For wastewater utilities, few things are more valuable than reliable communication and data. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems function as specialized software used to monitor collection systems data for improved infrastructure visibility. Collection systems staff must track a variety of infrastructure maintenance needs to maintain continuous operation for the community relying on its services.

Capital improvements for collection systems are often driven by immediate need, with projects priorities based on what is necessary to keep the utility up and running. By compiling and channeling consistent and reliable data, modern SCADA systems provide municipalities information necessary for making decisions regarding capital projects. More capable SCADA systems also allow for better planning and operations, benefiting the utility both financially and logistically.

Financial Benefit

Advanced SCADA systems provide utilities with more data, such as flow monitoring, and can give better insight into when and where overflows might occur. This data can be collected and processed for use in advanced control systems to optimize operations of existing storage and control infrastructure. Such optimization can reduce or replace the need for capital projects that are often the only option for strained systems.

Additionally, the resulting increase in data collection and monitoring after a SCADA upgrade provides utilities with a robust tool that improves visibility of the health and operation of these remote systems. This data can increase the responsiveness for unplanned failures and provide trends for long term data that can be used for predictive maintenance and capital planning.

A Secure Connection

SCADA upgrades also provide an opportunity to look at which type of communication system might function optimally for a community. By taking advantage of existing public infrastructure, such as cellular or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) data connections, wastewater utilities can limit their network investments but still gather reliable data for the system. Cell towers are often ideal for municipalities because there are typically many in a geographic region, making the likelihood of a long outage unlikely with multiple network connections. Cellular systems can replace or supplement the licensed radios typically used for remote monitoring.

Use of public systems introduces cybersecurity risks to the SCADA system. These connections must be established through private, encrypted links. Virtual private networks (VPN) can safely link business networks, remote programmable logic controllers/remote terminal units (PLC/RTU), cloud computing platforms and SCADA software to form an adaptable and cohesive system that meets the growing needs of any municipality.

Community Reward

Using data sourced from SCADA systems, utilities can avoid unnecessary capital improvements. Better data leads to better prioritization of necessary projects, saving money and embarking on fewer construction initiatives—which means construction sites, utility relocations, service outages and other potential disruptions.

With strong community and financial benefits, SCADA upgrades give utilities the ability to plan capital improvements based on reliable and consistent data. Advanced technology is increasingly part of a forward-thinking future and SCADA upgrades are no exception.


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Brian Graeber is a senior electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell. With over a decade of experience, he specializes in information technology, electrical power systems and instrumentation and control. He has worked across a variety of industries including nuclear energy, water, wastewater and aviation.