Replacing Crisis Response with Crisis Readiness

Urban areas are extremely sensitive to weather-driven events due to the unique characteristics of urban soil, land use and higher population densities. When the Mississippi and Missouri rivers overflowed their banks in the spring of 2011, the resulting floods were among the worst in the century, causing countless personal tragedies along with billions of dollars in property damage and business and traffic interruptions. With the prediction of changing weather patterns that could lead to even more flooding in 2012, accurate weather forecasts and comprehensive stormwater management plans are critical elements of any community?s crisis response plan.

Council Bluffs, Iowa, is located just outside of Omaha and home to 62,000 citizens. Like other municipalities, the city?s wastewater treatment plant is responsible for proper treatment of storm water as well as domestic and industrial wastewater before it is discharged to the Missouri River. However, heavy rain presents a challenge for the treatment plant, which typically processes 7 to 8 million gallons per day (mgd) but might operate closer to its 12.5-mgd capacity when heavy rain sends excess storm water through the collection system.

Pumping station operators, who are responsible for sending all water to the treatment plant and for maintaining the levee stations at the river, need to be informed when such conditions are expected so they can prepare by opening and closing valves appropriately. In the winter, advance notification of storms is needed to help treatment plant staff to prepare for the snow removal that is vital in getting employees to various facilities and keeping pumping stations operating smoothly.

Industry Leading Weather Forecasts

With so much riding on accurate, advance warning of impending weather events, the Council Bluffs plant relies on the comprehensive weather radar and forecasting services provided by Telvent DTN. Independently rated as the most accurate in the industry for the past five years, these forecasts are the result of sophisticated technology that employs numerical weather prediction models, on-the-ground sensor networks and remote sensing input via satellite and radar. A team of 50 professional meteorologists monitor forecasts 24 hours a day, focusing on how weather conditions are likely to change over the course of time and geography. The process is completed every hour based on the latest observations from the field and the most recent forecast data available ? providing operators with forecasts that are highly localized and extremely accurate.

With industry leading forecasts at their fingertips, the staff at the Council Bluffs Wastewater Treatment Plant always knows when to expect rain ? and how much. Knowing the accurate timing and specific location of an oncoming storm helps operators work efficiently and safely, avoid operational upsets and provide optimum public service.

?When we see rain forecasts, we let the guys at the pumping station know so they can open valves to grit chambers that are not currently being used,? said Dan West, chief operator for the Council Bluffs Wastewater Treatment Plant. ?The pumping station staff needs to make sure the generators are on, valves are open and all other necessary actions are taken prior to the storm. Accurate precipitation forecasts also improve staffing efficiency. Knowing when we can expect rain helps me schedule my team?s daily activities. We can make arrangements for more guys if necessary and save valuable time during severe weather.?

Benefits of Intelligent Stormwater Management Solutions

Accurate, real-time weather forecasts are just one critical element of the more comprehensive, intelligent stormwater management systems that can help cities monitor and optimize their complete collection and flooding mitigation systems. For example, state-of-the-art industry solutions such as the stormwater management solution of Telvent?s Smart Water Networks (SWN) provide accurate modeling of stormwater and wastewater operations and the predicted effects of weather and pollution on urban drainage systems, city streets and receiving water bodies. They do so by combining weather forecasting, hydraulic models of the sewer/stormwater systems and real-time monitoring of sewer system conditions via advanced telemetry networks. The resulting simulation provides an easily understood, comprehensive map of the local flooding/overflow potential. Individual alerts also can be configured to initiate efficient and effective responses when flooding is imminent.

Intelligent stormwater management solutions like this provide customers with an invaluable Decision Support System (DSS) that helps employees quickly implement the best practices and deploy valuable human resources when and where they are needed most. Using an integrated DSS for wastewater and hydrology also helps municipal agencies respect the strict safety and compliance regulations set by the EPA.

Weather forecasts for 2012 are predicting conditions that could lead to more flooding and budget forecasts nationwide are predicting less money for many municipalities. Therefore, utilities are looking for cost-effective ways to plan for and mitigate the personal and structural costs associated with extreme weather events. Reliable, real-time weather forecasts as part of a larger, intelligent stormwater management solution can mean the difference between crisis preparedness and prevention, versus just the traditional ? and costly ? crisis response.

Jim Foerster is the Director of Product Management and Weather Services for Telvent. He can be reached at

Carmen DeMiguel is the Product Manager of Wastewater and Hydrology at Telvent and can be reached at

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