Tennessee Titan

Feb. 17, 2004
Springfield, Tenn., combats sewer overflow with wireless

About the author: J. Kernan Crotty is president of Teletouch. He can be reached at either 903/535-7800 or www.teletouch.com


With a population of approximately 14,000, the city of Springfield, Tenn., located north of Nashville, isn’t a big city, nor does its utility department have big city manpower or technology resources. But Springfield has the same woes as a big city when the sewer backs up and overflows.

The city’s wastewater department certainly isn’t excited about the prospect of a sewer overflow—especially in a community where everyone knows who you are. In addition to fielding complaints from unhappy residents and businesses, the city’s wastewater department receives a notice of violation (NOV) from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation when a sewer overflows. These NOVs, if not addressed, can incur stiff penalties. But, more importantly, an overflowing sewer made Springfield an unpleasant and unhealthy place to live, and the city’s overflow prevention program was successful only on a limited basis. It consisted of department personnel, managed by Water & Wastewater Director Johnny McDonald, conducting daily checks at the city’s eight sewer lift stations.

While the daily systems check was successful during typical office hours Monday through Friday, the after-hour periods and weekends were another story.

“Unfortunately, if the sewer got backed up and overflowed during the night or over the weekend, you wouldn’t find out about it until the next day,” said McDonald.

McDonald knew the physical process of checking the lift stations was time-consuming and an inefficient use of equipment and personnel, but his options were limited. However, his options were about to change.

Close encounters

The state of Tennessee holds regular water and wastewater-related conferences—Tennessee Association of Utility Districts conferences to be exact—that offer members of the state’s utility districts a chance to learn about new technologies and problem-solving methods being incorporated in other parts of the state.

It was at one of these conferences that McDonald encountered an assortment of fixed-asset monitoring products manufactured by Teletouch.

While these products may have offered him an answer to the daily sewer-check problem, he approached the opportunity cautiously knowing that he needed to do more extensive research before making this problem-solving decision.

Budget and features were McDonald’s chief concerns. Springfield did not have funding for an extensive new automated system, but that wasn’t a major problem because the city did not require an extensive system. As McDonald reviewed his options, many of the automated systems he looked at had multiple features that were not practical for Springfield’s needs.

Conversely, Teletouch’s TT-501 fixed-asset monitoring system had the features McDonald needed at a price the city could afford.

“The Teletouch products were the most cost-effective of the bunch,” said McDonald. Accordingly, he ordered eight TT-501 units—one each for the city’s eight lift stations.

The TT-501 was a multi-purpose input/output interface that could be added to remote equipment to provide cost-effective wireless monitoring and remote control capabilities. It has four inputs that are selectable for contact, voltage or open-collector (switched ground) operation. The device’s output is a remotely controllable Form C2A 24VDC dry-contact relay that supports normally open operation. Additionally, it is connected to a website that enables users to view unit event and notification histories; set up notification options and customize notification text; remotely switch the auxiliary output; and remotely query input or radio status.

Automatic messaging

Once McDonald had the Springfield units installed and operating in the summer of 2003, the sewer lift stations were concurrently monitored 24 hours a day. The TT-501s were programmed to send a notification message if the sewer reached an elevated level. The notification could be recevied on an alphanumeric pager worn by the on-duty wastewater department employee, or the message could be sent to the department’s computer in the form of an e-mail. As a result, the department knew the moment there was a problem. Therefore, personnel could easily address the situation before the sewer overflows.

“It has helped us reduce the number of NOVs we received by 75%,” said McDonald. The problem of monitoring the sewer during the off-hours also has been addressed and the daily checks done in the past have become unnecessary. With constant monitoring from the Teletouch TT-501 units, water and wastewater personnel can now conduct onsite checks every other day.

More importantly, this also provided personnel the ability to proactively address other utility concerns for the city of Springfield.

An added benefit of using the Teletouch system was the reduction of Springfield’s overtime expenses.

Prior to using the fixed asset monitoring devices, each time an employee addressed a sewer overflow problem during the evening or on a weekend, the city had to pay that employee a minimum of two hours overtime. Sometimes, the problem would correct itself before the employee got to the site, but that was a moot point because the employee wouldn’t know everything was fine until he arrived at the site. Regardless of the situation, the employee would still have to send out an “all clear” message.

On the contrary, the new wireless telemetry system incorporated by the city of Springfield sends out an automatic “all clear” if the problem resolves itself before anyone arrives to the site. This enables the employee to abort the task and save the city from having to pay overtime.

The city of Springfield has experienced multiple benefits from the Teletouch wireless telemetry systems and McDonald’s confidence in his department’s service has grown considerably.

“With the devices in place, we’ve really been able to improve our level of service to the citizens of Springfield,” said McDonald.

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