OCWA’s regional water system takes a lot of work to manage. Spanning five counties and consisting of over 2,200 miles of water main, it is a complex and dynamic operation. Our mission as one of the 125 largest public drinking water systems in the country is to provide safe, reliable and affordable water to our over 500,000 Central New York consumers 24/7, 365 days per year.  Keeping the many filtration processes, pumps, storage tanks and pipes that make up our water system operating efficiently requires active management and continual maintenance.

To prevent maintenance issues and streamline operations, OCWA utilizes an automated computer platform known as a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to help manage our water network.

The Role of SCADA Systems in Water Networks

One of the two primary roles of a SCADA system in the water treatment and distribution sector is to collect a wide variety of data from important system assets and their immediate environments. That data is in turn made available in centralized location(s) to operators, technicians and managers.

A second primary role of such systems is to operate and control water system equipment remotely, enabling active and accurate responses to changes in asset usage or conditions.

These abilities help large water systems like OCWA’s manage costs, lower risk, and handle operations more efficiently. To understand how, let’s study some of the specific SCADA applications for water systems.

Applications of SCADA for Water Systems

SCADA has a broad range of applications. Their monitoring functions allow real-time insights across filtration plants, pump stations, and entire distribution networks.

Each piece of equipment that requires monitoring, from valves to tanks, can be equipped with sensors. Control relays can be installed on equipment like pumps, valves, chemical feeds or intakes.

Sensors and programable logic controllers (control relays) are connected to remote terminal units (RTUs). Multiple remote terminal units at different sites transmit the data collected to a single master station which displays the information in a browser. For especially large water management systems, several master stations can be controlled by a single top-level master.

Each aspect of a large water system like OCWA’s derives unique benefits from a robust SCADA system, including our:

Filtration Plants

Water filtration plants are made up of a large variety of complex and interrelated components, including chemical disinfection, carbon filtration and fluoridation systems.  SCADA systems are especially effective at monitoring everything from tank levels, chemical feeds, and environmental conditions, as well as pumps, valves, and filters.  The positive benefits include:

  • Remote monitoring of filtration plants allows managers to detect conditions requiring maintenance immediately without needing to send staff out on rounds.
  • Control relays enable operational adjustments with the click of a mouse.
  • Automated alarms trigger to alert operators to various abnormalities like flooding, power outages, loss of communications, or high/low pressures

Pump Stations

OCWA operates 47 different pump stations and over 100 individual pumps in 25 different Central New York municipalities ranging in capacity from 50 gallons per minute (gpm) to 26,000 gpm.  Rather than staffing each pump station full-time, or relying on mandatory inspections, OCWA monitors each pump from a single location via SCADA. This:

  • Delivers precise control over the entire water network
  • Improves routine operations and emergency response
  • Provides accurate, timely maintenance information

Distribution Network

OCWA’s water distribution network is comprised of over two thousand miles of transmission and distribution mains ranging in size from 60” to 1”. Monitoring this vast network requires continual pressure and volume readings from numerous sites.

With our integrated SCADA system, information on the entire network is collected and displayed at once, drastically improving managerial overview. This:

  • Reduces the manual labor needed to check meters
  • Cuts costs while improving service

Various water quality parameters such as chlorine, turbidity and pH are monitored by the same system, helping ensure our water remains safe to drink.  We have the ability to switch from Auto mode to Manual mode to change flow or pressure setpoints to provide higher flows in the event of fires or seasonal variations.

In addition, our SCADA distribution system includes automated alarms which alert operators (both on site and remotely) to any concerns about flows, turbidities, chlorine dosing, tank levels, or temperatures.  From this information we can determine how best to optimize the safety and efficiency of our distribution network.

Site Security

Water infrastructure, like other public assets, can be a target of trespass, vandalism or theft. Preventing unauthorized access to important sites including filtration plants, pump stations, and storage facilities helps protect the important functions they perform.

Our SCADA system has infrared cameras and motion sensors that continuously monitor our facilities.  They alert our operators to intrusions at our sites, who in turn can contact law enforcement for immediate response.

Record Keeping

With asset, equipment, and operational information all being collected in our centralized SCADA system, there’s no need to tediously transfer information from one media to another for analysis or storage. This:

  • Reduces the amount of time spent on routine labor
  • Frees employees for more pressing tasks

The detailed operational records kept can be used to demonstrate regulatory compliance or to generate insights into operations.  Or they can be used by OCWA engineers for future projects, such as determining the proper specifications for building a new pump station.