Gulfport, Miss., uses flow-monitoring technology to eliminate inaccurate reporting
For years, the City of Gulfport, Miss., knew it were missing out on unbilled, underbilled or unaccounted for sewer processing fees. But without knowing a reliable way to measure the sewer flow in its particular situation, it was at a loss.
“I remember posing the question to a local engineering firm about why we couldn’t measure the sewer flow that is being discharged [from a large customer—a government agency with over 5,000 employees],” said Mike Necaise, CFO and contract administrator with the City of Gulfport. “The answer was that there was no good technology out there at that point in time that they could provide to us.”
Unwilling to accept that answer, Gulfport hired Water Company of America (WCA) to figure out a solution. For more than 23 years, WCA has been helping municipalities recover lost revenue by identifying sewer flow to wastewater treatment plants that, for myriad reasons, goes unmeasured. The first thing Gulfport asked WCA to do was to review and scrutinize the integrity and accuracy of this large customer’s billing.
For more than 30 years, the city had been relying on data provided by their customer—the large government agency—to bill it for its sewer processing fees.
“With our long‐standing agreement with our customer, we basically have relied on their equipment to measure the flow of the water to calculate their own processing fees,” said Necaise.
And making the arrangement even less balanced, the data used for billing was based on the amount of water being pumped from wells for use by the customer. In other words, it was based on the flow going into the customer and not the waste coming out. So it never accounted for any other inflow or infiltration. Knowing that new technologies could indeed gather billing data directly from effluent locations, WCA provided Gulfport with its recommendation: Data Delivery Services (DDS).
“I was at an Alabama and Mississippi WEA/AWWA joint conference, and I was digging for new technologies [that would meet Gulfport's needs],” said Steve Hooper of WCA. “I met with Hach and learned what DDS is all about. I felt that the application of DDS was a natural fit for the projects we would be working on with [Gulfport].”
DDS is a highly efficient flow monitoring service in which, for a fixed monthly fee, Hach provides all the equipment, data transmission and technical support customers need to acquire flow data, which is delivered in real time so customers can immediately perform data analysis. Through the DDS Preferred Program, Hach even handles all equipment installations and maintenance, removing the challenges inherent with flow monitoring from customers’ already overflowing plates.
This program was ideal for WCA’s project because it provided an unbiased solution to all parties involved. Hach provided all equipment and maintenance, and both Gulfport and the customer had access to the real-time untouched data. Following WCA's recommendation, the City of Gulfport implemented a successful short-term DDS pilot program in May 2012 and then, pleased with the results, expanded the program for a full three years. The setup included wireless Hach FL900 Series flow loggers, for automatic, real-time data transmission, and noncontact FLO-DAR AV sensors. These FLO-DARs, positioned downstream from effluent discharge locations, collect flow data with a high degree of accuracy. And because Hach has a 95% monitoring uptime guarantee, Gulfport can be certain that its billing data would be correct and completely accessible.
“We feel that it's possibly going to be several hundred thousand dollars a year in enhanced revenue with DDS,” said Necaise. “Several hundred thousand dollars a year is significant to us.”
This increased revenue will allow the city's public works department to more accurately plan for sewer capacity and help it accommodate future growth by upgrading its collection system and treatment plant while remaining compliant with their EPA permit. Moving forward, Gulfport's DDS program will continue to help it understand the origins of its sewer flow and more accurately and efficiently plan for collection system changes.
“If you understand from where cost originates and can quantify it, you can better plan for future capital improvement programs,” said Hooper. “For this very large customer alone, we are talking about a very significant increase in revenue that the city will be able to realize. And they are going to be able to put that revenue to work.”