The saying “timing is everything” certainly applies to the City of Atlanta’s efforts to prevent flooding by making a retention pond at a local park more efficient.
City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management manager Bill Douty was in the planning process to reconfigure the pond at Dean Rusk Park when he heard Marcus Quiqley, founder and CEO of Microsoft partner Opti, speak at a November 2017 meeting of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals. When he learned about the Microsoft Azure-powered platform that increases retention capacity, prevents flooding and reduces costs, Douty knew he had the solution for a significant stormwater management problem. “I went, ‘Holy mackerel, this is the answer in the back of the book—this is just what we’ve been looking for,’” he said.
Using Azure to deal with Mother Nature’s clouds
Douty, who says his “primary job is to reduce flooding in the city of Atlanta,” has been designing and fixing retention ponds since the ‘70s, but there’s always been a key challenge: “The way we design retention ponds is we calculate the orifice and the overflow and then we build it out of concrete, so it’s a static system. The storms are always unique; the storms don’t play by the book—Mother Nature rains anyway she wants to.” When that happens, Quigley said Douty is “the guy who gets called in the middle of the night if the city is flooding,” adding “he was immediately aware of the potential of the Opti and Azure technology and jumped on it.”
Microsoft’s cloud, Opti algorithms, and field-deployed devices address the limitations of a static system by using weather forecasts to monitor and directly control stormwater infrastructure in real time. The result: an intelligent system that can adapt to changing weather patterns and proactively respond before severe storms hit, with the ability to lower water levels to prevent flooding. “It was great news for stormwater management, and, to me, it was an advance in technology,” Douty said. “I’ve worked on a lot of retention ponds in several different states and I’ve always said, ‘you know, if I had a raincoat and a valve, I could control it.’ I could just sit up there in a rainstorm and look at the stream and look at the lake—but it’s not practical. And that’s what this system does, it watches the weather, it watches the pond,” to regulate flow and prevent flooding.
Innovation that’s economical
A request from a city council member prompted Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management to add the pond at Dean Rusk Park to its list of projects, Douty explained. “The commissioner and the assistant commissioner and my deputy commissioner had told all of us engineers that, to solve the city’s problems, we’ve got to be innovative,” he said. Recognizing the Opti-Azure system as an innovation and, with Dean Rusk Park in the planning process, “it was perfect timing for me.”
While full implementation won’t occur until later this year, initial Opti equipment has been in place since August, allowing the City and the project’s lead engineering firm, Hazen and Sawyer, to monitor close to 100,000 data points and analyze the pond during storms, including Hurricane Michael. “We see the benefits of managing our stormwater and, if we had more of these systems…it would definitely be a better way to manage the capacity in the pipes,” Douty said. “Everybody that’s working with me is really excited about it; we think it’s a great tool.”
In addition to making the retention pond more efficient and avoiding flooding, Douty sees other benefits. “One of the things we looked at was the cost; it’s not cost-prohibitive,” he said, adding that the Opti platform is “certainly more economical” than building new retention ponds. “We don’t have the resources to go in and rebuild the infrastructure from the ground up…so we’ve got to look at ways to control the storm runoff and this actually is a very good way to do it.”
A novel idea
Douty’s long-term expertise and experience in stormwater management lends credibility to his calling the Opti-Azure platform “a novel idea,” ranking it with other stormwater and technology advances, such as PVC pipe, geotechnical fabric, the internet and computer-aided design. “It’s a completely different and better way to look at solving stormwater problems,” he said. “It allows you to work with the existing infrastructure you’ve got … It’s like taking a vehicle and putting a much better, more efficient engine in it. I can make my existing infrastructure more efficient by just adding this technology.”
Microsoft CityNext is proud to partner with Opti to prevent flooding in Atlanta and other cities. Please learn how our cloud is enabling Opti to support U.S. communities, including Albany, N.Y., Anne Arundel County, Md., Kansas City, Mo., and more, and find additional great resources about cities using our cloud, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things solutions.