MetriNet: Watch Distribution System Quality 24/7

MetriNet lets utilities use remote, battery-operated sensors to monitor drinking water quality at critical points in the distribution system

MetriNet: Watch Distribution System Quality 24/7

MetriNet technology can be deployed as a street-level system to enable water-quality monitoring without the concerns related to belowground installations.

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Drinking water utilities keep a close eye on water quality. It’s essential to providing a safe supply, keeping customers satisfied and staying in compliance with regulations.

But how, where on the network and how often are samples taken for quality analysis? And is the sample data readily available so that issues can be promptly identified and addressed? ATi, a Badger Meter brand, has introduced MetriNet as what it calls a field-proven breakthrough in water-quality monitoring. It is a technology based on smart sensors that lets utilities monitor for their choice of up to 16 parameters.

Digital smart M-Node sensors can be deployed at critical locations throughout the water distribution system, giving users continuous, real-time water-quality measurements and evidence-based proof that the water is safe. Data from the sensors can enable utilities to detect and predict events such as loss of disinfection; taste, odor and discoloration problems; pipe bursts or leaks; and more. The system delivers timely warnings and analysis of anomalies to which operators can react before failures develop.

Actionable insights help utilities ensure efficient delivery of high-quality water in an environmentally friendly manner. Brendt Thompson, senior manager of analytical solutions with Badger Meter, talked about the technology in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What is the basic problem this technology helps utilities solve?

Thompson: The water-quality data utilities typically have from the distribution system is based on regular compliance samples. Those samples might be taken every few days or once a week and represent a single snapshot in history. But the distribution system is a living and breathing thing. A single weekly sample doesn’t support, for example, smart flushing, where instead of just turning on hydrants according to a schedule, they flush when needed based on water-quality data. MetriNet provides real-time insights into what is happening to water quality in the network.

TPO: What kinds of serious events can this technology help utilities detect and address?

Thompson: Suppose they have leak or a main break. After they bypass that line to make a repair, if they don’t flush the system properly, the water that was stored in that pipe is pushed into the system, and that’s a contamination incident. The leak itself is a contamination incident since water doesn’t only come out of a pipe. There is also intrusion, so debris, organics and turbidity enter the pipeline and can cause discoloration, taste and odor.   

As another example, many utilities are switching to chloramine for disinfection. Chloramine in the distribution network brings high potential for nitrification, where the water starts tasting bad and can turn yellow. That can happen quickly, within hours. If they have a reservoir that they don’t sample for a couple of days or a week, they have no idea if the water is nitrifying. This is a concern especially in hot climates where chlorine degrades and nitrification happens faster.

TPO: What differentiates MetriNet from other water-quality monitoring technologies?

Thompson: Typically, water quality instruments use wet chemistry. Reagents and buffers are pumped up into a chamber to mix with water, a chemical reaction takes place, and then the sample is read colorimetrically and discharged. That’s not very useful in distribution systems where they have to deal with hazardous waste from reagents and buffers. Those chemicals also have to be replenished periodically. MetriNet instruments use no reagents. They provide the data users need with far less maintenance and cost of ownership.

TPO: Without reagents, how do these devices take measurements?

Thompson: A variety of technologies are built into the sensors. There are optical sensors for parameters like turbidity, TOC and DOC. There are electrochemical sensors for pH, ORP and conductivity. There are amperometric sensors for free, total and combined chlorine. The combination of all these types of measurement creates the package that is MetriNet.

TPO: What accounts for the flexibility of this technology?

Thompson: Typically, water-quality instruments require AC power because they use pumps to move samples and deliver reagents. That limits where they can be deployed. MetriNet sensors are battery powered, autonomous and compact, so they can be deployed in small spaces and in areas where water-quality data is advantageous but there is no infrastructure. The data can be put into the cloud or into a SCADA system without the need for AC power.

TPO: What are some locations where sensors typically would be deployed?

Thompson: Common locations include distribution entry points, operational control points, pump stations, storage tanks and reservoirs, and at critical customer sites like hospitals, stadiums and universities where there are concentrations of population. They are also deployed in areas where there are known water-quality issues, such as where there have been customer complaints or where consumption is low and stagnation could occur. The monitoring devices are meant to be put where historically utilities would be blind to water-quality conditions.

TPO: How does the sensor data make its way to the customer’s user interface?

Thompson: Typically utilities have a SCADA system that is a very controlled environment. It is kept under lock and key and requires power. Where we deploy our devices there is none of that. So we leveraged cellular connectivity to move the data from the field to a cloud platform. It’s similar to the way Badger Meter operates its advanced metering infrastructure flowmeters: using cellular connectivity into our platform called BEACON, which is a cloud-based tool to view and analyze data from the field.

TPO: Does MetriNet work only in conjunction with BEACON?

Thompson: Not necessarily. We can provide the data wherever and whenever the customer wants it. We can push the data into a SCADA system. We can send the data to a file transfer protocol so the SCADA system can reach out and pull it in. MetriNet stations have local communication via Wi-Fi, Modbus, Ethernet IP and PROFIBUS.

TPO: How easy is it for customers to view and use the data?

Thompson: The data is GIS-based so users can open a map and look at all their water quality installations across their network. They can click on one location from the map and it will display all the data from the parameters they are monitoring. They can also link assets. For example, suppose that a meter is monitoring a flow into the distribution system and there’s a MetriNet station next to it. They can overlay those two data sources.

TPO: Can you cite an example of how that overlay would be beneficial?

Thompson: As consumption goes up and more water is being consumed, the water in the system fresher. For a tourist community where consumption is high on the weekends and falls off during the week, they could overlay the flow with water quality data on a single screen. So for example they could see if the decrease in consumption is affecting water quality, whether water is being held too long and is stagnating.

TPO: Can operators in the field access the MetriNet data?

Thompson: Yes. Operators in the distribution system managing the network most of the time don’t have access to the SCADA system. MetriNet gives them access to water-quality data in the field, when and where they need it.


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