| AWWA Water Champion -- Javad Roostaei, Raleigh, North Carolina
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AWWA Water Champion -- Javad Roostaei, Raleigh, North Carolina

Javad Roostaei, Ph.D., PE, is director of data science at Hazen and Sawyer and chairs the American Water Works Association’s Information Management and Technology Research (IMTR) Committee. He also is an adjunct assistant professor in the environmental science and engineering department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Education: M.S., Computer Science, and Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering, Wayne State; B.S., Civil and Environmental Engineering, and M.S., Civil Engineering, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran

AWWA Water Champion Javad RoostaeiPlease describe how your birthplace is tied to your passion for water. My family is from the city of Kakhk in eastern Iran, renowned for its historic focus on water management. The region is home to one of the world’s oldest and largest network of qanats—ancient underground aqueducts built between 700 and 500 B.C. These remarkable structures span more than 20 miles and consist of 427 water wells, some of which reach depths of 1,000 feet and can be seen by satellite. I came to the United States in 2014 as a graduate student and live in Raleigh with my wife and our two wonderful daughters.

What led to your focus on data science in the water sector? My career journey was driven by both a passion for environmental sustainability and a recognition of the critical role that data can play in advancing our understanding and management of water resources. Early on, I was fascinated by the complex challenges inherent in water management, challenges that are not only technical but also critically important to public health and environmental integrity. (Pictured above from left, Roostaei in his lab at Wayne State, with his wife and daughters, attending ACE23.)

As I deepened my expertise in statistics and machine learning, I saw an opportunity to apply these advanced analytical techniques to help solve real-world problems in the water sector. The potential to make a tangible impact by improving water quality, optimizing treatment processes, and ensuring sustainable water management practices was compelling. It was a natural fit to align my technical skills with a sector that has such profound implications for both people and the planet.

Moreover, my role as chair of AWWA’s IMTR Committee has further cemented my commitment to this field. It has allowed me to collaborate with other experts who are equally passionate about leveraging technology to foster more resilient and efficient water systems. Together, we are working to push the boundaries of what data science can achieve in environmental engineering and water resource management. Our committee recognizes standardization is key to unlocking the full potential of digital transformation in water management. Our advocacy for standardized data organization and sharing is driven by the goal of making water management more effective, innovative and sustainable.

Why is data central to the daily operation of water and wastewater treatment plants? Data has the ability to inform, optimize and ensure compliance across all aspects of water management. The use of data allows for real-time monitoring and control, which is essential for maintaining the efficiency and safety of water treatment processes.

  • By continuously monitoring key parameters such as water flow rates, chemical dosages and contamination levels, operators can make informed decisions that optimize treatment processes. This real-time data allows for adjustments to be made on-the-fly, which is critical in responding to varying conditions and demands and ensuring consistent water quality.
  • Data supports predictive maintenance and infrastructure management. By analyzing trends and historical data, operators can anticipate equipment failures or degradation before they cause disruptions. This proactive approach extends the lifespan of critical infrastructure while minimizing downtime and reducing maintenance costs.
  • Data is crucial for regulatory compliance and reporting. Water and wastewater treatment plants operate under strict environmental regulations to ensure public health and ecological safety. Detailed data collection and analysis are required to demonstrate compliance with these regulations, and to provide transparency through reporting to regulatory bodies and the public.
  • In the era of smart technologies, data integration with advanced analytics, AI, and machine learning models offers further opportunities to enhance operational efficiencies and sustainability. These technologies can provide deeper insights into the complex dynamics of water treatment processes and lead to more sustainable practices and innovative solutions.

Why is organizing data important? Organizing data effectively is crucial in water and wastewater treatment operations because it enhances the accessibility, usability and reliability of information needed for decision-making and operational management. Proper data organization supports:

  • Efficiency and accuracy. Organized data streamlines processes and ensures information is easily accessible when needed. This reduces errors and inefficiencies in data handling and analysis, allowing operators to quickly interpret and respond to data insights.
  • Scalability and integration. As water treatment facilities increasingly adopt smart technologies, the amount of data generated grows exponentially. Organized data systems allow for scalable solutions that can integrate new data sources seamlessly and leverage advanced analytics such as machine learning models.
  • Predictive maintenance. By organizing historical operational data, facilities can better predict when equipment might fail or when maintenance should be performed. This predictive approach relies on structured historical data to identify patterns and predict future outcomes, thereby preventing downtime and optimizing maintenance schedules.
  • Decision support. Organized data provides a robust foundation for decision support systems, enabling managers and engineers to make informed, data-driven decisions. This includes everything from daily operational adjustments to long-term strategic planning and resource allocation.

Why has the water sector reached the point of needing a standard data format? There are several compelling reasons, including interoperability, efficiency and cost reduction, advanced data analytics and innovation and collaboration.

Tell us more about yourself. My interests are diverse and deeply rooted in nature and technology. I am an avid camper and hiker, frequently exploring national and state parks to immerse myself in the beauty of the natural world. Additionally, I have a keen interest in music and enjoy listening to podcasts, particularly those focused on technology and data analytics. This blend of hobbies not only keeps me entertained but also continuously enriches my professional and personal life.