By Lacey James, Dr. John Brereton and Erin Mulligan
The Public Works Department for the City of Avondale, Ariz., is responsible for managing and reporting compliance for numerous environmental programs for the city. Recognizing a need for an innovative and automated solution for managing its programs, the city implemented an environmental compliance management software solution. The software has improved overall efficiencies, quality and accuracy as well as data and document retention resulting in cost and time savings. The city now has achieved its environmental compliance program goals through use of this smart water technology.
Municipal and environmental entities such as the City of Avondale are continually faced with changing local, state and federal environmental rules and regulations, creating a vast compliance maze for the regulated community to navigate. For example, between 1975 and 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published 19 National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR) that addressed 92 contaminants, including turbidity, eight microorganism indicators, four radionuclides, 19 inorganic contaminants, and 60 organic contaminants. In addition, the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments require EPA to review and revise as appropriate each NPDWR at least every six years, further exacerbating maintenance of consistent compliance for utilities.
Monitoring requirements vary considerably among these regulations and are subject to change within a system dependent on specific sampling results or other dynamic situations. Rules are complicated; for example, the Arsenic Rule is 91 pages long in the Federal Register, the Lead and Copper Rule is 64 pages, and the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Rule is 134 pages. Noncompliance is subject to fines of $25,000 a day. The paperwork alone can cost communities thousands of dollars for compliance.
As a result, NJBSoft LLC, a water and wastewater engineering firm, identified a need in the water and wastewater community to develop software solutions to simplify complex and dynamic compliance monitoring and reporting demands. The software assists with the monitoring and reporting requirements under the SDWA, Clean Water Act and numerous other environmental rules and regulations. In short, the user-friendly and out-of-the-box Sampling and Monitoring System (SAMS) software ensures compliance excellence for utilities through many automated features to track, manage and report water quality and compliance data and regulatory reports, thus improving customer satisfaction, confidence and perception.
NJBSoft was selected to provide, install and implement SAMS to manage Avondale’s environmental compliance programs. With a population of approximately 76,000 residents, the city’s focus is on the quality of life for its citizens and visitors. Water sustainability is very important to Avondale’s desert home. As population and consumption increase, obtaining adequate and sustainable water supplies remains a high priority. To keep up with increasing water demands and complex water regulations, the city recognized a need to utilize innovative and automated technologies to more effectively and efficiently manage its water and wastewater programs. Under its water and wastewater programs, the city also use the software to manage its stormwater, backflow prevention, air quality and industrial pretreatment compliance needs.
Before implementing SAMS, the city received and reviewed many of the water quality and other laboratory results in hard-copy format. Laboratory results stored in file cabinets were regularly referenced when generating sample schedules, graphs, and compliance reports. Trends, queries and graphs were manually created by hand-entering the water quality data into spreadsheets.
The sample scheduling was also done using very extensive and massive spreadsheets. This was an ongoing dynamic task where staff members had to pay attention to the slightest of details as transcription errors or varying requirements for the different contaminants could impact the sample schedule. Most of the compliance and other reports had to be manually entered using the hard-copy laboratory results or doing manual calculations.
Manually entering and referencing voluminous hard-copy documents amounts to hours of staff time every week to ensure compliance requirements and utility goals are met. Even with hours of diligence to ensure compliance, transcription errors, misinterpretation, and omissions can occur. This also can translate to missed monitoring events, missed deadlines and missed or inaccurate compliance reports.
With SAMS, the city tracks compliance activities, monitoring and inspections, and water quality information more efficiently. Historic laboratory data was initially uploaded to the software, and now ongoing laboratory and electronic data from various laboratories are automatically uploaded. All data is housed in one location so queries, reports, trends and graphs can be generated in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Any compliance calculations are automatically generated. Executive and user dashboards provide up-to-date compliance tracking using statistical tools, trends and graphs. To ensure that compliance is achieved, specific users receive automatic email notifications on upcoming monitoring requirements, triggers, missed events and violations. All compliance sample locations are mapped and can be quickly identified by the different point attributes.
Use of SAMS at the city has led to reduction in staff time and direct cost savings as shown in Table 1.
Direct benefits have been realized in the following areas:
- Paper reduction - Web-based electronic data entry and report generation greatly reduces hard-copy usage, paper storage space requirements, and reduces cost, energy use, and carbon footprint.
- Elimination of transcription errors - Manually transcribed data entry can lead to erroneous decimal placement or transposed digits.
- Discovery of erroneous analysis and reporting - Incorrect lab reporting (e.g., mislabeled contaminant identification) and missing analyses are immediately reported to users.
- Elimination of incorrect calculations - Automated compliance calculations are built into the software and eliminate the need to hand-calculate.
- Time savings - Online self-reporting by third parties reduces or eliminates the need for on-site inspections and the processing of written reports (e.g., industrial pretreatment haulers, backflow prevention device inspectors).
- Improved communication of urgent compliance procedural needs - Automatic alerts compress the time between significant monitoring findings and staff awareness, increasing the available time for appropriate response.
- Improved efficiency in scheduling and directing staff resources
- Reduction in monitoring and reporting violations - Rule-based logic and automatic monitoring schedule updates reduce or eliminate violations (and any associated fines) due to triggered monitoring frequency changes.
- Early warning - Through SAMS’ data trending functions, early notification of declining water quality alerts decision makers and provides maximum lead time to plan and implement mitigation prior to potential violations.
With SAMS in place, the city can efficiently manage, track, store, analyze and report data to the public, management, and regulatory agencies, saving hundreds of labor hours. However, SAMS solutions provided more than a reduction in staff time: The software also provided the ability to capture the entire compliance process in a systematic way to support a clean data set that manages itself and is a repeatable process.
About the Authors: Lacey James is the Water Resource & Regulatory Manager for the city of Avondale, Ariz. She has 10 years of experience working for municipalities specifically in water quality laboratories, water and wastewater treatment, industrial pretreatment, cross-connection prevention, and state/federal environmental regulatory reporting. Dr. John Brereton, Ph. D., P.E., is the lead compliance engineer for SAMS Software and is an expert in water and wastewater regulations and related software development and compliance algorithms. He has over 17 years of experience in the field of environmental engineering, focusing primarily on research studies for water and wastewater operations and processes. Erin Mulligan is the environmental scientist and operations specialist for NJBSoft specializing in set up and implementation of SAMS Software. She has over 22 years of experience working for the top valley municipalities and the state environmental regulatory agency and over 6 years of experience with management and supervision of programs and staff.