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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a DRONE!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a DRONE!

So you are thinking it is about time to inspect the outside of your water tanks and above ground assets. According to the Illinois EPA, a water storage tank should be inspected at least every 5 years, so it just may be that time again.

You are probably familiar with the traditional tools for condition inspections such as ladders, scaffolding, harnesses, cherry pickers, helicopters, ROVs, divers and cameras. But these days, you can add another tool to your toolbox: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or more simply, drones. Drones can offer a safer and possibly more cost-effective method of visualizing the condition of a utility’s facilities. Certainly, these “eyes in the sky” can take a visual inspection to an entirely new level – literally.   

There are clear benefits to using drone technology. According to this Wall Street Journal article, researchers believe the use of drones could cut utility costs and improve worker safety, both for routine inspections and for surveying damage after disasters. Plus, set up and operating costs can be less expensive – initial drone systems can be had for as little as $6,000. Drones can also be used to supplement your GIS program for asset management and to map assets in remote and rural locations.

Yet there are some drawbacks as well. Depending on state and local ordinances and laws, there may be height and line of sight regulations as well as special training/licensing requirements for operators.

Interested in finding out more?

There will be a technical session on using drones at the 2017 APWA Public Works Institute in California in September. And the NCAWWA is offering a session at their 2017 Institute, also in September. Can’t wait until September? The Operator Training Committee of Ohio is offering a training in a few short weeks.

Ready to give it a try?

NJ Water Association offers a drone service for asset management purposes, emergency response planning, tank inspections and more. Their drone and operator are both registered with FAA to maintain compliance with FAA Part 107 requirements.

Cellular Metering for Small Systems

Cellular Metering for Small Systems

Guest post from Brenda Koenig, Illinois State Water Survey.

Cellular-enabled water meters – also called smart meters – can make all the benefits of smart grid technology attainable for even for small systems on a budget. In this post, we’ll review the pros and cons of cellular vs. traditional metering systems.

Cellular meters offer service benefits

Due to their independence from physical infrastructure, a cellular system is better equipped to continue working through emergencies, such as floods, that might damage a large physical network. Cellular networks also make it easier to service dispersed or geographically diverse areas.

One of their greatest benefits is the speed of data. Cellular meters allow utility managers and customers to monitor their activity in real-time on the web. This improves leak detection and provides more opportunities for water conservation.

Weighing the costs

Cellular meters have potential to save utilities money on some fronts. Their use of cloud-based advanced metering analytic (AMA) software eliminates the need for expensive software installations at the plant. They also eliminate the need for a physical network of antennas, repeaters, wiring installations, and data collection units. Without the need for physical site visits to read traditional meters, utilities may also save staff time.

However, start-up costs for cellular metering can be significant, even without the expense of physical infrastructure. Buying and installing cellular meters can cost two to three times more than traditional meters. Staff and infrastructure costs will depend on what system you currently have in place. Cellular monitoring is compatible with most DEP and AWWA approved, AMR-compatible meters, but incompatible meters would need to be replaced. Staff may need to be retrained to install, maintain, and operate the new systems, as well as manage data, train customers, and set rates.

A growing trend

By 2020, it is estimated that 600,000 cellular water meters will be distributed annually, with companies such as Badger Meter, Arad Group, Neptune Technology Group, and Master Meter introducing cellular metering technologies.

So how does a small system decide if and when they too should adopt these new, game-changing cellular-based tools that are becoming more widely available and affordable? Much depends on each unique system’s needs and priorities, as well as the funding and political context in which they operate. Systems that are leak-prone or that need to step up their water conservation efforts may benefit from the daily feedback offered by cellular meters. Pilot programs or a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis can help utilities decide whether the tradeoffs in staff time, technology, and infrastructure expenses make sense. Finally, one of the best things to do is to talk to other systems about their experiences. Utilities with similar budgets, sizes, and goals can provide a lot of advice and references.

Resources:

Novato water district rolls out ‘smart’ meter pilot project news article, Marin Independent Journal 3/21/17

Big Data Flows: Water, Outsourcing, and the Flood of Data news article, EarthZine 6/30/15

Moving Towards Sustainable and Resilient Smart Water Grids journal article, Challenges 3/21/14

City looking to tap new water meters news article, Kingsville Record 3/1/15

RCAP - Water Metering Technologies presentation, RCAP Prezi 4/29/15

Advanced Metering Infrastructure, memo, City of Novi 4/24/15 

Featured Video: Water Utility Response On-The-Go

As winter gives way to spring, many of us look forward to the traditional activities associated with warmer weather: cookouts, swimming, gardening, camping. Of course, for some of us, spring and summer will bring less welcome events: storms, flooding, droughts, and extreme heat. As we approach the turning of the season, it doesn't hurt to refresh our memories on the resources available when the weather turns not-so-pleasant.

