Aug 17, 2020

Combatting CSOs

Albany, New York, tackles sewage pollution with high-tech wet weather tracking


Storm water management is an increasingly challenging requirement. Sea-level rise, increased frequency and intensity of storms, and the continuing urbanization of our landscape mean more and more people, property and critical infrastructure are subjected to the potential of flooding. As regulatory scrutiny is increased, the need for understanding real-time conditions of sewers continues to grow. Despite this, storm water and sanitary sewer systems may be some of the least technologically sophisticated systems in the utility’s arsenal. However, the development of operational controls, such as Continuous Monitoring and Adaptive Control (CMAC), as well as insights into maintenance activities and early detection and warning of impending flooding, can help optimize the performance of the wastewater system and increase the amount of information and data known about the underground system. In the city of Albany, the Albany Water Board addresses the challenges of combined sewer overflows (CSO), flooding and the necessity to report sewage discharges in accordance with New York state’s Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act (SPRKT) of 2013 with monitoring and CMAC technology.

The Problem

The city of Albany has had continuous challenges with CSO and flooding. Many of these inevitable challenges, including the mitigation of flooding and combined sewage surface discharges during storms, the reporting of wet weather CSOs to comply with SPRKT, compliance with the requirements for new development in combined sewer areas, tracking dry weather flows and available dry weather capacity, planning sewer separation projects, planning flood mitigation projects, developing flood mitigation measures for a higher level of service and finding the funds to do the projects, can be extremely difficult to overcome. The increasing volatility of the water cycle is resulting in more frequent and more intense flooding conditions – and these are becoming more difficult to predict and manage. This increase in storm water volume and velocity is placing more pressure on municipal infrastructure and by extension, impacting municipal finances. Heavy rainfall can create intense and destructive flash floods. Because the city lacked a system-wide view of the condition of their canal network, their workers were constantly on the road checking the status of their infrastructure and attempting to prepare for upcoming events. They were constantly finding themselves in a reactive mode, struggling to react quickly enough to protect their city.

smartcover CSO
The dashboard shows live, on-site cameras that monitor the constructed flood overflow areas.

The Solution

The city of Albany decided to replace the human-centric decision and reaction system with one based on data, information and control. The board chose to address the presented problems by deploying monitoring technology from SmartCover. This patented technology remotely monitors the sewers and relays data using satellite communication to give constant updates of the dynamic conditions within the sewage system. The sensors feed the data to the SmartCover software platform, which integrates with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) rainfall information, regional radar data and tidal information and works hand in hand with the city’s SCADA system. SmartCover monitors both flow and sewer water levels while tracking trends within these data sets. These adaptive controls have fast-tracked the city of Albany’s response time, allowing changes in conditions to be monitored in near real-time, while reducing the uncertainty around the conditions in the flood control network. SmartCover has proved to be invaluable in identifying conditions that could both cause irregular readings and restrict system performance. 

city of albany SCADA
The data provided allows the city to uphold the standards of Sewage Pollution Right to Know.
sewage pollution
SmartCover and Opti give insight into maintenance activities and allow for early detection of impending flooding.

“They help us understand how the system operates,” said Bill Simcoe, P.E. and the deputy commissioner for the city of Albany. “It has come in very handy when we are looking at needing to make repairs on trunk sewers and determining what amount of bypass pipe pumping is going to be required to do a repair.”

The city of Albany also decided to employ CMAC technology from Opti to work in conjunction with SmartCover to enhance the performance of their wastewater system. The Opti dashboard shows live, on-site cameras that monitor the constructed flood overflow areas. It also gives the lake water levels and volume of water that is in storage, as well as rainfall levels and forecasted precipitation. This data is analyzed and actively controls the discharge of water through the system’s outflow valve, reducing CSOs and flooding. 

underground cistern
Instead of monitoring, the city built new green infrastructure for flood mitigation and combined sewer discharges.

Both systems, SmartCover and Opti, give insights into maintenance activities and allow for early detection and warning of impending flooding. They make it possible to carry out other emergency actions, such as evacuations or barricades of streets, in a timely manner. With a real-time view into their systems, the city of Albany can make adaptive decisions in advance of storm events.

“Real-time monitoring provides a lot of benefits for better operations, maintenance and inspection,” Simcoe added. “We get immediate identification and advanced notice so we don’t find things accidentally. We see them because we have remote sensing and alarms.”

The data and information given by SmartCover and Opti also helps the city of Albany uphold the standards of SPRKT – requiring untreated and partially treated sewage discharges to be reported to the DEC within two hours of discovery and to the public within four  hours of discovery. The date, time, location, duration, volume, treated state and reason of the discharge must be reported to the fullest extent knowable. Because of the underground, invisible nature of sewer systems, this information can be difficult to get. However, with the monitoring and CMAC technology integration with the city of Albany website, they are not only preventing CSO and flooding activity but providing ample information concerning these discharges. 

“The city of Albany is deploying SmartCover so that we’re monitoring combined sewer overflow on a real-time basis,” Simcoe said. “That lets us report on what’s referred to as New York alert, which is our reporting monitoring system for the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act.”

Further than using monitoring and CMAC technology, the city of Albany built new, green infrastructure for flood mitigation and combined sewage discharges. They constructed the Ryckman Alley Wetlands, the Hansen Alley Underground Cistern System and the Washington Park Lake in order to help contain excessive water during flooding. Both SmartCover and Opti are used to collect data on the new landscapes as well.

The Ryckman Alley Wetlands, the Hansen Alley Underground Cistern System and the Washington Park Lake were constructed in order to help contain excessive water during flooding.

Next Steps

Going forward, the city of Albany’s next steps are to expand upon the use of their collected data. “From all this data collection, we’ve had a big impact in regard to review of capabilities for new facilities and mitigation of overflows,” Simcoe said.

They plan to incorporate additional metering equipment for calibration of measures and CSO reporting and recording purposes. They also plan to expand their green infrastructure and CMAC technology to further enhance the performance of their collection system.  

About the author

Philip Brenner is SmartCover regional manager and civil engineer. Brenner can be reached at [email protected].