Oldsmar Breach Highlights Cybersecurity Weaknesses

The complex technology, systems, applications, processes, and staffing that go into ensuring the public has a steady and safe supply of drinking water is not only threatened, but under attack. The vast number of cybersecurity threats to water utilities have been known, but more recently attacks exposed these cyber vulnerabilities to the public. On February 5, 2021 an unknown person gained unauthorized remote access to a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida and increased the setpoint of sodium hydroxide fed into the drinking water system to a dangerous level.

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Deep Freeze

Texas is no stranger to natural disasters. However, this recent winter storm was a perfect confluence of events which brought Texas’ critical infrastructure to its knees. Peak energy demand outstripped supply as power generation was crippled by record low temperatures, resulting in state-wide rolling blackouts for days. Water utilities went to war with mother nature to keep pumps running through blackouts to maintain water to customers. Water lines froze and burst. Equipment failed due to prolonged low temperatures. Millions across the state were left shivering in the dark with little to no water. This was a humanitarian crisis.

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Flying Blind No More

If you looked down at your dashboard and saw this, what would you do? For those of us that remember how to drive a stick, hopefully the answer that popped into your head was “Shift” or maybe “Let off the gas”. Redlining a car isn’t good for it, right? Would you even consider buying a new car that didn’t have a dashboard? How could you properly operate it if you had no idea how fast the engine was turning, how fast the vehicle was going, no idea what gear you were in, and no idea whether there was any gas in the tank? We wouldn’t dream of buying, much less operating a vehicle like that. So why do we do it with our pumps every day?

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Specific Energy as a Measure of Pump Station Performance - Webinar Recording

Proper pump operation can drastically increase the life span of pumps. This course will teach the basics of both system curves and pumping curves both in constant speed and variable frequency conditions. Then, we will present the concepts behind Specific Energy’s pump station optimization technology including pump health assessment and asset management, energy efficiency, and transient management.

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of VFDs

Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) can modernize a pump station and allow operators to fine-tune their control scheme. Many utilities that take advantage of VFDs insist on having them while some utilities remain skeptical and subscribe to the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For some pump stations, that’s the right attitude. However, even if you aren't using VFDs, you should be aware of their capabilities. In this post we'll explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of VFDs.

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Where Does Pump Station Energy Go?

To understand how to reduce energy costs, we need to understand where the energy used by a pump station goes. Part of the energy is used to do useful work, typically by raising water from a ground storage tank to an elevated tank. The rest is lost to inefficiencies in the switchgear, motor, pump, friction losses in the pipeline, valves, and other restrictions.

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Scheduling Pump Repairs using Financial Metrics

Most pump maintenance at water and wastewater utilities is not planned. A commissioned, operating pump is largely left alone as long as it keeps working. Even if a pump is operated perfectly, it will eventually wear out and gradually become less efficient. Chances are it will stay in service well after its useful life has ended.

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Operating at Peak Efficiency using Specific Energy Maps

Intelligent pump station control is a tricky proposition. Engineers design a pump station and (at least tacitly) outline a control narrative for a site. A contractor builds the station as close as possible to the specification then a system integrator weaves in a control loop on top. Finally, months or years after the design, the keys to the finished station are given to the operators.

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The Importance of Pump Testing

Pumps are expensive tools and keeping them running is one of the biggest operational expenditures for many utilities. Despite this, the only one who usually sees a given pump’s performance curves and knows how it is supposed to operate is the design engineer who selected it. System integrators and operators are left out of the loop and treat pumps as interchangeable black boxes: you put in power and you get out water.

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The Shape of Water - Flow without a Flowmeter

The idea of knowing the flowrates at a lift station makes engineers and utility managers giddy with excitement. The insight that it can offer into how the station is operating and how the system is changing is invaluable. However, from a capital and maintenance perspective, flowmeters at lift stations are a nightmare. They are expensive, difficult to maintain, and can easily clog leading to erroneous readings.

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A Hacker's Playbook - The basic strategy of cyber criminals

Without a basic understanding of cyber adversaries and their mechanics, utility networks run the risk of aimlessly applying security measures rather than effectively addressing the most vulnerable areas of their networks. An attacker’s process of compromising a system involves information gathering, exploitation, privilege escalation, and post-exploitation activities.

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Affinity Laws - The Basis of Pump Operation

One of the most enigmatic parts of pump operation is how performance changes when pumps are driven by Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs). Unfortunately, many people who operate them (and quite a few who select them) don’t have a good understanding of how they work as system conditions and demands fluctuate. The affinity laws govern how pumps react to these changing conditions.

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