Opti: Managing Stormwater for Sustainability at UChicago

| MSFT Chicago Staff

Beneath the University of Chicago’s North Sciences Quad, Opti intelligently connects weather forecast information to stormwater infrastructure, reducing combined sewer overflows and harvesting rainwater for irrigation. This cloud solution is built natively on Microsoft Azure.

As our city grows, so do our college campuses. With this growth — and Chicago’s technology boom — comes an increased awareness and movement toward sustainable practices. Here in Chicago, when the University of Chicago (UChicago) was building a new North Sciences Quad, they wanted to create an innovative and sustainable landscape. As is standard in Chicago, building new spaces requires a storage tank and UChicago wanted to be sure they were able to control the flow rates of stormwater runoff.

UChicago’s storage tank — a tank that fills with rainwater and drains into the combined sewer — had to hold at least 150,000 gallons to comply with city regulations. But UChicago set a much more ambitious goal that required a partner equally focused on sustainable practices and equally committed to actions that promote the health of our water ecosystems. Enter OptiRTC.

Opti’s stormwater management system was brought to UChicago as an alternative to the standard, passive storage tank. Using a water level sensor and valve connected to Opti’s cloud–based control, UChicago intelligently manages releases from the storage tank. They also set a goal that to some might seem beyond reach: the ability to harvest rainwater from this tank, a function unheard of in other regional stormwater management systems. Experts with the University aimed to pioneer a new system of sustainable water re–use on campus. UChicago tackled the challenge to achieve the benefits, without the additional investment of a separate rainwater harvesting system.

UChicago North Sciences Quad
Opti and the University of Chicago deployed an adaptively controlled valve to optimize a 150,000 gallon underground stormwater tank for combined sewer overflow mitigation and potable water conservation. When a storm is forecasted, the valve opens to drain a calculated volume from the tank, freeing storage space to capture the pending rain event. The valve closes before it begins to rain, and remains closed for the duration of the storm. This allows the tank to collect rain and runoff that could otherwise overwhelm the downstream sewer system and cause combined sewer overflows. Once the storm has passed, the tank is full and Opti continues holding the collected water so it is available for resuse. The harvested rainwater is used to irrigate landscape features of the Quad.

For passive systems, the storage tank is required to be empty in preparation for storms, but for rainwater harvesting, the tank should be as full as possible. In partnering with Opti, UChicago implemented a first-of-it’s kind system in Chicago. With Opti, UChicago’s 150,000 gallon tank under the North Sciences Quad is equipped to handle both stormwater protection and rainwater harvesting — effectively balancing the need to keep the tank both empty and full.

Web-based dashboards display system performance data and weather forecast information. Stormwater managers can check on the system, export custom data sets for analysis, and even remotely open or close valves in manual control mode. Typically, however, this system operates autonomously in “automatic control” mode. View-only dashboards can also be displayed publicly to University stakeholders.

Run on the Azure cloud, Opti’s platform combines weather forecasts, current water levels, and more to ensure the Quad’s storage tank maintains an optimal water level at all times. Through a combination of secure IoT hardware and cloud-based services, Opti is able to control civil infrastructure through features that act predictively — controlling stormwater, before it rains. This provides the university with a commercial rainwater harvesting facility without extra cost.

“Azure is an important partner in providing, reliable, secure, and integrated services on which our clients can trust to manage their stormwater flows, reduce flooding, and improve water quality” said Marcus Quigley, founder and CEO at OptiRTC.

Opti has been controlling facilities like this since 2011 in earnest, but its earliest systems (pre-cloud) were deployed in 2009. Opti generally enters projects in which systems are low-maintenance, typically requiring little-to-no monitoring. By adding lightweight monitoring and control equipment, Opti is able to often double the performance of the infrastructure or more. The end result is a more complete awareness about functionality and this piece of infrastructure. This additional data — which adds a new level of information— has the potential to reduce overall work, which is critical for predicting maintenance needs. Here, they’re looking to provide an unprecedented transparency around functionality.

“Because Opti resides in the cloud, we provide a high level of transparency and accessibility to our customers,” Quigley said. “Cloud infrastructure allows Opti to keep all systems up to date and any improvements to the underlying platform or functionality are immediately available to all sites nationally.”


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