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Monday, Apr 06, 2020

SCADA communications network enables remote operations in Wood Buffalo


The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in northern Alberta has grown significantly over the past 15 years. The Municipality has continued to expand its water and wastewater infrastructure since the 1980s to meet demands of its growing population. The system includes more than 50 facilities in a 200 kilometre radius, many in remote areas. Operating, maintaining, and monitoring these facilities has become a challenge. To assist day-to-day operations, the Municipality needed to be able to operate and monitor the facilities remotely.  

The Municipality retained Associated Engineering to plan, design, and implement a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) communication system. The SCADA system needed to be secure, robust, flexible, and scalable to meet current and future requirements.

The Municipality’s remote water and wastewater facilities are normally unattended, with operations staff monitoring the sites using a mix of older radio and leased telephone line technologies. Communications outages were starting to become a problem. Thus, standardizing and modernizing the network were a necessity. 

The project was developed in three stages. Stage One was to develop a SCADA Master Plan for the Municipality, including developing a network plan for every water and wastewater facility. Project Manager, Steve Justus, tells us, “The SCADA Master Plan laid the groundwork for the architecture of a new high-speed radio network composed of a ‘backhaul’, a high-speed network of six radio access points, and ‘edge’ sites that connect to the backhaul.” 


Stage two involved the design and implementation of the backhaul. Six radio towers were erected, extending from Fort McMurray north of the Athabasca River to 25 kilometres south of the city. These were equipped with high-bandwidth, point-to-point radios linking them together. Point-to-multipoint radios were also installed on these towers to provide radio coverage throughout the urban service area. Network routers at each backhaul site were configured to separate the water, wastewater, and radio management traffic into three mutually exclusive networks, all sharing the same physical infrastructure. This phase was completed as a design-build, with Associated Engineering acting as the Owner’s Engineer.

Stage three connected the edge sites to the backhaul network and integrated process data from these edge sites to the central operations teams at the Fort McMurray Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants. We conducted site inspections on the remote sites, identifying control requirements to make existing facilities compatible with the new technologies. Radio path studies were conducted for all edge sites to provide height requirements for radio connectivity to the backhaul. 

During Stage three, we upgraded the Water Treatment Plant control computer software and hardware. The hardware was replaced with high-quality, rack-mounted servers running in a virtualized environment that allows for new servers to be added with minimal additional hardware expense. It also allows the ability to relocate functions between physical hardware, allowing for ease of maintenance.


We migrated the existing SCADA graphics to the new servers, and developed new graphics for the remote stations as they were linked to the backhaul network. This involved creating high-performance graphics for the water distribution network, and traditional graphics using an existing template for the wastewater network. 

Steve says, “Performing this work as a design-build meant that work could be fast-tracked and easily adapted to issues with legacy systems, as they came to light.” This allowed for maximum flexibility, collaboration, and ease of integration to meet the project goals. 

The new communications networks will help reduce transportation costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions for operator travel to remote sites. In addition, the new system is much more responsive and allows for more detailed supervision and reporting from each site. This improves system resiliency in the event of environmental crises and extreme weather events.

The project was completed in August 2019. 

Our key personnel were Steve Justus, Luc Blanchette, Ryan Jalowica, Arsalaan Rehman, and Chris Bredo.