Comprehensive Water Contamination Warning System Demonstration Pilots Serve as Model for Water Utility Community

Five U.S. cities develop comprehensive tools to detect and respond to contaminants in their water systems, demonstrating operational benefits and offering insight for other cities as they develop their own solutions.

Since September 11, 2001, various parties including the Department of Homeland Security have made it a priority to support water utilities in the deployment of real-time Contamination Warning Systems (CWSs) to protect citizens in the event of an intentional or accidental water contamination incident.

Ken Thompson CH2M Hill deputy global service leader for intelligent water solutions

Ken Thompson

As part of a larger Water Security (WS) initiative, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded grants to water utilities in five major cities—Cincinnati, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Dallas—to implement full-scale CWSs. The designed and deployed demonstration systems feature online water quality monitoring, increased sampling and analysis, consumer complaint surveillance, enhanced security monitoring, and public health surveillance information. By integrating these data streams and converting them into real-time operational insight through the use of advanced data analytics, optimization, and visualization (also known as a Smart Grid), the systems are successfully providing timely detection and supporting appropriate response to drinking water contamination, as well as informing operators of anomalous conditions in the distribution systems so appropriate actions can be taken.

The concept of Smart Grid technology has existed for years in the nation’s power supply system, but it is a relatively new concept for the water industry. In its essence, a Smart Grid provides enhanced, two-way communication between a utility and its customers, allowing the utility to gather data that can be used to optimize its systems and provide more reliable service to its customers.

Water utilities generate an exceptional amount of data every day; on average, 60 percent of the data generated by the laboratory, maintenance work orders, and measurements by the SCADA system is ignored simply because the utilities do not have staff available to manage and analyze this volume of raw data quickly and efficiently. Incorporating a data management system that integrates real-time data from disparate sources provides utility operators with the knowledge needed to more effectively control resources and facilities. In today’s environment of funding constraints, workforce challenges, and the pressure to do more with less, transforming raw data into actionable intelligence is critical to business success. It can improve utility operations, avert potential damage to water system infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, prevent customer harm in the event of a contamination incident.

The EPA-funded projects and other work focusing on Smart Grid technology have far reaching impacts as they help to ensure our nation has access to clean, reliable drinking water. In an effort to advance and create an awareness of EPA’s work in contamination warning systems, water professionals from CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions team and the Philadelphia Water Department developed a series of CWS-related white papers. These white papers cover topics including customer complaints surveillance, consequence management, enhanced security monitoring, online water quality monitoring data management systems and technologies, public health surveillance, safety screening for radiological contaminants, baseline water quality monitoring, response preparedness, CWS dashboard development, and others. In sum, the knowledge imparted in these white papers demonstrates how utilities can implement technology solutions that optimize operations, secure facilities, and meet regulatory expectations, while balancing water quality, quantity, and operational cost requirements. These white papers can be downloaded for free at

Interested in learning more? A series of articles is being developed that will delve into the EPA-funded demonstration systems and projects in more detail, beginning with a case study on the Philadelphia Water Department and the successful implementation of its CWS. These articles will share best practices and highlight how CWS and Smart Grid technologies are transforming utility operations and water quality standards.

Case Study: Philadelphia Water Department Contaminant Warning System

Ken Thompson serves as CH2M HILL’s deputy global service leader for intelligent water solutions. 

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