Water System Telemetry 'Inadequate'

By David Collins

July 14, 2008 The Santa Fe New Mexican


Real-time and historical information about El Dorado water supplies is available on the Internet — if you want to know about water supplies in the El Dorado Irrigation District, in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

In New Mexico's Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District, which supplies water to about 2,900 homes southeast of Santa Fe, when tanks were unexpectedly drained of about half of the district's stored water around May 10, most district customers didn't learn about it until some two weeks later.

The local Eldorado water district said in July 3 response to a request to inspect public records that it would cost thousands of dollars to produce a copy of available electronic data detailing pumping activity and well levels in the troubled system. New Mexico law requires municipal governments to provide copies of databases in usable electronic formats to anyone who agrees to pay the cost of copying the data.

A spokesman for the Albuquerque firm that supplied the telemetry equipment to the Eldorado water district said the system is not configured to store any more information than that on small (1MB) memory devices connected to 14 telemetry units located at wells and booster-pump stations along 110 miles of system pipes.

The district's board of directors has recently discussed upgrading the local telemetry system. Secretary Stephen Wust said board discussion of an upgrade focuses on a replacement.

"The one we have is inadequate," Wust said. "We are all in favor of investigating that."

The El Dorado Irrigation District in California faces problems similar to those of the district that serves Eldorado at Santa Fe. Each inherited an older system formerly run by a private company. Each this year declared an emergency after leaking valves threatened stored water supplies.

In Eldorado, three leaking air-release valves spilled an undetermined amount of water from pipes intended to refill storage tanks during May and June. The California irrigation district faces the potential uncontrolled loss from lakes of about five times Eldorado's annual water use if aged, leaking outflow valves there were to fail.

The online water-level data in the California irrigation district lets anyone involved immediately monitor changes in that precarious system. Eldorado water-district officials have intermittently placed information about tank levels and pumping activity on the district Web site. The local reports appear online only after data has been manually transcribed from reports produced by the telemetry system, according to the district's written response, Wust and the Albuquerque firm that supplied the system.

Richard Derbin, electric division manager at Alpha Southwest in Albuquerque, said the Eldorado telemetry system could be configured to provide almost real-time water-system information to the public. He said Tesco Controls, the company whose products he supplies to Eldorado, told him it has never been asked to configure its software to provide information to the public over the Internet.

"Normally, that is not something that is publicly requested," Derbin said.

A spokesman at the California firm that supplies the software collecting real-time data about at-risk lakes in the El Dorado Irrigation District said his company supplies systems that support real-time Web access

"Our systems are built from the ground up based on the Internet. Others are built on older types of technology," said Jim Meisler, senior account executive at Inductive Automation in Sacramento.

Meisler said his company's telemetry systems can be built around sensors such as those already in place in the Eldorado system. The difference, Meisler said, is that his company's system delivers data to a standard database, which can then be accessed by Web developers to support online presentations.

Access over the Internet to stored data does not provide access to Internet-based controls and monitors configured in the system that gathers the information, Meisler said.

Eldorado's telemetry system has no database where telemetry data is stored after memory chips are full. Derbin estimated it could cost $250,000 or more to replace the system, based on his recollection of the original cost 14 or 15 years ago.

Meisler said his company has never bid more than $100,000 on a telemetry project, including for systems more complex than the one Eldorado uses.

Inspect the El Dorado Irrigation District's online water-supply information at project184.com. Look for available Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District water information at www.eldoradowaterdistrict.com.