Operations Dashboard: Customized dashboards allow wastewater treatment plant managers to actively monitor key data points, allow fast data mining and visualization, and provide data transparency. Photo: Hach Co.
Operations Dashboard: Customized dashboards allow wastewater treatment plant managers to actively monitor key data points, allow fast data mining and visualization, and provide data transparency. Photo: Hach Co.
Plant SVI Trend: Monitoring biological nutrient removal (BNR) and operating efficiently within limits is especially important when discharging to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Photo: Hach Co.
Plant SVI Trend: Monitoring biological nutrient removal (BNR) and operating efficiently within limits is especially important when discharging to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Photo: Hach Co.

By Gabi Miles


WHO: Henrico County, Va., Dept. of Public Utilities
SERVICE AREA: 90,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in three counties and the City of Richmond, Va.
CHALLENGE: Integrate performance data of new and existing treatment processes
SOLUTION: Water Information Management Solution (WIMS) software
IMPLEMENTATION: $100,000, including offsite and onsite set-up and user training

Henrico County's 75 mgd Water Reclamation Facility recently added two six-stage enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) reactors and has almost finished upgrading two three-stage reactors to five-stage reactors. The additional nutrient removal capacity will ensure compliance with more stringent pollution standards: 5.0 mg/L for total nitrogen and 0.5 mg/L for total phosphorus on an annual average basis.

The facility's upgrade is part of an effort by U.S. EPA and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) to improve the quality of water entering the beleaguered Chesapeake Bay by reducing nitrogen by 17.5 million and phosphorous by 1 million pounds a year. Approximately 35% of the $24-million upgrade is eligible for reimbursement through a Water Quality Improvement Fund grant from VADEQ.

To make the most of their new-and-improved operations, managers realized they needed to streamline how they gather, process, and analyze the metrics associated with the plant's various functions. “Without effective processes to manage our data, we were very concerned that we wouldn't succeed in complying with the new nutrient limits,” says Division Director James Grandstaff. “We needed to have real-time functional control of our equipment and processes as well as an improved ability to more effectively and efficiently leverage our data.”

Before the upgrade, employees manually entered data from multiple entry points without a cohesive system for collecting or analyzing the information. Process data, lab data, and field logs were housed in three different Excel spreadsheets; equipment and process data was in a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system. Managers spent hours every month requesting, compiling, confirming, correcting, integrating, and analyzing this information to prepare three different Discharge Monitoring Reports.

This process ate up at least four hours of Grandstaff's time every week; Operations Superintendent Michael Chapman spent 10 to 15 hours a week filling out paperwork, re-entering data, and compiling quality control assessments. After all that time and effort, they still had no good way to evaluate seasonal performance trends, identify quality control opportunities, or perform correlations.

Generating meaningful operations reports from existing equipment was challenging enough, but it would be virtually impossible as new equipment came online and regulatory limits became tighter. So they invested in software that would allow them to monitor and manage systemwide performance from a central database without having to invest in new hardware as well.

Keeping centralized data secure

Formerly known as OPS SQL, Hach Co.'s Water Information Management Solution (WIMS) compiles and secures data from multiple sources, converting information from systems such as SCADA, LIMS (lab information management), and CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) into easy-to-understand and usable formats like trend analysis charts and reports.

Each user logs in with a unique password that's tied to a specific level of access. Some have full administrative rights, some can only enter data in certain input forms, and some have read-only access. The program tracks input by time, date, and user, virtually eliminating any remaining possibility for data-tampering.

Facility managers can build their own WIMS dashboards so they can see the parameters for which they are responsible, and quickly monitor their processes with little support from IT. Chapman's dashboard, for instance, has direct links to the reports he tracks and time-stamped updates of LIMS and SCADA data imports.

Any operational data that's not automatically generated or incompatible with the SCADA interface — such as aerobic volume, internal recycle flow and carbon feed rates, and operational targets — is entered by operations staff. This data is typically collected in the field, so Hach provided WIMS training for portable devices to keep manual entry to a minimum.

Because Henrico County's security policy requires the system to reside on its own server, some SCADA data must still be transferred by jump drive each day. Grandstaff hopes to resolve the issue soon, as the policy is being revised.

The configurable software integrates data from all plant functions to provide a visual of overall performance that managers can access any time of day or night. The county's IT Department used the software's “automated tasks” function to set up three e-mails a day that provide the status of all vital processes at a glance.

Reports are populated as the data is generated (according to preset calculations), so regulatory and business reports can essentially be reviewed in real time. Managers review their monthly Discharge Monitoring Report whenever they want instead of waiting for and compiling data every few weeks.

Identifying cost-saving opportunities

To ensure the software would meet their requirements, plant managers first had to identify specific needs, including:

  • Parameters to capture and track
  • Calculations needed
  • Reports and data entry forms required
  • Dashboards to be set up
  • Number of user accounts
  • Number of interfaces to other systems (like SCADA).
  • Hach developed the database accordingly, and spent five days installing and fine-tuning the software onsite.

