Remote monitoring may be city's WT-5 salvation

Friday, September 11, 2015

It seemed like a hail Mary, what-have-we-got-to-lose? last shot when Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray sent letters to all WT-5 licensed water plant operators within an hour's drive of the city.

And while that recent plea has yet to yield any viable candidates for the four additional WT-5 operators the city needs in order to comply with Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, it has produced as intriguing possibility for compliance previously unknown to city officials.

When Wallace Hinkle, 926 Madison St., a candidate for City Council in the upcoming election, came forward at the Council's September meeting earlier this week to voice opposition to the potential sale of the city water utility -- an idea raised recently as one possible solution in light of the lack of WT-5 operators available to the city -- the mayor hinted at some "good news."

"We have some new ideas," Mayor Murray said, "which may make (sale of the water utility) a moot point.

"No one wants to sell the utilities," she assured.

Remote monitoring may be the solution, the mayor said, noting that city officials are waiting to hear from IDEM's new drinking water quality director about the possibility.

This all stems from a WT-5 operator who runs the City of Anderson's water plant responding to the mayor's letter. He advised her of something known as the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Aquisition) System. SCADA, designed to monitor all things of concern with public water systems, uses coded signals over communication channels to monitor and control industrial processes.

Thus, an operator could remotely monitor such issues as big changes in pressure and temperature fluctuates, the mayor explained. The operator would be able to "remotely see if one those or any of the other indicators is out of whack."

The city would still have to have a WT-3 operator on duty in the plant. It currently employs three of those, while a fourth employee who is working toward his WT-5 license could also seek a WT-3 designation.

If trouble surfaced, the remote WT-5 operator would inform the on-site WT-3, who could shut down the water system, but would not be empowered to turn it back on again that takes a WT-5.

The Anderson operator -- who Mayor Murray said personally "had to work through the struggle" that is the compliance process in which the city is currently involved -- said the system he monitors has experienced an issue maybe once in a year.

The SCADA System, it was explained, serves as a "safeguard system for anything that can go wrong with the water system," Mayor Murray told the Banner Graphic.

Further frustration for city officials is the fact that the Anderson operator's disclosure of the remote monitoring plan is the first time they've even heard about such a possibility.

"Why didn't somebody tell us about this months ago?" Mayor Murray asked in frustration.

Of course, the monitoring idea still must first be approved by IDEM. And that probably depends on the interpretation of the administrative ruling made in regard to the ordered improvements to the city's water system relative the perceived surface water infiltration issue.

"It's open to interpretation," the mayor said, although she nonetheless appears encouraged to apparently now have an option other than trying to hire additional operators, virtually unavailable to small cities like Greencastle, at salaries that would break the budget of the water utility and most assuredly lead to an increase in water rates.

What has been frustrating is that the city has not failed water tests or even remotely had issues with water quality.

"Our water is fine," Mayor Murray stressed. "It always has been."

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  • What's frustrating is that the mayor had a WT-5 operator and didn't want to pay him the appropriate wage because she figured she had a bird in hand and "no one ever leaves their small town". So she instead made him paint fire hydrants and the like, when she only need to increase his pay and let him do the work he was qualified to do. Now she acts shocked by the state requirements...she created this mess.

    -- Posted by scalbin on Sat, Sep 12, 2015, at 10:56 AM
  • *

    I have a WT-5 and live 8 miles from the water plant but didn't get a letter from the city. Makes me wonder what else is being misrepresented.

    -- Posted by kjjmcc on Sat, Sep 12, 2015, at 11:21 PM
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