Wednesday, December 16, 1998
When Eric Wolf, operator of Fayetteville's water treatment plant on First Manassas Mile Road, answered his pager at midnight recently, it wasn't a water customer calling to report a problem.
It was the plant itself, or rather the plant's SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) automated monitoring system, calling to report a problem.
A computer malfunction turned out to be the culprit, a minor problem, but it could have been a power failure or a water main break, or one of the city sewer system's lift pumps might have failed.
Finding out about such failures early is the key to preventing disaster, said water system director Rick Eastin. "Preventing a spill before it happens instead of having to do a cleanup after it happens is what this is all about," said Eastin as water distribution and collection supervisor Fred Palmer attached wiring to the last in a series of SCADA monitors the city has been installing at all the city's water and sewer facilities.
The state-of-the-art equipment not only monitors how the facilities are operating, but also transmits data through radio waves to a receiver at the water treatment plant, constantly updating status.
A terminal also monitors the status of 19 reporting stations in the water department offices at City Hall, said Chris Hindman, engineering technician. But the terminal at City Hall is merely a receiver, he added. Technicians at the water plant can turn pumps on and off and make other changes from the central location.
If someone is working at the plant when a problem occurs, using the automated system is much faster than having to send someone out to the location, he added.
Someone is not always at the plant, though. The fully automated plant, brought on line earlier this year, does not require constant human presence.
When no one is present, if a pump stops working, if the level of sewage gets too high or too low, if the level of water in the city's storage tank gets too high or low, or if any of a dozen other problems occurs, an alarm sounds at the water plant and the system pages the appropriate person.
The SCADA system is much more efficient than the old method of having someone visually check each station every day, said director Eastin. Now, workers make a visual check once a week, in case a tree has fallen on a fence or something.
All the sewer lift stations have two pumps but are designed to operate with one, so if a pump does fail, it's a simple matter to switch to the other while installing a new back-up pump, he said. The chances of a spill is thus greatly reduced.
SCADA is the wave of the future, he added. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is encouraging water and sewer operators to install such systems because of the environmental implications. Because the city brought its new water plant on line this year, Fayetteville has moved into the future a little faster than some jurisdictions.
The city has now retrofitted its entire system with the SCADA units, at a cost of about $3,600 each, and new city ordinances require that developers building lift stations for new subdivisions and shopping centers must install their own monitors.
"We live here too," said Eastin. "We drink the water and we fish in the streams. It just made sense to go ahead and do this, and when we went to City Council with the program, they said 'yes, yes, yes.'"