Guest Column | July 15, 2020

Ensuring Water And Wastewater Resiliency During The Pandemic

By Greg Jackson

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Remote monitoring helps keep employees safe while mitigating emergencies.

According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic impacting communities throughout the world, water professionals are working around the clock to ensure that safe, reliable water service continues to flow. But what if many of these essential employees now must work from home or only minimal crews are on-site at the plants? Do these variables affect treatment plants’ ability to prevent unanticipated downtime?

Many well-respected water-focused entities are playing a role in developing solutions for the myriad worldwide water challenges, including the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The center recognizes that when something goes wrong, “Water professionals are considered first line heroes.” However, instead of waiting for something to go wrong, let’s explore what got us to this point and how we can implement solutions that address both renewal and emergency mitigation simultaneously.

Critical Infrastructure

Push notifications let workers quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment, and monitor alarm condition changes in real-time, right from a smartphone.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+ in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, and for good reason. Our infrastructure is aging, deteriorating, and holding our communities back; we are relying on infrastructure built more than a century ago to meet the needs of a completely changed world.1 Despite rising needs, the federal government’s contribution to water projects has fallen over the past 30 years, from 63 percent of the sector’s total capital spending in 1977 to 9 percent in 2014.2

A report by Deloitte, Water Tight 2.0: The top trends in the global water sector, notes that while there is a long road ahead, “… government and utilities [need to] think about water as a resource and how the industry plans, invests and manages infrastructure in the future.”3 Effective and resilient water infrastructure is critical to public and environmental health and to economic sectors worldwide. Unfortunately, investments in water utilities, which include supply systems for distributing drinking water as well as wastewater and sewage treatment systems, have not been keeping up with need. In cities around the globe, the drinking water distribution infrastructure is aging rapidly and encountering failures with increasing frequency. This is challenging under “normal” circumstances but becomes mission critical during a pandemic.

To help address this, forward-thinking municipalities are incorporating state-of-the-art digital technology to avoid unanticipated risks. These innovations can drive significant economic and environmental improvements and ensure continuity in service when staff are working remotely, as they are during this pandemic.

Water Technology Trends

The need to reduce costs associated with support maintenance of the aging infrastructure is increasing the adoption of smart water management technology. Following are some examples of what is being implemented.

Municipalities modernizing their networks have started to include pressure sensors across their piping and sometimes even retrofitting sensors onto existing infrastructure. The sensors detect pressure spikes, which may indicate blockages and lead to increased potential for leakage. Sensors detect leaks that help in scheduling timely maintenance and avoiding the risk of malfunction and flooding of the water infrastructure. This ensures quality water with no waste.

If the system determines that pressures are high enough to potentially cause a leak, it sends an alarm to maintenance crews. Conversely, if the system detects a pressure drop outside tolerances, this may indicate a pipe failure, and an alert will signal the right people. Sophisticated alarm software will send real-time condition reports, not just a generic alert, so that crews can adjust their actions based on real information as a situation unfolds.

By leveraging the Internet of Things to connect municipal assets such as smart meters, water quality sensors, and network pressure sensors, municipalities can collect data in a cloud-based platform. Software then analyzes and reports on various aspects of utility and facility operations, sending that information to the appropriate people in the workforce, anytime it is needed, anywhere they are, including working from home.

The City of Carmel’s water department uses a remote monitoring system for in-app and SMS alerts, saving time and money because of improved efficiency in response, both during and after regular work hours.

Remote Monitoring

A recent report by Bluefield Research, Focus Report: Water Industry 4.0: U.S. & Canada Digital Water Market Forecast, 2019-2030, presents an analysis of the U.S. and Canadian digital water market. This report cites that annual capital expenditures for digital water solutions will rise from $5.4 billion in 2019 to $10.8 billion in 2030, setting the stage for more advanced monitoring and management of critical infrastructure.

Under increased and unprecedented pressure to do more with less and to find new means of paying for infrastructure, water owners and operators recognize that it is essential to understand and optimize the capacity of their assets.4 One way they can do this is through the use of remote monitoring software.

Remote monitoring software allows fewer people to monitor many more assets using devices that people already have, such as smartphones and tablets. Uninterrupted remote availability is essential to ensure that systems can be continuously monitored, even without staff on-site or with very few people working at the facility.

The benefits of utilizing a remote monitoring software system via a mobile app:

  • Streamlines decision-making Push notifications let you quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment, and monitor alarm condition changes in real time, right from your smartphone.
  • Promotes team problem-solving Chat helps your entire team converse, brainstorm, and share solutions on-the-fly, from wherever they are — whether in the plant, at home, or on the road.
  • Work more efficiently Team visibility shows you who has seen an alarm as well as who has acknowledged it, reducing guesswork and redundant responses.
  • Multiple communication channel support ensures resiliency through voice notification and SMS messaging in the event of internet connectivity issues.

Remote Monitoring In Action

Carmel, IN, a city of approximately 90,000, is a leader in wastewater treatment. Recognized years ago for its progressive implementation of a BioPasteur process for its biosolids, over the past four years the city has modernized the wastewater treatment plant’s control and communication system.

Previously, the city’s water department used an aging dial-out system with paging and analog voice calls to alert staff when its 12-MGD wastewater plant equipment or one of 22 lift stations went into alarm mode. That changed when the city upgraded to a SCADA and remote monitoring system for in-app and SMS alerts.

The utilities department currently operates two staffed shifts on weekdays and one on weekends, with the late-night hours being unstaffed. In-plant alarms are routed to plant staff, lift station alarms go to lift station personnel, and a variety of miscellaneous alarms are sent to numerous other people, depending on the alarm type and severity.

The system’s flexible scheduling and escalation engine were key to relieving overlap and confusion when it came to alarm response. “It works great for grouping alarms for both in-plant and off-site staff and accommodating our changing shifts and schedules,” commented Ken Rhodes, Carmel’s drinking water plant manager.

Additionally, the system saves time and money because of improved efficiency in response, both during and after regular work hours. “Our response time has improved because we can let people know specifically what the alarm is and in what status condition. No one has to go to our monitoring computers to see the alarms and where they are,” Rhodes added.

References:

1 Swallow, Kristina, “Future-proofing infrastructure often means going back to basics,” McKinsey & Company, January 14, 2019.

2 Ibid

3 https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/pl/Documents/Reports/pl_Water-Tight-2-0-The-top-trends-in-the-global-water-sector.pdf (accessed May 19, 2020).

4 https://www.wsp.com/en-US/services/water-infrastructure (accessed May 18, 2020).


Greg Jackson (greg.jackson@win911.com512-326-1011) is CEO of WIN-911, based in Austin, TX, which helps protect over 17,000 facilities in 70 countries by delivering critical machine alarms via smartphone or tablet app, voice (VoIP and analog), text, email, and announcer — reducing operator response times, system downtime, and maintenance costs. Prior to becoming CEO five years ago, Jackson held leadership positions in international sales, business development, operations, and product/solution development.