Water Utility Response On-The-Go is a site specifically formatted to be comfortably viewed on smart phones and other mobile devices. The homepage displays a menu of links for tracking severe weather, contacting response partners, responding to incidents, taking notes and recording damage, informing incident command, and accessing additional planning info. The weather tracking and response partners links use location data to help you access forecasts and contacts specific to your area. The Respond to Incidents section includes action checklists for drought, earthquake, extreme cold and winter storms, extreme heat, flooding, hurricanes, tornado, tsunami, volcano, and wildfire. The option labeled Take Notes and Record Damage leads to a section that includes a generic damage assessment form, while Inform Incident Command includes ICS forms 213 and 214 (the General Message and Activity Log, respectively), as well as additional information on Incident Command. The section on additional planning info includes links to EPA webpages on emergencies/incidents, planning, response, and recovery, as well as to WARN and mutual aid info.

Some of the external links from the site are not formatted for mobile viewing, and the .pdf forms may require an Adobe Reader app if you wish to fill them out on your mobile device. However, the site overall is well organized and easy to navigate, and can be a great tool for utilities dealing with weather emergencies and natural disasters. For a visual overview of how the site works, see the EPA’s video, below.
 

Interested in attending training or finding more information on emergency planning? Search our calendar and document database using the category “Water Security/Emergency Response.”

Developing and Implementing Tools for Small Systems to Evaluate and Select Appropriate Treatment Technologies

Water utilities can struggle to know which treatment technologies to consider and then which one to select and implement to solve their water quality and compliance challenges. This is particularly challenging for small water systems without resources to stay up-to-date on the range of appropriate technology options and their associated treatment and operational performance. The DeRISK Center is dedicated to addressing this challenge by developing and implementing tools for small systems to evaluate and select appropriate treatment technologies. These tools are designed to help utilities, states, consultants, and technology providers make technology selection decisions based on public health protection and sustainability beyond just regulatory compliance.

A conventional analysis of technology alternatives is typically performed when water systems need to upgrade or replace major treatment facilities. This analysis consists of identifying the feasible alternatives that will accomplish the treatment goals, comparing the alternatives based on some criteria, and selecting the “best” alternative. The criterion most used is cost—capital cost, operation and maintenance cost, or an engineering life-cycle cost analysis that includes the anticipated life-span of major equipment.
 
The DeRISK Center tools employ a decision support methodology that improves on this conventional approach. The major steps in the methodology are deciding what criteria are most important to stakeholders and providing and easy way to compare technology alternatives to each other with respect to each criterion. Our approach strives to go beyond just a comparison of costs. As shown in Figure 1, the decision support methodology expands on the conventional analysis of alternatives process by including:
  • Facilitated methodology that incorporates stakeholder input
  • Data on innovative treatment technologies
  • Relative health risk protection of treatment approaches
  • Sustainability measures of treatment approaches
  • Stakeholder preferences

Performance information such as treated water quality and performance data along with other characteristics, including source water quality constraints, are used to identify feasible technology alternatives. The characteristics for feasible alternatives are then fed into the analyses of health risk, sustainability, and stakeholder preferences in order to provide data to the decision support methodology.  
 
Microbial and chemical agents in drinking water can pose significant human health risks. Evaluating the combined impacts from multiple contaminants can provide new insights into how best to manage that risk and protect public health to meet regulatory compliance and achieve the greatest risk protection possible given feasible alternatives. The DeRISK Center tools utilize the Relative Health Indicator (RHI)—a semi-quantitative metric developed to harmonize the cancer and non-cancer impacts from a wide range of drinking water contaminants—to compare the relative health risks posed by multiple waterborne constituents.
 
The DeRISK Center is also focused on analyzing and improving the environmental and economic sustainability of small drinking water treatment systems. To achieve this, life cycle analysis (LCA) methodology is being used to quantify and characterize environmental impacts associated with various drinking water technologies. These impacts (using EPA’s TRACI assessment method) include ozone depletion (kg CFC-11 eq), global warming (kg CO2 eq), smog (kg O3 eq.), acidification (kg SO2 eq.), eutrophication (kg N eq.), carcinogenics (CTUh), non carcinogenics (CTUh), respiratory effects (kg PM 2.5 eq.), ecotoxicity (CTUe), and fossil fuel depletion (MJ surplus). A comprehensive LCA model framework was developed utilizing water treatment data, experience, and commercial information.
 
Last, the DeRISK Center is putting these tools to the test evaluating treatment technology decisions through cases studies with actual small water systems needing to address water quality and compliance challenges. The first case studies are assessing disinfection alternatives for small water systems in New Hampshire. 

If you are interested in testing these tools and collaborating with DeRISK Center researchers to assess treatment technology alternatives for your water system, please contact Chad Seidel at chad.seidel@colorado.edu

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