Going with the Flow

April 3, 2018
Gulfport, Miss., benefits from advanced flow monitoring system

In an effort to identify cases of unbilled, underbilled or unaccounted-for water and sewer processing fees, the City of Gulfport, Miss., contracted the Water Company of America to act as its agent. For over 23 years, the Water Company of America has been in the business of helping municipalities recover lost revenue. Steve Hooper, of the Water Company of America, said, “One of the things that we have long identified as an opportunity is the business of sewer flow to the wastewater treatment plant that for whatever combination of circumstances and reasons goes unmeasured.”

Hooper works with Mike Necaise, the director of finance and administration for the City of Gulfport. Hooper identifies Necaise as the person who has the best handle on the relationship between the costs of service water and sewer, as well as other city services and their revenues. “Being in that position to look at revenue accountability, he recognized the service that the Water Company of America provides for this to work,” said Hooper.

Old technology

One of the City’s largest customers for the treatment of sewer flow is a large governmental agency with over 5,000 employees. As one of its first tasks, the Water Company was told by Necaise to scrutinize the integrity and accuracy of the agency’s billing. For over 30 years, the city has relied on this agency to provide data from its equipment, which would, in turn, be used 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 processing fees,” said Necaise.

In this monitoring application, the actual sewer flows were not being measured; instead, the data used for the billing application was based on the actual amount of water being pumped from wells. Given the technology that is currently available, Necaise was determined to find a solution that would allow the city to gather billing data directly from the sewer while utilizing its own equipment. “I remember ten years ago, I posed a question to a local engineering firm about that same situation of why can’t we measure the sewer flow that is being discharged rather than the water that is being pumped, and the answer was there is no good technology out there at this point in time that they could provide to us,” he said.

New advances

Always on the lookout for new technological breakthroughs that allow them to help municipalities recover lost revenue, Water Company personnel regularly participate in both national and regional conferences, such as those held by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA). It was at one of these events—the Alabama/Mississippi WEA/AWWA Joint Conference—that Hooper learned about the Marsh-McBirney Flo‐Dar and Hach Data Delivery Services (DDS).

“I was there as an exhibitor offering my services to folks like Mike [Necaise],” Hooper said. “I have met and had quality discussions with the Hach folks over the years, learning about what technologies are out there that could enable me to do my job better for the Mikes of the world. So it was that conference experience, where I was digging for and searching for new technologies, that I learned of Hach and what Flo‐Dar and DDS is all about. I felt that the application of DDS with the Flo‐Dar sensor was a natural fit for the projects we would be working on with the city.”

A successful short‐term DDS pilot program that was launched in May 2012 led to a three‐year DDS contract for two flow-monitoring systems that went online for billing purposes on September 1. With DDS, customers pay only for sewer flow data, and no flow meter purchase is required. Hach personnel—or, in this case, Hach-certified installers—initiate and maintain the Web‐enabled flow meters. Users have constant online access to data and receive a 95% uptime guarantee. Web‐enabled Flo‐Dar flow meters and cellular Hach FL900 flow loggers make DDS possible.

Eye of the storm

“Lo and behold, Hurricane Isaac came through recently and the ability of the DDS system to handle the storms surcharge events makes this a model case,” said Hooper.

Hurricane Isaac was a slow-moving tropical cyclone that caused severe damage along the northern Gulf Coast of the United States in late August 2012. Isaac reached hurricane strength on the morning of August 28 and made landfall that evening near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It made a second and final landfall the next morning at Port Fourchon, La. Isaac slowed down as it came ashore in Louisiana and Mississippi. Gulfport’s DDS meters were under surcharge conditions at that point and were getting consistent data throughout the event.

“We received about 15 inches of rain over a two day period,” said Necaise. “What was remarkable is that you would think that the DDS system would need time to recover from a surcharge event quickly, even if the surcharge event was of a short duration. These DDS flow monitors performed through a very long duration, and that’s what makes [them] valuable to us in a billing application—to know that even in an event like Hurricane Isaac, we know what the flow was….”

Benefiting Gulfport

Cost savings and the ability to innovate are major benefits of the DDS application. “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.”

The increased revenue will allow the city’s public works department to understand the origins of sewer flow, efficiently plan for collection system changes and accurately plan for sewer capacity. The additional revenue will allow the city to accommodate future growth by upgrading its collection system and treatment plant, both in the short and long terms, to remain compliant with their Environmental Protection Agency permit. “If you understand from where that cost is being originated 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.”

Other DDS system benefits that stand out in this application include the ability to not only look at total flow, but also observe level and velocity separately. “If you are trying to explain to the customer, the originator of the sewer flow, what variables are going on on his property that ultimately affect total gallon-by-gallon flow, this is a great feature,” said Hooper. “Being able to go minute by minute when the shots are taken of level and velocity and to understand what happened on the property at that time when the level and velocity occurred is very helpful. This is helpful for both the city, for accuracy in billing, and the originator in understanding the characteristics of the flow.”

With DDS, the city no longer has to rely on someone else to provide accurate equipment or perform routine equipment/infrastructure maintenance to get flow readings. In this case, DDS has proven to be a multiuse tool for the customer as well. “DDS has allowed us to really enhance our conditions with getting our money back to us for our cost of service,” said Necaise. “DDS has made it possible for the customer to now understand that they do indeed have a problem. In fact, they are moving forward with a comprehensive study of their infrastructure to deal with these issues. It really opens up the communication. You get buy-in from all parties.”

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