Milwaukee wastewater treatment plant at night

The term “innovation” may elicit images of high-tech companies and modern office spaces, but it actually applies to a wider range of industries.

Even though a wastewater treatment plant might not have beanbag chairs, a catered cafeteria or rooms just for thinking, it still generates innovation – especially at Veolia project sites.

One such project exists between Veolia North America and a Boston startup called OptiRTC.

Fresh Coast 740

In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and Veolia North America just renewed one of the nation’s largest public-private partnerships for wastewater treatment. As an element of this partnership, MMSD and Veolia are also working together to identify opportunities for innovation that could yield better service for the community.

One of these opportunities is known as Fresh Coast 740, an initiative that serves to capture the first half-inch of rainfall from all impervious surfaces. Within a 411-square-mile planning area, that adds up to 740 million gallons of water that doesn’t require wastewater treatment, contribute to combined sewer overflows or otherwise strain the system.

Capturing rainfall from impervious surfaces is referred to as “green infrastructure,” which, although great for the environment and bottom line, can be difficult to manage and measure. A new element of Fresh Coast 740 – and the result of collaboration between Veolia, MMSD and OptiRTC – is a system called Rain:Net, which received funding last year for involvement in the Clean Water Technology Pilot Development Program by The Water Council.

Here’s a bit on OptiRTC’s core business:

From the Clouds to the Cloud

The pilot program for Rain:Net in Milwaukee includes 11 different green infrastructure sites, including five biofiltration sites, five green roofs and one cistern. Using Rain:Net, these 11 different green infrastructure installations can all be monitored through one central cloud-based dashboard that gathers the information needed to ensure performance and support operations and maintenance.

Using wet weather sensors, tipping buckets, weather forecasts, water level sensors and even satellite spectral analysis, Rain:Net sends information to the cloud, where a custom algorithm presents the data in an easy-to-use online dashboard. By having access to this kind of information, cities can determine if a given site is prepared for a rain event, respond in advance if needed and improve the effectiveness of its green infrastructure.

Using Rain:Net to Renew a Brownfield

What does this look like in action? That’s where the second phase of the project comes in: Cream City Farms, a former brownfield site in Milwaukee, has been remediated for use as an urban farm, with a 40,000-gallon cistern underneath the field. The original design for the cistern incorporated a passive release to empty the tank which prohibited the farmer from using the water when it was needed.

Using Rain:Net and a controlled release, however, the cistern will instead hold water that can then irrigate the crops, as well as prepare for a rain event by releasing water to ensure there is room in the tank. Because Rain:Net can send alerts, utility employees don’t have to remember to check on this or any other actively controlled green infrastructure sites to make sure they’re prepared.

Though this pilot project is still underway, innovation is already showing promise. For more information on how your wastewater utility can innovate, learn more here and contact us today.

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