Information Management System Helps Company Improve Compliance, Operations, Business Processes

United Water is using the Hach Water Information Management Solution (Hach WIMS) to manage information across its network of utilities. The system allows the company to have a single platform to identify key trends, and manage large amounts of data efficiently to make key decisions for budgeting and short-and-long term operations. Hach WIMS’ standard calculations, audit trails and automated compliance reporting helped to establish a formal compliance program which feeds the ISO compliance process within United Water.

By Chuck Scholpp

United Water, headquartered in Harrington Park, NJ, has been treating water for more than 100 years. Founded in 1869, the company provides water and wastewater treatment services to more than 300 municipalities and millions of people across the United States. While the size of the facilities it owns or contracts with varies from quite small to among the largest in the world, one driving concept is consistent from project-to-project: United Water is focused on managing world-class environmental compliance fulfilling its mission of providing comprehensive, sustainable water and wastewater management solutions that promote public, economic and environmental health.

Business Situation

United Water achieves best-in-class water and wastewater treatment by embracing technologies that empower its staff to drive productivity through process optimization and decision making that impacts the bottom line while providing a competitive advantage. In addition, it relies on technologies that help with regulatory compliance mandates and developing good working relationships with inspectors.

One of the key technologies United Water relies upon for maintaining its world-class operations is the Hach Water Information Management Solution™ (Hach WIMS™). United Water started with OPS 32, a predecessor to Hach WIMS in 2005. In 2006 the solution was updated to a networked solution and over time the larger projects were brought into the system. The first to implement Hach WIMS was the Springfield, MA, facility where the findings and subsequent learnings served as a basis for the system's rollout across other treatment plants.

The Springfield facility is designed to treat 67 mgd of wastewater, with typical limits and monitoring requirements. It has four different operational areas that need to work together. In the past, operators in each area captured and entered data directly into spreadsheets and then turned the hardcopies into an operations group that submitted regulatory reports. Now, the information is entered directly into the system by the people that are responsible for the data, increasing data accuracy and adding a layer of quality control.

In addition, United Water experienced occasional compliance issues, roadblocks to timely reporting and challenges with meeting sampling schedules, all of which are common in the business of water/wastewater treatment. Consistency, scheduling and transparency of operational data are critical to remediating these compliance failures, eliminating late reporting and managing sampling; it's a daunting task, as United Water collects more than one million samples each year.

Ultimately, United Water is a business and success in the water and wastewater business depends on positive compliance records and on ongoing efficiency improvements.

Information Management

"We evaluated several different systems, but choose Hach WIMS for a number of reasons," said Don Goodroe, technical support manager, Northwest Division. "Overall, Hach WIMS most closely matched what our needs are across the company."

He said finding a single-solution allows the company to have a single platform to identify key trends, and manage large amounts of data efficiently to make key decisions for budgeting and short-and-long term operations. Hach WIMS' standard calculations, audit trails and automated compliance reporting helped to establish a formal compliance program which feeds the ISO compliance process within United Water.

The information management system includes personalized data entry forms and dashboards for operators. The dashboards are set up to mimic how operators capture data and are tailored to individual areas of operations. The custom input screens minimize the chance of transcription errors that could occur when moving the data from the source into the database. The system also allows each plant to create alarms based on a programmed data range that is related to the operation being monitored and controlled. If an operator inputs data outside the range, they are immediately alerted.

United Water has taken a very proactive approach to rolling Hach WIMS out into the organization. Identification and cultivation of "Systems Champions" that help the rest of the teams incorporate proven methods and processes has resulted in positive change for their own groups, as well as provided overall guidance and support.

"There are Champions in different areas that may excel in the system, and they can in turn help those who are just getting started," said Brent Fewell, vice president, environmental for United Water.

As the EPA and an increasing number of states are implementing more electronic reporting platforms, Hach WIMS enables electronic submission of eDMRs, NetDMR or e-reports, as well as creating the traditional paper reports where required. This feature has cut labor associated with regulatory reporting and has made it easier to work with inspectors when they are on-site. The company also has linked the system to its internal sustainability reporting – as sustainability is a core element in its mission and branding efforts.

Web accessibility also is a key benefit the system delivers to United Water.

"I can get information on any of the multiple projects that I'm tracking right from home. I don't have to call the project manager, and that's huge." Goodroe said. "Hach WIMS establishes a central database and gives us the capability to track all of our environmental, safety, internal and contract compliance needs from a single source. You also can look at other facilities to see who's doing the best and who's doing the most for continuous improvement."

As for next steps, United Water is now rolling Hach WIMS out to legacy systems that were developed three or four years ago.

Improving Compliance

According to Goodroe, establishing transparency is key to compliance.

"The company's first initiative was to combine the projects into a common database to establish transparency. We could see discharge levels when they were in violation. We set up internal permit limits and dashboards to keep operators, as well as managers, up to speed on a daily basis. The system has enabled us to anticipate and head off compliance issues before they occur," he said.

The system has impacted the non-compliance penalties that the company occasionally must cope with and has helped create an opportunity to develop a better working relationship with regulatory agencies.

"We have been meeting with the EPA and one of the things we are touting to the regulators is our Hach WIMS initiative. They are extremely excited about it," Fewell said.

United Water also uses Hach LAB Cal™ to help manage sampling. The system quickly shows what samples are due, what samples have been completed and what samples, if any, have been missed. This helps with compliance and to track sampling activity and results over time.

Using Data Effectively

Each plant in the system has some unique data requirements. Whether it is to track all chemical usage and costs at the West Basin plant or monitoring multiple chemicals in a single field at the San Antonio Plant. The configurability of Hach WIMS adapts to individual needs.

Often outside engineering firms need large quantities of data quickly for all types of projects. With Hach WIMS this data can be generated and provided in minutes, with complete assurance that the data is accurate. When the EPA was investigating drought conditions and needed specific information, United Water was able to provide comprehensive information very quickly to the agency. Information also can be provided instantaneously when the DEP has questions or requires additional data.

Reports that can be generated and automatically sent on a regular basis have always been a major part of the United Water sustainability program. Having the data in a central location allows everyone to be aware of the status and enables all users to know where additional support might be needed.

Saving Time

"Hach WIMS has made my life much easier and allows me to further improve the system," said Joe Thaxton, technical support manager, South and West regions. "I'm still developing features that everybody has been asking for, as well as tracking non-numerical contract compliance and state compliance along with the laboratory and the other reporting we have to do. It makes it easier, since it's all in one place. It's so easy to link disparate systems and put a report together."

The central system also allows Thaxton to spend more time concentrating on safety and environmental work.

"It actually has freed my time up to be able to pay more attention to environmental and safety compliance, and HazMat issues which are both critical," he said.

Exactly how much money United Water has saved by using the Hach WIMS is both proprietary and a little hard to ascertain, but the company is comfortable with publically estimating it to be more than $100,000 so far.

Improving the Business

"We feel in the long run there's no doubt that the company will benefit from greater optimization," Fewell said.

In fact, many project results are confirming his assertion. "One of our operations managers told me that he can definitely validate considerable time and cost savings, better planning and improved compliance."

The ability to track and analyze processes plant-wide has also given Fewell better insight into operations.

"It has brought our monthly financial review of key performance indicators relative to energy consumption, chemical usage and variables into clear focus," he said.

About the Author: Charles (Chuck) Scholpp is Director of Hach Integrated Information Management Business Development. He is responsible for developing integrated solutions that leverage instrumentation, communications, people and software. Scholpp, a senior leader with more than 10 years of experience managing professional teams, has been with Hach since 2003.

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