By Sarah Pridgeon
During a routine working day, the city’s Public Works Department physically monitors each individual element of the water system, checking that tanks are at their correct levels and distribution lines are working properly. By June of next year, however, the first phase of installing a SCADA system should be complete and the system can be controlled for the most part from a single office computer.
SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, an industrial control system that will keep the department appraised of all that’s going on in the tanks and wells around town.
“Our top priority is assurance that we are providing water,” says Public Works Director Larry Schommer, explaining that the SCADA system will alert the department immediately if, for example, a lightning storm knocks something out.
“We’ll know within minutes rather than hours if something happens, far before the problem reaches the tanks. Once the tank calls us, we have a problem.”
The system will, for instance, monitor water levels and issue an alarm if they fall too low or rise too high. The levels can be altered remotely and, if necessary, the tanks can even be flushed.
This is a significant change from the current process, in which a member of staff must drive out to a tank to make manual changes and then return at least once to check the results.
“In the winter, we’ll also be able to adjust the levels of the tanks, bringing them up and down,” says Schommer.
“That prevents them from freezing, which is all about consistency and water quality.”
A SCADA system is not just a more cost-effective way to budget the department’s time, it can also be used to keep an eye on the city’s water at all times of day and night.
“Right now, the tanks just alert us, they don’t tell us what the problem us or how quickly it needs to be dealt with. You have to go to the tank to find that out,” says Schommer, explaining that the SCADA system will provide much more detail on what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.
“We want to go to a smartphone system, so that we can receive alerts while we are out in the field or when we are at home.”
During the first year of operation, the SCADA system will also provide the department with a better understanding of how the system works as a whole. During the Level I Water Study, level sensors were added to the tanks but, once the SCADA system is in place, the same data can be gathered at all times.
This will allow the department to monitor trends, such as how well the system responds to times of high demand. It will issue an alert when the pumps have been running long enough to require maintenance, taking the guesswork out of that process.
From groundwater levels to flow rates, the SCADA system will gather information that the city can’t otherwise get outside its six-month reports, says Schommer.
“When it comes to maintenance, the majority of the time is spent gaining information,” he adds. “Now, we will already have it.”
The project will be completed in phases for financial reasons, the first funded mostly through consensus money and partly through a Homeland Security grant that was awarded because interlocking the system will tell the city immediately if there is a break-in.
Cost estimates are underway for the first phase, during which the system will be networked with Range Telephone Cooperative. SCADA will be installed on the Brewer, Cole and Mt. Moriah tanks and the Sundance West and canyon pump stations.
“For the first phase, we identified where the issues were and how to get the most for our money,” says Schommer. “SCADA is already installed on the Cole and Policky tanks.”
The second phase will add in the Cole well field, which Schommer describes as a “fairly costly” process because there are no adequate cable pairs to carry the signal. During the third phase, cable pairs will be buried between the city’s tanks to connect all eight of them together.
During the fourth and final phase, the outbuildings and transfer stations will be integrated for security reasons, along with the lift station, lagoons and pond.
“So far, we have enough funding for phase one,” says Schommer. “After that it’s hard to say, it could be funded by the Wyoming Water Development Commission, it could be consensus money.”
The city developed a $771,000 ballpark figure for the project during the Level I Water Study, he adds, but the estimate was for a top-of-the-line system with all the bells and whistles.
That would be nice, he says, but it would also require an IT guy on staff. The city really just needs a fairly basic system that provides critical information and is easy to run.
“Our goal is to provide quality, adequate water to the city,” he concludes. “This will help us maintain that.”