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Wonderful world of wireless

Adoption of new technology often proceeds on an uneven pace.

Adoption of new technology often proceeds on an uneven pace.

Sometimes a dramatic example of a new technology’s usefulness is needed for it to reach a “tipping point,” beyond which growth is almost explosive. Sometimes it needs adoption by some well-known people so that it becomes a fad.

Wireless communication has been with us for a long time — first with radio. Some of our older residents, and many folks from England, still call a radio “the wireless.” Television is an offshoot of wireless radio.

When cell phones first came along, they were about as portable as your average brick. But they soon got smaller and lighter, and the market exploded. Now, wireless devices of all kinds are everywhere.

But municipalities have been slow to see the advantages of wireless communications, with elected officials often needing a bit of a push from engineering staffs that quickly spotted the time- and money-saving potential of automated monitoring systems tied into wireless communication.

One city that has decided to go heavily into wireless is Evansville, Indiana, a smallish city on the Ohio River. With 58,000 customers for its water and sewer utility, it faced a problem.

About 60 per cent of the city’s sewers are combined sewers, which means heavy rainfalls can cause sewer overflows. That’s problem enough. But there is also a federal regulation that requires the city to notify anyone who asks about the occurrence of such overflows. So the city put together a system that would do that.

Now, though, looking farther ahead, the city has decided to establish a citywide wireless broadband network to provide an instant alert should there be an “event” at any of the 24 combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

The network, or “canopy,” is to be in place by this autumn, and it opens the door to a lot of things besides monitoring CSOs and alerting officials and customers.

“We have flow meters in each CSO, and they are wireless right now,” Harry Lawson told me during a recent telephone conversation. But because they are still on an old wireless system, “you have to be in close proximity to download the data.”

Lawson, who is manager of the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility, said with the ‘canopy’ system, “we’ll be able to download the data in real time to a sequel server at a data centre.

“We have a website that will use this real-time data to update a map that shows where all the CSOs are. Customers can go to the website and see at a glance where overflows are occurring because those CSOs will be illuminated in red.”

The new system also “gives us the ability to automatically send e-mails or voice messages to cell phones of people who wanted to be notified of a CSO event.”

A new law in the U.S. requires water operators to monitor chlorine residuals in water distribution systems. In Evansville, those monitors will provide the data in real time through the new wireless system.

The utility will also be able to monitor lift stations on the sewer system.

Lawson is particularly excited on a move the utility is making toward wireless collection of data from water meters rather than send meter readers to do the job.

“We’ll start with our industrial water meters and collect data in real time,” he said. “And then we’ll start converting our residential water meters so we can get the data accurately and with full coverage across the system.

“That’s going to be very valuable to the utility.”

A lot of this is still in the future, although Lawson said the city is moving steadily in that direction.

Any consulting or municipal engineers, other civic officials or elected officials who are curious to see the CSO system in action, they are welcome, he said, to go to the dedicated website and have a look at

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to

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