ArcGIS is providing a platform that empowers community members, through interactive instructions, to improve their water softener performance. In this age of do-it-yourselfers, it aids us in doing a much better job connecting with our customers.
Esri Tools Aid Salt Pollution Prevention Initiative
Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District provides wastewater conveyance and treatment to an area covering about 186 square miles (including 26 different communities) in south central Wisconsin. Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant (NSWTP) is the sole plant operated by the district. It collects and treats about 41 million gallons of wastewater each day, returning valuable resources to the environment. The district hired a GIS analyst and launched an enterprise geographic information system (GIS) in 2018.
Industry – Wastewater
User - Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District
Challenge – The district needed to reduce the amount of salt from home water softeners to avoid costly and environmentally harmful treatment additions.
Solution – The Salt Savers pilot program was launched, supported by ArcGIS Arcade, ArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS Online, classic Esri Story Maps Series, and ArcGIS Dashboards.
Result – The program yielded increased collaboration and more efficient workflows.
Water softeners, prevalent in nearly every area building, discharge high concentrations of salt to the wastewater treatment plant. Like most wastewater treatment plants, NSWTP is not able to remove salt from wastewater, so all the dissolved salt that comes to the plant is discharged to the environment in treated water. To maintain local water quality, the district is proactively working upstream of the plant to reduce the amount of salt at the sources. If successful, this initiative will help the district avoid costly treatment additions that are significantly harmful to the environment.
The Salt Savers program was launched within a small section of the district's service area to promote salt reduction actions, outreach, and messaging for home softeners. The pilot program aims to do the following:
- Increase frequency of water softener inspections
- Standardize a softener tune-up (optimization) procedure
- Find ways of reaching household decision-makers with easily understood guidelines that prompt home softener improvements
- In the long-term, change norms around water softener maintenance for sustainability
- Create a self-standing program that can be easily administered by municipal partners
Esri tools act as the glue that holds the pilot program together, making all these objectives possible, even given limited resources.
The program starts with a training class for service providers (primarily, plumbers and water quality technicians), which covers softener identification, a standardized optimization process, and a basic overview of the ArcGIS Survey123 mobile application. Following training, as providers go out for softener inspections, they use a Survey123 questionnaire to document settings adjustments and recommendations they have made to the homeowner. Their documentation is used by the program administrator to track efficiency improvements and salt reductions, and for the participating municipalities to determine whether an inspection qualifies for a rebate. Importantly, the Survey123 questionnaire also functions as a tool to help the provider follow the standard optimization procedure. Extensive conditional logic, the ability to pull data, and answer validation based on the XLSForm, along with an ArcGIS Online map of expected water hardness are built in. These features help providers use more accurate settings for a given address, making this decision support functionality possible.
Homeowners who want to assess their own softener before calling a professional can use the softener self-screen and a publicly viewable eligibility map to determine if they qualify for a rebate from their municipality. The self-screen is a browser-based Survey123 form, with embedded videos and pictures, that takes homeowners through a step-by-step process to identify their softener and determine opportunities for improving it. Through Integromat, survey answers are automatically populated into feature reports and sent as PDFs in a follow-up email to the homeowner for their records. This documentation, including current softener condition and advice for future ongoing maintenance, is a positive step in changing the long-standing "set-it-and-forget-it" attitude toward softeners, and it helps with one of the long-term goals for the project.
Results from both the self-screen and provider reports are viewable in real time for project administrators, thanks to ArcGIS Dashboards and the Crowdsource Manager app—one of the ArcGIS Solutions—brought together with the classic Esri Story Maps Series template. District staff use Dashboards to monitor the quality of provider reports, track progress (budget, incentives spent), visualize location of jobsites, and learn more about the existing stock and condition of softeners for program evaluation and planning. Municipalities administering the program use this information to issue rebates to their utility customers participating in the pilot. The municipal managers use a version of the Crowdsource Manager dashboard to approve reports and track reimbursement status through hidden fields in the XLSForm. Using Crowdsource Manager instead of locally stored, static databases (like spreadsheets) prevents duplication of efforts, since everyone is working off the same, current information.
Because the ArcGIS applications seamlessly connect, district staff project managers can visualize inspection locations and compare calculated salt reductions (a hidden calculated field in the Survey123 XLSForm interprets inspection actions taken into estimated reductions) with actual in-sewer monitoring data. Combining layers from different data sources (utility maps from an enterprise geodatabase, municipal zoning layers, county parcel data, and Survey123 feature layer data, in this case) is easy in ArcGIS Online. It allows program managers to see where a wider outreach should be targeted and helps measure progress toward water quality goals.
While the program is still in its early stages and data may not yet confirm conclusive results, it's easy to say that this pilot simply wouldn't be possible, even at this small scale, without the Esri tools and platform engineer guidance. Because the district already had Esri licenses and access to all aspects of the software, developing these tools for the pilot did not incur a significant upfront cost like the development of a custom program-specific mobile app and website could have. The accessibility of the tools empowered staff to hit the ground running and design the interconnected architecture of the pilot in a short amount of time.
While developing this pilot, the district discovered that much of the work was transferable to other pollution prevention initiatives as well. Using Survey123 for virtual dental clinic inspections (part of the district's mercury source reduction efforts), for example, has resulted in hours of time saved each year. Not having to digitize paper forms and drive to each clinic allowed staff to maintain the program during the pandemic. The Survey123 camera enables staff to capture photos and focus their efforts where follow-up is needed instead of systematically checking every clinic.
In all use cases, having these solutions saves time and makes collaboration easier with less people-power.