Does Your Monitoring Program Have A Side-Hustle?

Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial and hit the job market in the time of the gig economy – but I’m a big fan of the side hustle. And I think even if you don’t have one, it’s really a shame if your monitoring program doesn’t. The advent of real-time, cloud-based monitoring opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The days of paying thousands for an expensive piece of equipment to sit around and only occasionally provide useful data are gone! If you’re smart (and we know you are 😉) you can lay out a monitoring network to get the most bang for your buck.  Here, we’ll explore a few of the possibilities:

Stormwater is the only growing source of surface water pollution year after year, and outfalls are where the buck stops. So, not surprisingly, one of the most commonly monitored locations are outfalls to surface waters. Whether as part of a CSO Long Term Control Plan, TMDL compliance, or municipal planning efforts, we are becoming increasingly aware that we need more detailed and accurate information about what is flowing into our waters.  But why limit outfall monitoring efforts to storm-related flows? Once a real-time, continuous network has been established, why not use that data to screen for dry weather flows as well? If a network incorporates the proper analytics, it is possible to flag and quantify flows during dry weather as well. This prospect can be a huge relief for municipalities who are struggling to detect and eliminate illicit flows, but have been restricted to visual assessments (because who has the money to dedicate monitoring equipment to sit and wait for a dry weather flow? NO ONE! Until now, of course…). Once a dry weather flow has been detected, it can be quickly sampled and dealt with, eliminating possibly damaging ecological side effects.

Pro Tip: Placement is KEY when you’re putting your monitoring network on double-duty. We suggest starting with priority outfalls from a regulatory standpoint. It’s also a good idea to place a sensor upstream of an outfall where possible to confirm any findings, especially in regions where outfall flows can fluctuate due to tidal or other inputs. When you’re ready to expand your network,  focus on outfalls in sub-sewersheds with aging infrastructure and/or land uses that tend to be “hot spots” for illicit discharges, such as industrial zones. Find a “hot-spot”? GOOD NEWS! You’ve got pre-construction data for the BMP you’ll put in place to address it.

As we may have mentioned once or twice before, lots of stormwater management these days is based on model predictions. Aging infrastructure and a changing climate have paved the way for many regions to recognize the need to update and validate their models. This requires gathering empirical data throughout the stormwater system. Model validation can be done on a city-wide scale, or on a smaller scale, focusing on problem areas. Either way: why save all that great data for the office nerds? The data provided by real-time monitoring networks can be used IN REAL TIME! These networks are distributed perfectly to be utilized as real-time preventative maintenance tools. Provided the proper analytics have been applied, these networks can alert field crews to potential clogs, overflows, or flooding events in enough time that they can be dealt with before they cause expensive, and potentially dangerous, damage. These data can also provide peace of mind and eliminate the need for frequent maintenance trips when the system is flowing smoothly.

Pro Tip: If your budget is tight, we recommend starting with a targeted validation effort, focusing on problem areas that you know require structural improvements (we’re willing to bet this is where most of your maintenance concerns are piling up too). Though it is tempting to gather data during a brief validation period and then move the sensors to another location, we recommend leaving a real-time network in place and expanding on that network as your budget allows to achieve a continuous validation and preventative maintenance program. A recent EPA study has shown that networks put to work in this way more than pay for themselves.

OK, how many times have you gone to grab the data from a BMP you’re monitoring and then had to sit there digging through reams of data (and yes, if you’re using older equipment, it’s literally reams of data!). What is the baseline flow? When did it start raining? When did flow at the inlet pick up, and for how long? Calculate the total flow for the event, then move on to the outflow. It can take hours to complete this process for larger BMPs with multiple in-and-outflows. Although most of us were told there would be math when we accepted our jobs, we can probably think of a few things we’d rather be doing. Real-time monitoring networks with the proper analytics can keep track of baseline flows throughout your system, pinpoint the exact time a flow event starts and stops, and even calculate flows for you, leaving your mind (and time!) free to further evaluate results and dive into other aspects of the project.

Pro Tip: No one is questioning your ability (or desire) to do the math, but there are always some situations where getting accurate flow values seems impossible.  Real-time analytics systems with quantitative capabilities are a wonderful tool to tackle these areas with tricky flow situations such as fluctuating tides, intruding groundwater, or backflow from streams.

So, are you convinced your monitoring program could get off the couch a do a bit more for you? We’d love to talk! At StormSensor, we are focused on providing affordable real-time monitoring networks and analytics. Our team has seen just about everything the stormwater world has to offer and is happy to help you design a program with a side hustle (or two!) that maximizes your efforts.

About the author

Suzie Housley

Suzie has over a decade of experience in the Stormwater industry including both government and academic work. She leans on her experience to meaningfully interpret scientific studies and government policies to communicate a practical message. Suzie lives just outside Nashville, TN and gets outside whenever she can to explore nature with her husband and two small children.