Utility Telemetry Systems Keep Coastal Town Drinking Water Safe

Solid ground could be a misnomer when it comes to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The popular vacation spot and idyllic island is effectively a sandbar, with towns, roads, and businesses built on the porous ground that washed up several centuries ago. Except for a single pond in Falmouth, the drinking water on Cape Cod is produced from a single underground aquifer, which by definition is porous rock, so anything that spills—gasoline, waste discharge, insect repellent, paint, etc.—eventually seeps into the ground water. According to a 2016 article in the Boston Globe, “In some parts of Cape Cod, ground water travels a foot a day, and in many places the water table sits less than 10 feet below the surface. Whatever gets dumped on the ground could contaminate water within a couple of weeks.”

What makes Cape Cod both rustically beautiful and a day-tripper’s dream is the geology, which has been shifting into uneasy territory for decades. For example, water in the town of Barnstable is no longer assumed to be drinkable and safe. New regulations from the EPA rolled out in 2016 forced the closing of two of the town’s three wells. Industry, as well as a nearby military base camp, and weather-related forces, like storm run-off and tide swells, means that the municipal water system is fighting several factors on several fronts. That’s where telemetry comes into play.

Telemetry is the wired or wireless transmission and reception of measured quantities for the purpose of remotely monitoring environmental conditions or equipment parameters, and in utility services has many long-range benefits.

  • A cloud-based SCADA system physically monitors the levels and quality of the water, so Cape Cod municipality workers can check the viability of the drinking water supply at a click of a mouse.
  • Remote access units means that data can be collected from areas not easily accessed, such as marshy outposts or run-off areas near industry hubs, like Barnstable or the military base. Personnel simply logs in to see, catalogue, and transmit the pertinent data.
  • Outfitted with alarms, a telemetry system like a cloud-based SCADA often serves as the first indication of any problem or issue. Any dip or rise in proper levels, or introduction of contaminates, or equipment and power failures is immediately sent to personnel, thereby allowing for quicker response and mitigating additional damage. In Cape Cod, where a hurricane can redraw the coastline in minutes and overwhelm the water system, immediate knowledge of any problem can save precious dollars, minutes, and livelihoods.

For small municipalities like Barnstable, in areas that are unique in geological structure and environmental needs, the best defense is a solid infrastructural offense. Telemetry systems are instrumental in places like Cape Cod because the constantly changing data needs to be monitored, tracked, and analyzed to be able to find long-term solutions.