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Remote monitoring of wastewater treatment plant performance - impacts of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant shift in the working and travel patterns of communities. Large numbers of people are restricted to working from home and daily patterns of activity have changed dramatically.

At SENTRY we provide a real-time performance monitoring platform for operators of biological wastewater treatment facilities. The SENTRY data provides operators a real-time view of biological metabolic activity and how much bio-available carbon (food) is being consumed by the biology. We locate sensors at key process locations (influent, aeration basins, effluent) to provide an always-on monitoring solution that alerts operators to key process changes or events.

The key question for the SENTRY team is how has this change in patterns of activity impacted the wastewater composition entering the associated treatment facilities. Are these changes in movement and activity changing the organic load reaching the treatment plants and will this impact the performance of the facilities?

Over the past month the SENTRY client managers have been closely monitoring the activity of our bio-electrode sensors at a wide range of wastewater treatment facilities located across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

With our industrial clients we have noted that activity has remained relatively stable. Pulp and paper industries if anything are showing an uptick in activity. The major changes in wastewater composition and organic loading have tended to come in the municipal space.

What is interesting to note is that in general we have seen wastewater treatment facilities that are located or cater to urban centers see a drop in flow and organic loading, whereas those located in or catering to suburban populations show an increase in flow and organic loading. This seems to align with an understanding that most people are now working from home and not travelling to urban centers on a daily basis.

Weekly biological carbon consumption patterns for pre Covid-19 (blue) and post Covid-19 (yellow) at a municipal wastewater treatment plant.

For the analysis above our team generated an average weekly profile for the weeks of January and then compared this to the average weekly profile generated since the lock-down procedures have been implemented.

This facility in the United Kingdom has seen a significant shift in the microbial activity / organic carbon consumption patterns from pre to post Covid-19 lock-down. Although the typical weekday profile remains quite similar in this case it is the weekend pattern that has shifted dramatically. Having an understanding on the community and how the lock-down measures change personal travel habits will provide a key insight on what to expect regarding organic loading and wastewater conditions entering the facility.

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