SCADA Systems: Best Defense Against Sewage Leaks

Recently in Milwaukee, there was an overnight sewage leak at Wisconsin’s largest water treatment plant.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District workers spotted a pool of untreated sewage on the surface at the Jones Island treatment plant, and an undetermined amount of sewage ended up flowing to the Kinnickinnic River, a small but densely populated tributary that feeds into Milwaukee’s lakefront.

There are few things more unappealing and off-putting than the thought of a sewage water in the water supply. Even the best filtration system can’t clean up the mental block of using soiled water. So the best defense is an even better offense: eliminate sewage leaks in the first place. How? Telemetry.

Telemetry is wired or wireless transmission and reception of measured data, and it’s a vital component to monitoring and equipment control for several industries—including oil and gas companies, agriculture, utility services like wastewater and sewage, and municipalities. Telemetry is the 24/7 eyes and ears of equipment, providing accurate data in real-time, alerts to malfunctions and leaks, and for workers, peace of mind. When a utility operation has potential to spoil the local environment or basic needs, like clean water, telemetry is the multi-level fail-safe to make sure the worst-case scenarios don’t happen (or are at least manageable).

High Tide founder and President David Mundie agrees. “Most states require that someone drive by and look at the unit once a day. When you have telemetry, you don’t have to physically visit, you can have information before you get there, which cuts down on overtime and makes the system run more smoothly.”

Outfitted with alerts and alarms, a telemetry system like a cloud-based SCADA serves as the first indication of any problem or issue. In the case of Milwaukee’s sewage leak, a SCADA system would have noted the pressure change that might mean a breach in the pipeline, or it could have detected outside contaminants in the water. This first alert would prompt a visual check earlier than 10 hours.

Fortunately, the Milwaukee Water Works does employ a SCADA system for the drinking water, and none of the overflow or leakage affected the tap water. But Kinnickinnic River is not only a picturesque waterway through Wisconsin, it’s also the main tributary to a densely populated urban area.

Spillage of hazardous or contaminate materials could damage the ecosystem and become a breeding ground for a myriad of diseases. A cloud or Internet-based SCADA system, which can monitor more remote areas and alert to overflow or equipment failure, is a wastewater department’s first and best line of defense against leakage.

Talking Telemetry for Utilities with Dr. David Mundie

The field of telemetry has skyrocketed in growth via digital and cellular-based technology. But where do smaller, more budget-conscious providers fit in? We talked with Dr. David Mundie, Founder and President of High Tide Technologies, about some of the issues facing utility providers, and how telemetry fits into the modern landscape.


You can read the entire interview here.


High Tide: Thanks for chatting with us. Before we dive in, can you give readers some background on High Tide Technologies?


David Mundie: Thanks for having me. Back in 2002, I was working with a civil engineer at a dot-com company that went under. He knew the wastewater market really well and I, as an electrical engineer, knew telemetry really well. So we took what we both did best, knew there was a need, and decided to start High Tide Technologies.


HT: What problem did you see and set out to fix with High Tide?


DM: We specifically started the company to focus on rural, small- to medium-sized utility systems, those who could not afford the more sophisticated monitoring and control equipment, which led to basically doing a lot of things manually. What we’re able to provide is a solution that’s simple to install, no software or hardware to maintain in the collections doesn’t involve a big server (because it’s all Internet-based), and has full 24/7 support. Smaller utilities are on-call 24/7 but can’t necessarily be at the plant to look at a screen. Instead, they can check their levels from anywhere and feel good that things are still working. We’re right there with them, any time. It’s peace of mind.


HT: What kinds of problems are utilities and municipalities coming to High Tide to solve?


DM: In the wastewater world, there are all sorts of environmental regulations to stop overflow and spoil the environment. Most states require that someone drives by and looks at the unit once a day. When you have telemetry, you don’t have to physically visit; you can access the information before you get there, which cuts down on overtime and makes the system run more smoothly.

On the water side, we’ve been in stations that had no telemetry, and to monitor everything, they drive down the road and see that the target on the tank is low, flip the switch, and hope to remember later to switch it off. They have water loss from leaving it on too long and overflowing the tank. The state [government] does a lot of regulation on water loss, but also has the problem with tanks that are too low, and not having enough in the hydrants to fight a fire. But having a system that is automatically controlled can eliminate all those problems.


HT: So telemetry helps keep levels accurate, and helps the whole operation run more efficiently. Can you give an example?


DM: Sure. We had one customer who had 40% of the water produced lost somehow. They measured this by adding up water billed from meters at customer sites compared to what meters at the plant say and the numbers didn’t match at all. After installing one of our monitoring and control products, they got it down to 30% within a couple of months and it keeps improving the more time goes on, refining their system. Loss numbers like that affect funding for plant expansions, budgets, etc. Telemetry helps solve those mysteries.


HT: Why would a municipality or utility board choose High Tide? What’s the benefit?


DM: The thing about our stuff is that there is no custom programming and we can get a system up and running within a week or two. A typical SCADA system is customer-specific. The way we do it, everybody is sharing the resources. We make the same box for everybody, in different sizes. And we can ship it the next day after the order is placed so the customer can be up and running fairly quickly, probably within a week or so. It’s less expensive because there is no central server they have to maintain and staff. Our solutions are about one-third to one-fourth the cost of traditional radio systems or phone dialers, which is helpful for stricter budgets or smaller municipalities.

We do have subscription service that’s like a rental service fee for the system and even if we take 10 years of fees, our systems are still less expensive than traditional because traditional systems need maintenance, and that gets costly. Customers benefit from getting accurate data in real-time, which allows them to provide their service efficiently and effectively.

To read the entire interview with David Mundie and learn more about the future developments for telemetry and SCADA systems for utility service providers, click here.