Wednesday, May 27, 2009

wireless storm water sensors monitor water quality in real time

From the MNDaily.com - dated 5-26-09 - here is a reprint of the article
here is a link to the original article

U researchers implement wireless water sensors
Subhead:
Sensors provide researchers and recreational water users with up-to-the-minute data.

BY Jessica Van Berkel
PUBLISHED: 05/26/2009

At Pamela Park in Edina, Chris Wennen, a graduate student in water resources science at the University of Minnesota, stands knee-deep in a pond, examining what resembles an enormous film canister.

The device is a wireless sensor that monitors water quality. It is one of five implemented in the Minnehaha Creek area.

Wennen said the sensors measure the levels of pollutants such as nitrate and chloride, as well as the amount of oxygen, pH, temperature, turbidity and depth of the water.

“These are the first wireless sensors to record runoff data in an urban area,” said study leader and civil engineering professor William Arnold.

Arnold and colleague professor Miki Hondzo have been working on the project for the past three years with help from graduate students, including Wennen.

The sensors take measurements every two hours and every 30 minutes during a rainstorm, when runoff is highest, Arnold said.

The data is recorded in a solar-powered box on the shore and sent via cell phone to the University’s computer lab in St. Anthony Falls. There, water experts analyze the data and predict where and when pollutants — including pharmaceuticals and pesticides — will hit.

Before sensor technology, “grab samples” were taken physically twice a month. By providing researchers and recreational water users with up-to-the-minute statistics on the water supply, Arnold and his team hope to protect human and animal populations.

Arnold is currently working to collaborate with a similar project in Iowa to compare runoff and water treatment practices in urban and agricultural areas.

“These are vital statistics for human health, and vital statistics of the environmental body,” said Deborah Swackhamer , program director of the Water Resources Center at the University. “The sensors let you assess how you are managing the resource. They allow us to access water at a finer scale.”

The close examination has yielded surprising results, Arnold said, particularly in stormwater ponds, which collect runoff from streets and yards and filter it through the soil.

The stormwater ponds being monitored include two near Minnehaha Creek and at a second site near Shingle Creek . Sensors have detected caffeine at the sites, an indicator of sewage leakage.

“The caffeine is a marker that other, more dangerous, pollutants may be leaking in,” said Wennen. “Hormones like estrogen could feminize the male geese, birds and fish so that they are unable to reproduce.”

Although the detection of caffeine is worrying, it proves that the ponds are fulfilling their function by taking out pollutants.

“What we found was surprising. The stormwater ponds remove pollution we didn’t expect them to,” Arnold said.

The sensors will change location in six weeks, said Arnold. The next location to be examined is where Shingle Creek meets the Mississippi River.

By looking at various locations, researchers can monitor leaks in sewage lines and recognize what preventative methods are working.

The research group plans to expand from five sensor sites to 100 in the next five to 10 years.

“The challenge is always funding,” said Wennen.

The project has received a total of $592,000 in funding from federal and local agencies and the University, Water Resources Center spokeswoman Nina Shepherd said.

The researchers are hopeful for the expansion of the project.

“This is a pilot program,” Swackhamer said. “In the future, this is how monitoring will be done.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Trend - the rise in storm water authorities

Recently an article came over my desk which detailed Washington, DC's new program to charge DC land and property owners a storm water fee based on impervious surface rather than water usage. This is not a new concept, but rather one that is gaining in popularity. As an unfunded mandate, cities and towns are scrambling to figure out how to implement the NPDES Phase II guidelines and in many cases, it is easy to see why they would consider setting up a special fund for storm water.

In our daily course of business, we sent out this article to a few of our clients just to keep them "in the know". Some like to know what is happening around the country while others responded to us asking for more information so they could explore setting up their own storm water utility. One client in Tennessee advised me that this fee is already on his home water bill and he was certain the money would be collected just so agents could be sent out to fine people. That is probably a natural thought if you don't really follow storm water.

At this point, we know of active storm water utility programs in Wilmington, DE and Washington, DC.

It was interesting to learn that sound shore communities in Westchester County, NY are also exploring the possibility of setting up a storm water authority. Click here for more information.
We will research this trend further and update as we learn more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More recycling just makes Cent$

We volunteered last week at the Stamford WPCA to help the local middle school students tour the Waste Water Treatment Facility in Stamford. The staff are well organized and do a great job at the WPCA. They definitely accomplish a lot on the small plot of land where the facility is located at the South end of town.

So, it was a busy three hours with a lot to learn. Waste Water Recycling, Solid Waste Recycling, and the importance of storm water. One of the lessons:

Solid waste: Fail to recycle = Lost $$$ opportunity:

It costs the City of Stamford about $76.00 per ton to cart away solid waste. If we can maximize our recycling efforts, less money is needed to cart away solid waste and these savings could be used for other budget items.

That being said, in an effort to increase recycling, the City has placed recycling bins in all school classrooms and lunchrooms and implemented a system to track recycling collected from the schools. Nevertheless, the volume collected from the schools is disappointingly small. Why? Is it lack of awareness? Is it inconvenient? We need to get the important message of recycling to the kids.

Recycling is an easy exercise that just makes sense. The system is already set-up and increasing recycling discipline is an effortless way to maximize funds in these tight budget times.