna to play an active role in the international water business, Walter Kling took duty to represent water issues also within CEMR and the Water Committee of UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments).

Julie Perkins

Julie Perkins is leading the Global Water Operators Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) Secretariat, a Bonn-based initiative of UN-Habitat. She is an urban water and sustainability professional with 15 years of experience working to make basic services more inclusive, resilient and sustainable.  Before joining UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) as a Program Officer in 2004, Julie was involved in urbanization research and watershed management, working within local government and research institutions. She has a Masters in Urban Planning from McGill University in Canada.

The Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance is a network of partners committed to “helping water operators help one another”. This global alliance works to scale up effective “Water Operators’ Partnerships’ , not-for-profit partnerships between peer utilities, that help boost their know-how and skills, and make improvements that connect more people with sustainable water and sanitation services.

Andreas Hartmann

Andreas Hartmann (*1956), civil engineer, honorary professor at Technical University Braunschweig. Up to now he is managing director of Brunswick Wastewater Services Limited Company since 2016. In previous positions he was in charge of Kompetenzzentrum Wasser Berlin gGmbH after diverse managerial functions in municipalities of Brunswick and Munich generally in relation to environmental engineering, water economy and infrastructure. In Sri Lanka und Indonesia he won experiences in environmental challenges of development countries. One of his current topic is the evaluation of old and new hydraulic structures in their condition and necessities to recover their function and asset value.  

Francesco Fatone

Francesco is or has been:

  • (a) Coordinator of the Horizon2020 Innovation Action “SMART-Plant” and WP leader of >10 EU-funded projects.
  • (b) Team member of more than 15 EU-funded R&D&I projects.
  • (c) Editor in Chief or associate or guest editor of ISI journals, including Water Research.
  • (d) Member of expert committee about circular economy and of the expert policy-support group about sludge management of the Italian Ministry of Environment.
  • (e) Chair of international IWA conferences;
  • (f) Co-chair of the IWA Specialist Group on Small Water and Wastewater Systems (SWWS);
  • (g) Invited speaker and/or member of scientific committee of >30 international conferences;
  • (h) co-author of >100 SCOPUS-indexed paper;
  • (i) General Secretary of the IWA Resource Recovery from Water Cluster;
  • (l) co-leader of the “Value in Water” Cluster of Water Europe platform;
  • (m) member of executive board of Ecomondo;
  • (n) Leader of the Water JPI Task Force on Alignment

Timon Meyer

Timon is the managing partner of T-Base, a Berlin-based consulting firm. He has served as moderator of numerous cross-sector panel discussions and presentations at conferences, trade fairs and customer events, generally with particular emphasis on renewable energies, innovation, digitalization and cutting-edge, disruptive business models. Timon is a generalist with profound experience at the intersection between business, politics, economic development and public administration. At Total Deutschland, he served as the Head of Strategic Controlling. Later, at Berlin Partner, he was responsible for the development of the energy, mobility and clean tech. As managing director, he built up the Berlin Solar Network. He has led major marketing projects and champions the development of synergetic business ecosystems and communities.

Katie Gallus

Katie Gallus – geographer & moderator with a massive crush on all things digital. She reins from a family farm in the south of Germany and is filled with wanderlust. She worked for German public broadcasters Deutsche Welle, ARD and ZDF before working for the United Nations in New York City. Following her passion as an explorer and storyteller, she did research in the Caucasus of Georgia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan and Brazil, Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia. She’s also lived abroad: in Cameroon  among  cocoa  plantations  and  in  Sierra  Leone  working  alongside  filmmakers.  Katie  is  a  sought-­after presenter on subjects of digital ideas in (international) development, climate change, agriculture, world food security and development policy.

Gerardo Anzaldúa

Gerardo is a Senior Fellow at Ecologic Institute in Berlin working on water policy, climate resilience and innovation management. Since 2010, he is member of the European Topic Centre on Inland Coastal and Marine waters (ETC-ICM), which supports the European Environment Agency in its assessment of European waters. Gerardo has contributed to a range of studies on WFD implementation and EU water industry legislation for clients including EUREAU, the EEA and the European Commission. This entailed conducting financial assessments of water services operations in various EU Member States; evaluating water pricing and other water demand management policies across Europe; and conducting economic analyses of European water resource efficiency indicators.

Stemming from his work in the project, Gerardo leads the Task Force on Business Models of the DigitalWater2020 synergies group. With members of the ICT4Water Cluster, he recently co-authored an upcoming white paper on digitalization in the water sector.

Claudia Castell-Exner

Positions and Achievements

  • since July 2019 President of EurEau, European Federation of National Associations of Water Services, Brussels, Belgium
  • since May 2017 Head of water management, water quality and water usage; coordinator of European water policies at DVGW German Technical and Scientific Association, Bonn, Germany
  • since March 2011 Member of the Drinking Water Committee of the Federal Ministry of Health, Germany
  • 2011- 2015 Chairman of EurEau Commission 1: Drinking water (member since 1996)
  • since 1991 DVGW German Technical and Scientific Association, Bonn, Germany
  • 1988-1991 Technical manager at Städtische Betriebs- und Verkehrsgesellschaft mbH, Bad Kreuznach, Germany

Academic education

  • June 1991 Dr. rer. nat. (equivalent to a PhD) in “Mineral nitrogen dynamics of soils used for winegrowing in the water protection area ‘Stromberger Straße’, Bad Kreuznach”, University of Mainz (Germany) (overall note: magna cum laude)
  • 1982 – 1988 Johannes-Gutenberg-University of Mainz, studies of Geography and Geology