Is the Magmeter Half Full or Half Empty?

Dec. 21, 2009

Sewer Authority Employs Technology to Solve Wastewater Overflow Problem

That interesting twist on an old cliché is an apt question to ask the people of a certain town in Schuylkill County, Pa.

With a little bit of background, the reasons for posing the half-full/half-empty question become abundantly clear. The town was experiencing a serious problem with wastewater overflow – not a complete surprise, given that the sewers themselves had been built back in the 1800s. These were not plastic or even metal pipes, but rather the four-foot-diameter pipes were fashioned out of good, old-fashioned masonry.

For as many years as anyone can recall, raw sewage was being transported via the sewers and dumped straight into an open creek. Eventually, due to environmental concerns, state and federal regulations required the water be treated before being discharged. Consequently, in the 1970s an interceptor pipe was installed, which would grab a portion of this flow and send it to a recently built wastewater treatment plant.

Understanding the Problem

Although the interceptor pipe remedied some of the problem, the solution had a serious flaw. The issue arose whenever there was a sizable rainstorm; in such instances, the interceptor system would bring an overabundance of storm overflow to the plant, which wasn’t designed to handle the increased water volume. As a result, the plant would flood out, leading to some unpleasant scenarios – legal and otherwise.

"During high water events, the wastewater treatment plant was being flooded out, causing untreated or partially treated water to enter nearby streams," says Richard Lowrie, water and wastewater industry manager for KROHNE, a provider of measurement instrumentation for the process industries. "This would result in fines from the state regulating agencies, not to mention the unfortunate impact on the environment."

Obviously, since nothing could be done to change the weather, a solution had to be devised that would control the flow of water to the wastewater treatment plant, particularly during heavy storms. The key was regulating the initial flow of water into the interceptor system that fed the wastewater treatment plant.

To begin designing a viable solution, the city turned to Buchart-Horn of York, Pa., a full-service engineering and architectural firm. The firm answered a Request for Proposal (RFP) to perform an update of the city’s 537 Plan. The Act 537 Program is the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, which was enacted on January 24, 1966. Its purpose is to correct existing sewage disposal problems and prevent future problems. To meet this objective, the Act requires proper planning in all types of sewage disposal situations.

The environmental impact of nontreated or undertreated water entering the streams in Schuylkill County, Pa., has been greatly reduced thanks to the implementation of KROHNE magmeters for a wastewater treatment plant application.

"The 537 plan is approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection," said Bruce Hulshizer, a senior engineer with Buchart-Horn and a project manager for sewer and water projects. "That’s basically saying ‘This is what we’re going to do for our sewer needs.’ Apparently, the DEP wasn’t satisfied with the way things were going, and they weren’t going to meet their consent order, so that pulled us in."

Technology Offers a Solution

As part of the solution arrived at by Buchart-Horn, KROHNE was brought in to provide a technical component to address the improvements that needed to be made to the collection system. That component would ultimately form the centerpiece of the answer to the previously noted half-full/half-empty question.

The component consisted of partially filled electromagnetic flowmeters (magmeters) to measure the lower normal flows and the higher flows during high water events. By using partially filled magmeters, the city is able to measure the normal flows, which would not keep a typical magmeter filled, and also handle the higher flowrates in very rainy conditions. This would mean the storm water flow in high-water events could be diverted away from the plant and into nearby waterways, solving the issue of plant overload. When the flowrates reached a preset flow, it was assumed that flow would consist of stormwater runoff, and thus could be safely diverted away from the treatment plants. When normal flowrates resumed, the flow was then directed back to the treatment plant.

"The city had a combined system, comprised from stormwater and sanitary flow," said Hulshizer. "In order to have such a system, you have to have control structures that basically separate sanitary flow out away from a pre-designated amount of flow. After that, it would be storm flow, so you’d have to have some way of dividing the two. That’s where partially full magmeters came in."

KROHNE’s electromagnetic flowmeters can be used in almost all branches of industry for the measurement of liquids (with or without solids content), pulps, pastes and other fluids that have a specific minimum of electric conductivity. They also offer sophisticated electronics for reliability and repeatability even under difficult process conditions. All KROHNE magmeters are wet-calibrated by direct comparison of volumes.

For this project, Buchart-Horn chose 21 of KROHNE’s TIDALFLUX line of electromagnetic flowmeters. KROHNE’s TIDALFLUX flowmeters are combined with a capacitive flow-level measuring system, built into the wall of the measuring tube, thus providing accurate flow measurements in partially filled pipelines, with levels between 10 percent and 100 percent of the pipe cross-section. TIDALFLUX flowmeters offer precise factory calibration to ensure a high level of measurement accuracy in partially filled pipelines. Featuring abrasion and chemical resistance, the flowmeters’ steady display of measured values is achieved regardless of rough product surfaces and distorted flow profiles.

Two different manufacturers bid on this part of the project, but KROHNE was the only manufacturer able to supply magmeters in the larger diameters necessary for the application. KROHNE also had an existing installation base to use as a reference for performance of partially filled magmeters.

Positive Application Results
In the end, the load on the wastewater treatment plant was substantially reduced in high water events, allowing the plant to operate within its specified ranges. Further, the environmental impact of nontreated or undertreated water entering the streams from the plant has been greatly reduced.

"It’s been a long process to where the city has come in terms of its wastewater treatment, but it has been a very effective solution," said Hulshizer. "And the KROHNE magmeters proved to be a critical element."

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