High Tech in the low country

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Courtesy of Mission Communications, LLC

Area utilities in Beaufort, S.C., are provided primarily by the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA). The authority's service area includes Beaufort and Jasper counties, which encompass more than 1,200 sq miles and 125,000 customers of their own, plus a number of other utilities within the counties.

This quiet, historic area seems an unlikely place for a five-year-long search for cutting-edge SCADA technologies. BJWSA knew it could reduce increas¬ing fuel, field and administrative costs while ensuring the safety of customers and the environment with SCADA. The question was, could it be done at a price the utility could live with—up front and over 20 years?

The Traditional SCADA Dilemma
More than 20 years ago, BJWSA implemented a complex control system for its water production plants and distribution system. Work on the massive wastewater collection system started with major interceptor pump stations that vary their speed to better regulate flow to the wastewater treatment plants. BJWSA had to balance the substantial increase in land development with the rightful state mandates to reduce the number of septic tanks. To address these issues, the utility built hundreds of miles of sewer lines and installed hundreds of wastewater pump stations.

On major wastewater pumping stations, BJWSA installed full-featured PLCs with licensed and spread-spectrum radios. The wastewater remote SCADA sites piggybacked on the water system SCADA backbone, as its footprint tended to reflect the needs of the wastewater master stations. As development increased, so did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) guidelines for unauthorized discharges. This mandated more inspections and maintenance, which increased administrative and field labor expenses.

Remote site SCADA provided an answer, but at a significant cost. The geography of the South Carolina coastal area is conducive to traditional SCADA private radio networks; it is flat, and radio coverage could be achieved without too many excessively large antenna poles and repeaters. The problem was the upfront and ongoing expense. BJV/SA had multiple vendors bidding, so prices were competitive, but designing, building and maintaining a private radio network with radios, PLCs, power supplies, installation and maintenance was expensive.

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