Publisher: Georgia Association of Water Professionals
Author: Kenny Hughes, Regional Manager, WaterTrax
Managing critical data efficiently is a major problem water and wastewater facilities face. Large amounts of data are generated from a variety of sources such as laboratories, operations, distribution and other systems without a central location to manage it all. With regulatory demands increasing and budget and staff decreasing, water professionals must look at new ways to manage this information.
Today, computer programs are commonly found in water and wastewater facilities. Each of the different programs have very specific functions. Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) help to manage laboratory results and ensure quality compliance and assurance. Operations use Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) to provide operational data such as flow rate. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) are used by maintenance, engineering, and distribution to manage the system’s assets such as pumps and valves. Desktop applications such as Excel are utilized to store and manage field data or lab results sent to an outside laboratory. Unfortunately, each of these systems has their own unique function, which makes it extremely difficult to choose one program to be your main data depository.
Using the newest and best available technologies can help address this problem and manage your data in one central location. An information management system gives you the ability to accept data from different sources and consolidate it into one central application. With an information management system, you can drill down through the data and compare results of multiple locations or a specific location to determine trends and provide a detailed analysis of your system. Since you have analytical, operational and field data consolidated into one location your analysis is more comprehensive than if you used just one of the sources listed above.
An information management system is beneficial in managing your sampling programs as well. Whether you have potable water samples in the distribution zone to ensure public safety or you have to sample plant discharges and industrial compliance sites to protect the environment, an information management system can provide you with a method to manage these schedules. By knowing when to take your samples, where you need to sample, and what constituents you need to sample, an information management system can help you stay compliant with your sampling program. They can be programmed to alert you when to take samples, if a sample has been missed or if a sample result is outside your normal operation parameters.
Once you have your sample plan in your information management system and you are receiving data from the lab(s), operations and the field you can then use GIS to map these data points. There are different ways to map your data points. If you have an existing GIS system and you know the coordinates of your sample sites you can upload the data set and coordinates to the GIS system (figure 1). If you do not have the coordinates of your sample points, a GPS can be used to attain these coordinates. The coordination of your data set and the location of your sample sites will need to be coordinated with the GIS administrator and probably the IT department.
Another way to map your sample sites is to use an Earth browser such as Google Earth or Google Maps (figure 2). These programs us a language called Keyhole Mark-up Language (KML). What is nice about this type of a system it can be used as a standalone system or it can communicate with an existing GIS system. Using this type of mapping system you will need little or no support from your IT department.
With an information management system linked to a map of your system you will quickly be able to monitor the performance of your system by identifying areas of concern such as a low level of residual chlorine in a particular portion of a pressure zone. Maintenance can be alerted that there may be a mechanical problem in the system such as a booster pump starting to fail if they see residual chlorine numbers falling downstream of the pump. Field crews will be alerted that they may need to take additional samples. By having a visual analysis, managers can make a quicker decision to allocate the proper resources and reduce the vulnerability to the system.
Compliance management can be easier by visualizing the sample schedule. This has a multitude of advantages to the compliance manager as well as the field crews, maintenance and operations. The compliance manager can see the readings for a specific or group of constituent(s) allowing them to ensure they have a good representation of sample stations throughout the system. This visual representation can help in looking at root cause and trend analysis such as disinfection-by-products. The compliance manager can also look at the sample schedule to see what needs to be sampled or, more importantly, what samples may have been missed and need immediate attention such as lead and copper. By visualizing sample point locations, field crews can see the sampling points and determine the best route thereby reducing the time necessary to collect sample. The more efficient route will also reduce the generation of greenhouse gases emissions generated by the vehicles. Maintenance can use this tool to schedule preventative maintenance actions. Operations will have the visual to help them in their trend analysis of what is coming in their plant and prepare for items that may cause changes in their process. This communications across departments is vital to an efficient and compliant system.
Customer complaints and incident management are other ways we can utilize an information management system and mapping software. You can log the complaint as it comes in from the public in your information management system. The address of the incident can then be mapped in the mapping software to visually see the location and notify field crews of the location of the call. By using this type of system you will be able to keep electronic records of your communications with the public. In the unfortunate event you have multiple calls coming in from a specific area you will be able to see on a map what areas are affected, making it easier to determine the proper course of action (figure 3 and 4).
Software is a tool. Various vendors make programs that are designed for specific functions in a water and wastewater utility. By using an information management system, you can manage the data from these different sources and turn the data collected into useful information.