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 contaminated 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.