Highland Lakes Water District

Highland Lakes is a subdivision of approximately 275 homes located north of Divide, Colorado. Originally constructed in the 1970's this system had 24 wells tied into four small ground water treatment facilities with underground water storage.  Each of these wells were powered and controlled using buried aluminum wire that tied to their respective treatment building. Electrified probes in the water tanks controlled the relay systems that engaged the wells. 

In the mid 1990's the insulation on the buried aluminum wiring began to fail and a new control system had to be installed. The district decided to take a blended approach to work within their budget. Only wells that had failed would be upgraded. The other wells needed to be controlled through the existing relays and power lines. Bringing control of the wells, and each treatment facility to a central location was desired.  Considerable research went into how to communicate with each location because the area consists of steep hills and valleys. Most of the wells are located low in the valleys while each facility was high on a hill among pine forest.  

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It was decided that each site would have an independent power service brought in to drive the pump and controls. Communication among the sites was handled by early GE MDS radios communicating in the 900 Mhz range. This range passes through trees more easily than other bands and is unlicensed, thus cutting cost. Automated control of the system was handled by a master SNAP-LCSX controller. At the time this was the latest offering from Opto 22. Each well site had its own Opto 22 control rack communicating with the master rack via serial data through the radio system. 

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This control system was state of the art for its time (1999). The LCSX controller was connected to a dialup modem and panel computer in the primary treatment facility. If an alarm threw on the system the controller would send AT commands to the modem and page the operator with an alarm code. The panel computer was a Pentium system running Windows 98 and was equipped with a resistive touch display. Status of the wells and treatment buildings was displayed via Factory Floor runtime. Well water depth was displayed as well as status and controls to manually engage or fully disengage the well. Treatment building information displayed included pressure pump status, chlorine concentration and treated water pressure. 

Each storage tank was equipped with either a submersible transducer or sonic transmitter to read water depth. Hach CL17 units read chlorine concentrations, GF Signet instruments measured pH and raw water flow.  These units sent analog 4-20 signal to the Opto 22 racks for transmission to the main controller and display in the interface.  Relay output cards controlled the relay system to engage the wells that remained on the old relay system. Operators had full control of the wells on the old system just as if they were on the new. 


By 2007 the control system was showing signs of age and required a few upgrades. It was found that the frequent lightning storms in the area combined with heavy use had weakened radio antennae in ten locations. Wells had been added to the control system over time yet needed to function differently. Sonic transmitters needed to be replaced with submersible transducers for accuracy and the panel computer needed an upgrade. Six well locations proved problematic with the model of radio system being used and lack of repeater locations.  

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The weak antennae were replaced along with the connected polyphaser surge suppressors and cabling. To address the six locations with signal problems a blended system was developed to avoid replacing all of the radios in the district; while gaining the benefits of the newer mesh radios where needed. 

The master radio was replaced with an updated model of MDS radio package that could communicate with the newer mesh radios as well as the older radios. The new system ran on the 2.4 Ghx unlicensed band. The radios at all six locations were replaced with mesh radios and a repeater was installed in a valley location to harden communication. The master Opto 22 controller was upgraded to a SNAP-PAC-S2 running on PAC Control and the entire control strategy was rewritten. The panel computer was replaced with a newer model machine running on Windows Vista.  Remote access was added to this system by running DSL into the main facility and connecting to a commercial firewall/VPN system. Operators could now connect to the VPN with their computer or phone and pull up the HMI and could operate the entire system remotely. 

Throughout our time caring for this system it cut operator time considerably. Operators no longer had to hear about system problems from the customers and could handle a problem before it became a crisis. This control system also included the use of VFD's to replace the older pressure switch driven systems. This removed repetitive water hammering of the main system due to on/off cycles and reduced main breaks dramatically. Due to the higher efficiencies gained from using VFD's the system also saw a reduction in electric cost. The operator was no longer required to regularly drive to each well location to inspect the status of the wells, again cutting costs. 

It was our pleasure, and a learning experience to care for this system for a full decade. Care of the control system was handed to a full time district employee in 2009 and our contract was allowed to expire.