Data Does It

For a South Carolina agency, a centralized data management system pays dividends in compliance, maintenance, budgeting and process design
Data Does It
Good and timely data supports efficiency improvements. Area managers can use personalized dashboards to access data in minutes and avoid the cost of visiting sites.

Interested in Laboratory?

Get Laboratory articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Laboratory + Get Alerts

Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) in Greenville, S.C., operates nine wastewater treatment plants and provides water reclamation to more than 400,000 people in five counties in a 296-square-mile service area.

The agency was an early adopter of data management software and in 2003 installed the Water Information Management Solution (WIMS) from Hach Company at all the treatment plants. While it improved the individual operations by automating and streamlining data entry and making data available locally, it was difficult to share information and maintain consistency across the plants.

As a work-around to get a complete picture, the staff used spreadsheets to collect data from each facility. This meant traveling to each site to gather the information, causing delays and introducing data errors. Staff struggled with multiple software versions, which included multiple installations, updates and upgrades, and SCADA links.

“Historical data is essential to optimized daily operations,” says Blake Visin, director of information services. “I was counting on operators to verify that the backup was complete and the data was safe. I often found myself wondering if we had adequate redundancy in place.”

Even though each plant could monitor and track trends through the WIMS, the full capacity of central management and optimization had not been realized.


Central management

To solve the problem and build a multifacility network, ReWa procured a stand-alone server for its central operations office that hosts the WIMS software and is the primary location for its Microsoft Structured Query Language (SQL) database, housing all plant data and allowing remote access.

The server increased security, enabled easier backups, and provided a database that all authorized staff could access via secure logon. Information Services controls the network and license management, including updates from the central location. Servers at the other facilities provide redundancy.

The central network provides timely data that drives efficiency and improves decision-making. It also automates reliable transmission of accurate data and establishes a secure backup and recovery alternative.

The WIMS tool has improved insight into operations across all facilities and the system as a whole. Eleven years ago, ReWa incurred more than 100 NPDES permit noncompliance issues. In 2011, all facilities earned National Association of Clean Water Agencies awards, including four Platinum awards for zero noncompliance in the past five years.


Targeting zero

The system fits with ReWa’s Zero Non-Compliance approach to quality. “Zero Non-Compliance is a top priority preceded only by employee safety,” says Randy Boyette, senior process control officer. “We used to focus on money and budgeting. That has changed, and as a result of focusing on operations, managing the budget has gotten easier.”

ReWa began using WIMS to build dashboards that identify the key areas plant operators need to monitor daily. Alarms warn when any process data goes into the red so that operators can take quick action.

The pretreatment group uses WIMS to spot trends. Monitoring phosphorus, ammonia and pH may indicate influent problems. By getting timely data, the group can correlate information to specific industrial discharges and work with the industries toward solutions.

Good and timely data also supports efficiency improvements. Area managers can use personalized dashboards to access data in minutes and avoid the cost of visiting sites.

In addition, the biosolids manager can use a dashboard to review tank levels and adjust transportation schedules across the system, freeing time for more critical tasks of quality control and customer relations. Trending data also helped the biosolids team to adjust the digestion and dewatering processes to increase solids content from 3 percent to 4 percent, cutting solids management costs by 20 percent ($200,000).

Finally, WIMS data enables operators to provide the maintenance team with long-term trend data showing when efficiency has dropped as equipment ages. The data shows the return on investment for replacing aging equipment and performing preventive maintenance.


Better budgeting

WIMS data has enhanced the budgeting process. Previously, budget reports took each plant days to complete, and historical data was difficult to obtain. “We used Excel spreadsheets, one for each month,” says Kevin James, east division manager. “Now, instead of manually reviewing spreadsheets every 30 days, we can just run a report.”

The WIMS lets the staff create automatically populated entry sheets for every plant that show all expenditures in real time. Timely data helps plant managers track trends, plan budgets, and make confident operating decisions.

They can also develop budgets with actual data, examining budget spreadsheets, identifying adverse trends, and formulating in-depth root cause analysis. For example, David Skyles, Lower Reedy plant foreman, watches chemical usage through WIMS daily. “By monitoring actual use of chemicals, like lime, we can identify usage that is out of the norm and adjust quickly,” he says. “By doing just that, I can save as much as $32,000 a year with minimal effort.

“We can perform quality assurance/quality control quickly and immediately see if something is out of whack. It tells us if we have a process that’s not within specification, equipment running poorly, or a little bit of human error.”

Staff estimates the streamlined data access saves at least 20 hours per plant, or 200 hours per year, in budget reporting alone. Operators also benefit by having historical data that they can review annually to see the year-over-year seasonal variations and make process adjustments.


Design support

Data from the WIMS is also helping with the design of a combined heat and power system using digester methane. By identifying how much gas can be created under alternative scenarios, the staff can determine the size of the generators.

At one plant involved in a pilot study, a gas flowmeter was malfunctioning and entered an incorrect reading into the database. Using WIMS, the facilities foreman identified the error, which would have resulted in an undersized generator.

“That historic data is critical from an engineering perspective when we are considering an upgrade or change in a process,” says Boyette. “I can’t estimate the physical time it would take to pull that history otherwise.” The system also helps the staff easily fulfill requests for data from consultant and engineering firms. Boyette now can respond while the consultants are still on the phone, saving significant time.

ReWa also uses the WIMS for training plant operators. The tool inspires new operators to look at the data for insights and trends. The process control group provides on-site advanced WIMS training once a year to help each facility learn how to use the tools effectively. In addition, through WIMS, operators receive training monthly to keep skills sharp. The visual tools allow trends and correlations to be laid out easily so that trainees can quickly see plant operating data and history.

“I think it speeds up the learning process greatly,” says David Collyer, plant foreman for the Gilder/Durbin facility. “WIMS helps trainees look at raw data, manipulate it, and be proactive. Because they can see it, they learn much faster. It’s not just a set of data points. It gives meaning to the data points, and it gives them a way to apply the data.”


About the author

Charles (Chuck) Scholpp is director of Hach Integrated Information Management Business Development. He can be reached at


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.