    The plant designated a project manager who was responsible for getting the team together when required, gathering information, and assisting the Hach support team. During implementation, the project manager spent about half his time on the project. Facility IT Specialist Tom Maciejewski configured the underlying system and participated in installation and training.

    Hach led a four-day training program to teach plant employees how to interact with the system and customize it for future needs, including setting up additional parameters, reports, dashboards, and entry forms without requiring additional help. For more complicated needs, the initial setup cost includes a year of technical support with an option to renew an annual support contract.

    The process took about four months, during which the plant continued to operate as usual — with data captured manually — until the new software was ready to go.

    Grandstaff estimates his team saves at least an hour during annual state inspections — a process that used to require several hours as data had to be pulled from three different reports for each month of concern. But more significantly, they're able to quickly generate temporal performance trends and give the county's public works department the information in easy-to-understand charts and graphs.

    Upon implementing the software's trending function, employees discovered the new reactors could achieve the same results with one instead of two internal recycle pumps. By leveraging the automatic-control functions on the aeration blowers and reducing internal recycle flow rates in aeration basins, they've saved nearly $180,000 annually on electricity since August 2009.

    Grandstaff's also using the software to anticipate future treatment needs. For example, SCADA holds hourly average flow data for only five days. To track hourly average flow over several rain events, operators go back in time and assess hourly flow rates during a rain event, then plot and compare influent flow rates during that period to better prepare for future events.

    Getting on the same page

    Having defined and standardized reporting processes for basic metrics, Chapman meets weekly with the lab manager and county IT specialist to create new reports, bring new material online, and introduce new variables.

    Grandstaff and Chapman also gather their employees for a weekly “Graph Pack Think Tank” meeting focused entirely on trending process control data. The group looks at the most recent data and reviews good performance periods, along with similar plant or environmental conditions such as temperatures and seasons. According to Grandstaff, these meetings more than anything else over the last two years have empowered employees to take full advantage of the system's functionality.

    Everyone's encouraged to look at the data and question decisions. “It's gotten us all more on the same page about how to operate a wastewater plant,” says Grandstaff, because operational adjustments are now based on objective data rather than subjective assumptions. If something unexpected happens, he pulls everyone together in one room, pulls up the program, and walks through all the variables. The team works together to make correlations, identify the processes involved, and solve the problem.

    The system also serves as a backup to conventional wisdom.

    Once while touring the facility, Grandstaff noticed a fair amount of scum and foam in the aeration basins. Because this usually indicates a die-off in the secondary treatment process, the operator strongly believed the plant needed to increase the waste rate to support the microorganisms. The two reviewed solids retention time, sludge volume index, and food-to-microorganism ratio, and made calculations based on their targets. The analysis showed they should decrease the waste rate; increasing it would have made the problem worse and taken longer to control, resulting in higher electrical and related costs.

    Grandstaff and his team are using the program to explore the potential benefits of a proposed combined-heat-and-power project that would use flared digester gas to produce electricity. They're more accurately tracking and reporting gas flow data from the plant's solids anaerobic digestion process. Some estimates indicate the project could generate approximately half the plant's annual energy demand, further reducing operational costs and carbon footprint.

    Grandstaff has a practical view about how operations will further evolve. “It's not a mystery, science fiction, or luck,” he says. “If you have good numbers and good data, it's just how you operate a plant.”

    —Miles (gmiles@hach.com) is a product manager for Hach WIMS in Loveland, Colo.


    EPA's gearing up to require individual plants — not states — to submit environmental reports electronically.

    As part of the Water Information Management Solution (WIMS) reporting function, Hach Co. provided Henrico County's 45 mgd wastewater treatment plant with templates for submitting paper and electronic copies of three discharge permits.

    This service may save plant employees even more time in the near future.

    In response to President Barack Obama's call for federal agencies to make regulations “less burdensome,” U.S. EPA has identified 16 steps for “modifying, streamlining, expanding, or repealing a regulation or related program.”

    One step is coordinating permit requirements and removing outdated requirements in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). EPA proposes converting paper-based reports to a national electronic reporting format like the Internal Revenue Service model for collecting income tax data via software programs such as TurboTax and TaxACT.

    Hach and several other software providers are participating in a pilot program to determine the technical feasibility of reporting compliance monitoring data — starting with Discharge Monitoring Reports — via an “open platform e-file” process.

    EPA expects electronic reporting to eliminate annual and quarterly reporting requirements from the states because regulated facilities will download the data directly into an agency database. There's no size limitation for regulated facilities that will be eligible to participate.

    The agency plans to issue its final report on the pilot program this month and move forward with implementation in 2012, pending funding.