Water Company Implements Information Management System

Jan. 1, 2011
As Mark Twain once aptly remarked, "whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting."

By Brent Fewell and Umair Ahmed

As Mark Twain once aptly remarked, "whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting." While Twain's colloquialism described the early American experience, it no less underscores the importance of water in sustaining our Nation's communities and ecosystems today.

Sustainable development is now the focus of many water systems. An important component of sustainable development is ensuring compliance with environmental laws and regulations aimed at protecting public health and the environment. A strong compliance program must not only be able to support the ever increasing demands and complexity of requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, but other environmental programs aimed at solid and hazardous waste management, hazardous materials management, and chemical storage. Implementing a robust compliance program is also common sense, particularly in light of increased enforcement at the federal and state levels.

United Water, which provides water and wastewater services to over 7 million people throughout the United States, developed a strategy to improve performance and meet increasingly complex regulations by creating a common platform for use at its over 200 operating locations. The company had been using multiple legacy reporting systems which made it difficult to monitor performance in a consistent manner at all of its facilities. To address this issue, United Water partnered with Hach Company, to introduce a single, comprehensive Water Information Management Solution (WIMS™) system at all of its water and wastewater operations across the country. When the system is fully implemented, WIMS will serve as the company's central nervous system where the corporate environmental program will be able to support and work closely with each of its operations to improve environmental performance.

Compliance Complexity

The compliance requirements of water systems are numerous and often times complex. To stay abreast of the myriad of compliance requirements (e.g., sampling, analysis and reporting) and optimize a system to peak performance requires state-of-the-art tools that not only can track and monitor a system's daily compliance, but can detect potential problems in advance.

Hach's Water Information Management Solution is the new and improved reincarnation of the former OPS SQL™ system, a central database for water quality data, and is designed to make it easy to create regulatory reports and to optimize operations. WIMS has many functions including receiving data automatically from most common data sources including SCADA, LIMS, commercial labs, and manual entry of lab and log sheets. It can automatically perform complex calculations, track regulatory and user-defined limits and send email alerts. It also offers charting, graphing and mapping tools, and many more.

The system can be used to help support the management of regulatory sampling via LAB Cal and the creation of e-DMRs and other monthly regulatory reports that more and more states are requiring. With easy access to the data, coupled with audit trail and commenting functionality, the software can also be used to drill down to troubleshoot a problem. Finally, it will also make it easier for United Water's operations to create customized reports for the evaluation and optimization of system performance.

Championing Change

Recognizing the benefits of this powerful tool, United Water made the WIMS initiative a corporate priority. To make this initiative sustainable and efficient, the company requested that Hach provide a customized training curriculum to ensure all United Water entities use the product consistently.

To encourage adoption throughout the organization, United Water identified "System Champions" from multiple divisions to lead the initial deployment. The Champions embarked on an extensive three day training session, taught by Hach trainers, on the WIMS product, its uses and benefits, its features and functionality, and, specifically, its operation within United Water. United Water senior management also attended the training programs to support the initiative.

Regional training sessions were then scheduled for the end-users to allow the greatest number of attendees with the least amount of disruption to their work schedules. The training, facilitated by the designated Champions and supported by Hach trainers, was structured to educate personnel on the specific use of the product for United Water's needs and to ensure the end users were comfortable navigating the system, entering data, and generating reports. A comprehensive training program was essential to educate users throughout the organization and minimize any productivity losses that might be associated with the software transition.

Getting users comfortable with new processes and providing the right level of training is a key component to change management, which has aided in the successful adoption of a new strategic direction. Not only were users exposed to the new strategy but they were also taught to take full advantage of the information resource available to them. Understanding the robust capabilities of the data management software will help ensure that various operational and compliance tasks will be completed successfully, more timely, and more uniformly to the benefit of the organization.

With such a large roll-out to so many facilities, the initiative has not been without its challenges. However, through this collaborative effort between United Water and Hach, and United Water's leadership's strong commitment to this initiative, the employees have heartily embraced this state-of-the art technology that will bolster the company's environmental performance.

About the Authors: Brent Fewell is the Vice President of Environmental Compliance for United Water and the former Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for U.S. EPA Office of Water. Umair Ahmed is the Application Development Manager for Hach Company's Integrated Information Management program.

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