A district with a small staff improves its efficiency with better technology.
by Dave Breisacher
April 25, 2018

Managing a wastewater treatment facility is a lot of responsibility. If pumps malfunction or power fails, wastewater can overflow. And if a pump fails for a long period of time and goes unnoticed, the damage can be catastrophic and can cripple wastewater treatment altogether. Equipment such as motors, electrical panels and other pumps can be destroyed, releasing untreated water to the surrounding homes and businesses, posing a health risk.

Prevention and early detection are key to keeping wastewater facilities operating smoothly. No one knows this better than Tom Jordan, plant manager at Bass Lake Conservancy District (BLCD) in Knox, Indiana. The BLCD owns and operates the sewer system that services the residents of Bass Lake, and the facility collects, treats and disposes of sewage and other liquid wastes.

“I’m responsible for making sure the plant and equipment are operating safely and efficiently,” Jordan said. “I’m also in charge of keeping the plant in regulatory compliance.”

A One-Person Operation

The BLCD wastewater facility has 16 lift stations with two pumps each located around Bass Lake. These lift stations, designed to overcome gravity and boost the wastewater through the collection system, pump the wastewater from one pump to the next until it reaches the plant.

As the only full-time plant employee, it is up to Jordan to drive the 11 miles around the lake every day to monitor each station for water level, pump failure and power outage. Until recently, the BLCD’s alert system consisted of a horn and flashing light that were activated when a pump malfunctioned. If Jordan was away from the premises, he relied on the public to notice the alarm and call him—hopefully before a serious backup occurred. Clearly, that is not a reliable system, especially because the population decreases by about 75 percent in the winter months.

A More Efficient, Convenient Monitoring System

Fortunately for Jordan, last year the board approved the purchase of a cellular monitoring system at each of the 16 lift stations. The sensors are wired into relays off the pump panels, and the units are mounted outside of the lift stations in the weatherproof National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) 4X enclosures that come with the devices. They communicate via cellular network and store data in the cloud for easy retrieval from any mobile device.

Now Jordan can keep an eye on the entire operation from his computer and smartphone. He can conveniently change the sensor settings, read and adjust temperature limits and acknowledge alarms from an app on his phone.

“The app is great because even when I’m home or off-site, I can check on the conditions at the plant and lift stations,” Jordan said. “And if there’s a possible problem, I can head over to the site or send one of the part-time people to take care of it before it becomes a disaster.”

The system Jordan chose offers a 4G connection, which is important because cellular network providers like Verizon and AT&T are phasing out 3G support. That means BLCD will not have to worry about upgrading the system in the near future.

The cloud-based system­—a data acquisition device with unlimited storage that lets users view, graph, print and export information—automates the record keeping and reporting required to maintain compliance with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The new monitoring system brings peace of mind to Jordan and the local community.

“In the winter, it’s nice to just be able to bring up the data log on the computer and see all green, meaning everything is good,” Jordan said.