Improving on a Good Idea: How Satellite-Based SCADA Enhanced In-Place Solutions

Florida—land of surf, sand, sun, and… septic tanks? Aging septic tanks (which include over 2.6 million homes) is a growing concern for Florida residents because the outdated systems can leak nitrogen and other contaminants into the groundwater. In 2010, the Florida legislature passed a law requiring inspections for septic tanks every five years—an edict that forces smaller utility providers, like Hillsborough County in eastern Florida, to find creative ways to modernize their systems while staying on budget.

Centered on the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area, Hillsborough County is the fourth most populous county in Florida, with more than 1.3 million residents calling it home. Managing their water, wastewater, and sewage system is the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department. In 1979, the Public Utilities Department was ahead of the curve and adopted a plan to reduce potential health hazards from septic tanks in two of its residential areas: Ruskin and Wimauma. Working with USEPA grants, the Utility has been gradually replacing septic tanks with a low-pressure sewer system (LPSS). Three decades after its initial push, the utility is nearing its goal to provide a safe LPSS for residents in all neighborhoods.

While the LPSS initiative did bring needed service upgrades to the residential areas, the number of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) also increased due to heavy rains and floods. Combined with outdated or inadequate communication and data retrieval systems, the good idea was quickly getting bogged down with bigger problems.

So when the Utility needed to find a cost-effective, efficient way to gather current and historical information, as well as to note trends, they decided to go with a SCADA system. The first pilot program did not deliver as expected and the Utility had to reassess their parameters. The second attempt proved to be the winning combination because it was affordable and high quality, factored in public safety, and included features designed for specific environmental concerns, like aging septic systems.

High Tide Technologies offered Hillsborough County Utilities a satellite-based SCADA solution that provides the Utility with wireless monitoring of all assets, including remote ones, as well as desired alarm notifications. Utility workers are alerted via text, phone, or pager to any issues, and personnel has instant access to the recorded data from individual grinder pumps. The solution also provides a mapping feature that can guide utility personnel to units in stress or alarm. Satellite-based SCADA solutions are scalable and fit easily within most utility budgets while reducing man hours, modernizing older systems, protecting equipment, and managing operations.

In one fell swoop, the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Department had the right tools to continue to build on their great idea of proactively addressing aging septic tanks. By using a satellite-based SCADA, the Utility can scale as needed and always be ahead of the curve for any potentially damaging or dangerous problems. And residents of Hillsborough County can focus on the surf, sand, and sun… instead of leaking septic tanks.