Guilderland spends $100K on new water-monitoring system

— Photo from San Antonio Water
AMI meters, like this one in San Antonio, provide daily water reads that show hourly consumption over a 24-hour period. Guilderland plans to install the advanced metering infrastructure, starting in McKownville.

GUILDERLAND — The town board here on March 7 unanimously approved spending up to $100,000 from its Water Capital Improvement Reserve for a new water and wastewater monitoring system to be supplied by a new vendor.

The board was informed that the need was “urgent” and there were risks for public health.

“The SCADA system operates and enables the operation of the water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant,” Jesse Fraine, the town engineer, told the board last Tuesday.

SCADA, which stands for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition, involves both software and hardware components to allow remote and on-site gathering of information.

For the Guilderland system, Fraine said, this would involve monitoring filters, chlorination, pumps, and water towers. “It allows control and observation of that with data coming back,” he said.

The current vendor, he said, “dropped service of the current system that we have.”

“We now find ourselves in a situation with hardware breakdowns and out of date software,” Bill Bremigen, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for water and wastewater management, wrote in a March 1 memo to Supervisor Peter Barber and the town board members.

An earlier, Feb. 21, memo noted that the SCADA software currently runs on six servers at the town’s two plants — servers that have an outdated operating system and an end-of-life date of May 2023.

“A simple operating system upgrade is not possible with this complex system and a complete rebuild is required,” the memo said. 

As of late January 2023, the current vendor, Avanti Control Systems, dropped support of Guilderland entirely, the memo said, citing problems the town had had with the company.

“This recent development has left the town in a precarious situation,” the Feb. 21 memo continued. “The need is urgent and this unexpected situation creates a risk for health, public safety, and the conservation of public resources.”

Hence the town settled on a new vendor, AquaLogics Systems Inc., based in Syracuse, which the memo said “came highly recommended and has a viable solution that will provide a cost effective solution going forward.”

A “simple workstation with backup” is to replace “multiple expensive short-life servers,” the memo said.

The costs listed by AquaLogics total $83,426.48 with two optional expenditures: about $7,000 for alarm software and about $5,000 for reporter software.

Of these last two options, Fraine said, “We have stuff that currently we can try to integrate into the new system. And, if that integrates smoothly, we won’t need those items. If it doesn’t, we will need to work with getting those updated as well.”

Councilwoman Amanda Beedle asked about the lifespan of the new technology and recommended budgeting ahead, suggesting, “Software technology usually has a five-year useful life.”

Fraine said, “It would be typically longer than that” but he didn’t have a specific end-of-life date.

“Right now, we’re left with kind of our underbelly exposed because May of 2023, that software, hardware has to be extremely outdated,” said Beedle.

“Yes, so there wasn’t a town-wide update of SCADA for quite a while now ….,” Fraine responded. “It’s definitely a needed upgrade, even regardless of the existing provider kind of backing out on us.”

Fraine said that AquaLogics was “pretty much ready to go” and the work would be moving forward “within the next few months.”

Barber noted that the money being spent on AquaLogics is for the “water side” because “the sewer side is coming out of operating revenue.”

Councilwoman Christine Napierski thanked Bremigen for answering her questions earlier.

“He made a comment to me that, for years we’ve been updating the system piecemeal …,” Napierski said. “We could continue to do that but it would be actually more expensive than getting a new system altogether and we have no way of knowing if the piecemeal upgrades are even going to work.”

Fraine agreed. With piecemeal upgrades, he said, “You always run the risk of a kind of incompatibility.”


Water meters to be replaced

Councilwoman Rosemary Centi asked if the water meters put in more than 20 years ago needed replacing.

Fraine responded, “Most meters are 20ish years for service life … That is one of the projects we are trying to forward this year. We will be looking to get and secure funding to do that.”

He noted that, when a new housing development is built in town, the developer is responsible for supplying each house with a meter.

“What we want to do with the water-meter project is go back and replace everybody’s meter that already has a meter,” said Fraine.

The plan, he said, is “to move from an AMR to an AMI system.”

An automatic message recording (AMR) meter has a short-range radio transmitter that lets an official who is driving by or walking by collect the data to charge the water customer.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), on the other hand, is a two-way communication between the network and the metering equipment that automatically transmits data directly to the utility.

“It’s a continuous read,” said Fraine. “So you can basically near real time monitor water usage.” He also said that a town worker would no longer need to drive by to get meter readings.

Barber said that phasing in the new meters would probably start in McKownville, “where the meters are likely to be older because the homes are older” and then move west where more modern homes have been built.

“Some of them may be built within the last 20 years and have the upgraded [meters] already,” said Barber.

At the very end of the meeting, Barber noted that Guilderland’s longtime superintendent for water and wastewater management, Tim McIntyre, was retiring and praised his work.

McIntyre took a water system with “serious issues,” both in terms of capacity and quality, and “came up with an action plan,” said Barber.

He also said McIntyre “secured a new connection with the town of Rotterdam, which provides clean aquifer water that does not require treatment.”

Finally, he said, “Tim was a real leader for his department. He brought in great people … If you’re a department head, if you leave the department better when you left than when you arrived, you did a great job. So my hat’s off to Tim for a job well done.”


Other business

In other business at its March 7 meeting, the Guilderland Town Board:

— Heard separately from two residents, John Haluska and Gerd Beckmann, their concerns about preparedness for train derailments locally in the wake of the catastrophe in East Palestine, Ohio.

Haluska, who had earlier outlined his concerns in a letter to the Enterprise editor, suggested a committee including town, county, and state leaders, be formed to look into the matter;

— Also heard from Beckmann his concerns about a “hazardous road condition on Route 20,” which he described as a “manhole pothole” or “sinking manhole” that damaged his car. He described it as being “smackdab in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk” and was concerned it could cause injury;

— Unanimously voted to increase hourly wages for town workers. At the bottom of the scale, seasonal laborers will earn $15 an hour. At the top of the scale is the chief water treatment plant operator at $30 an hour.

Department heads were having trouble filling positions, said Barber. “We’re being outbid by fast-food places and Targets and whatnot …,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we get good quality candidates. Our goal is to hire these laborers and give them a path forward”;

— Designated Saturday, April 15, and Saturday, Oct. 28, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. as the dates and times for Household Hazardous Waste Disposal events at the town’s highway garage.

Napierski asked about offering document-shredding again. Barber said that would depend on getting a vendor at “a reasonable cost,” which he said is “almost impossible.” He also said people weren’t participating as much because many now have home shredders; and

— Heard from Barber that residents wishing to dispose of debris from the recent snowstorm do not have to bag the debris or cut it into five-foot lengths. He advised, “Put the debris at the edge of the property, but not on the road surface.”

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