For the City of Galveston, Texas, summer 2022 marked the biggest vacation season since before the COVID-19 pandemic, ballooning the island’s population from 50,000 to 250,000 between May and September. While the volume of water was not a problem, the City’s water utility struggled to get water to shifting areas of high demand.
Pressure monitors proved to be a key element of the solution.
Wrestling with a Legacy System
In early 2021, the City of Galveston water utility was operating with an out of service SCADA system that was mostly manually controlled and dictated by adverse events such as pump stations going down, main water breaks, tank overflows and pressure spikes and sags, all of which created an environment characterized by emergencies, inefficiency, negative customer feedback and high call volume. The utility’s SCADA data acquisition system had been offline for some time, and so operations were largely controlled without much data insight.
In fall 2021, the utility reached out to a trusted manufacturer’s representative, HydroPro Solutions, which then turned to Syrinix about piloting its PIPEMINDER pressure monitors, which was good timing in light of the City’s growing customer complaints about water pressure. The director of public works and utilities agreed to the pilot, and in September 2021, three PIPEMINDER units were installed, followed by six additional, which were placed in various trouble spots across Galveston Island. As these began to deliver increased visibility of the system, the utility also launched an initiative to get the SCADA system back online, which was completed in the spring 2022.
Post-pandemic Vacationers Push the Utility Past its Limits
Enter the summer 2022, when vacation crowds descended on Galveston in a manner not seen since pre-pandemic days. Cruise liners arrived to refill their water tanks, guests packed into hotel rooms, restaurants filled with customers, hospitals returned to normal treatment and operations of patients, and suddenly the utility began to have significant demand issues and became inundated with calls about low water pressure. Getting better, real-time information from the water distribution system became a top priority.
It was at this time that the City of Galveston realized they had the exact tools they needed to solve their problems: a network of Syrinix PIPEMINDER-ONE Hydrant mounted pressure monitors and a working SCADA data acquisition system. Now with a total of 12 PIPEMINDER pressure monitors, the City strategically redeployed them to targeted hotspots up and down the 32-mile coastline and saw with great clarity how the information they had been receiving could help them understand system pressure and better control water traffic.
Coordination of Components to Optimize the Water System
First, the utility increased the frequency of data delivery from the pressure monitors, which showed the impact of their actions, such as turning on and off pumps and opening and closing valves.
Second, the utility made some adjustments to its SCADA system, which at the time was only looking at existing pressure monitors right outside the pump stations and which did not account for pressure issues elsewhere in the system. This setup also meant that if one pump station lost power, entire zones lost system pressure.
Third, what the utility learned from the increased visibility between the PIPEMINDER pressure monitors and recalibrated SCADA system allowed it to make major operational changes that previously were considered too risky, due to the lack of information. This included being able to run both its east end pump stations simultaneously, which greatly increased the capacity of the existing system.
Finally, the utility learned how to optimize the alert system that would help them solve problems before they impacted the customer.
The above-described process took about six weeks, an information overhaul for the City of Galveston that improved resilience and delivered significant benefits for the water utility and its customers. Thanks to remarkably better data, the utility now can lose power at one pump station but maintain pressure throughout the system.
As an example, a power surge from the local power utility caused the unmanned pump station to shut down in mid-July 2022. A PIPEMINDER pressure monitor near that pump station alerted the utility when the pressure fell below a preset threshold of 40 PSI, and technicians were dispatched to the station, determined the cause of the problem and restarted the pumps, getting the station back online.
But in the meantime, due to optimization adjustments already in place to coordinate the SCADA system and the pressure monitors, the overall system maintained pressure with water from a small, elevated storage tank and when that water ran low, another pump station compensated for the loss of the initial pump station until power was restored. This all happened so quickly that customers were never aware of a problem.
The utility also now has a much better grasp on the water “habits” of the island, such as the irrigation schedules of large subdivisions and the cadence of cruise ships coming into port, knowledge that is helping them adjust their patterns to prevent pressure loss in other parts of the system due to these demand spikes.
Another benefit from the increased system visibility was the ability to test certain parts of the system with less fear of failure. The network of pipes, pumps and valves is aging, and being able to isolate specific parts to check their functionality has been especially valuable with regard to being able to plan system improvements.
From a customer service perspective, the utility experienced a 63 percent decrease in low pressure calls between the month of July 2021 and July 2022.
“The Syrinix pressure monitors with our SCADA system together allowed us to really understand how we could best operate our system,” said Trino Pedraza, director of public works & utilities for the City of Galveston. “In doing so, we have been able to reroute water, stabilize pressure and create backups for every station, achieving much greater resilience and essentially eliminating customer complaints about low pressure.”
Sold on the value of the pressure monitors to help engineers manage water traffic and minimize breaks, the City of Galveston plans to expand the network of PIPEMINDER pressure monitors to get complete system visibility. Additionally, engineers are looking forward to using the pressure monitors to study and track transient behavior and better understand the occurrence of water hammers. Finally, the utility will soon add Syrinix water quality monitors to keep an eye on disinfection throughout the distribution system.