Water treatment plants operated by the North Shore Water Reclamation District in Waukegan, Gurnee and Highland Park are fully automated by a computer system which will soon be outdated.
The district will begin replacing the old technology with the most current around Sept. 1 — both in the Waukegan, Gurnee and Highland Park facilities and their nearby pumping stations — with the help of $5 million from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s revolving fund program.
Bill Jackewicz, the district’s director of technology services, said the project involves replacing 59 programmable logic controllers (PLCs). They assure the water treatment facilities operate at all times and let personnel know if an adjustment is necessary.
“They open all the pumps and valves,” Jackewicz said. “They keep track of all the equipment, and keep everything running. We’re doing this at each plant and the pumping stations that service them.”
Dave Miller, the district’s executive director, said the $5.9 million project will be funded by the $5 million from the IEPA, with the remaining $900,000 coming from reserves. The plants never close. They operate 24 hours a day, every day.
Jackewicz said initially the PLCs were installed in the early to mid 1990s, and the time has come to replace them. Though the current ones still work, the manufacturer will soon no longer provide the technological support should it be needed.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get parts,” he said.
Obtaining state funding for the project was critical and the IEPA’s revolving program fund was an appropriate avenue. State Sen. Adriane Johnson, D- Buffalo Grove, state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, and state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, got to work.
“It’s incumbent to work on our aging infrastructure,” Johnson said. “This will improve the quality of the service. It helps preserve our drinking water as well.”
Replacing then PLCs will give the three plants and their pumping stations the latest technology. Miller said along with making the plant operate more smoothly, there will be security enhancements.
“If the need for mitigation occurs, several people will be able to see it, react and get us back to normal operating conditions,” Miller said.
While technological improvements abound all around, Morrison said it is important they reach situations which impact a large segment of the public. The water reclamation plants are an example.
“As technology advances, it is important we incorporate it into our public works,” Morrison said.
Before PLCs were used to operate the plant, Miller said three people were needed in each plant for every shift all day, all year. Automation has significantly reduced the amount of staffing necessary.
When the new PLCs are installed, there will be seven at the Waukegan plant along the lakefront and five more at pumping stations which service the facility. In Gurnee, there will be 19 at the station and two at pumping stations. Highland Park gets 21 new PLCs at the Clayey Road building and an additional five at pumping stations.