Technologies and 3-D Fluorescence for Early Warning Detection on the Potomac River


  • Allison Reinert, Erik Rosenfeldt, Ben Wright, Ben Stanford - Hazen and Sawyer

While robust treatment of raw source water is vital to the multiple barrier approach to providing safe drinking water treatment, many chemicals are poorly removed by conventional treatment processes that are focused on turbidity, natural organic matter, and pathogens. Given recent events regarding chemical spills in WV and elsewhere, utilities are becoming more interested in identifying strategies that can effectively identify and mitigate negative consequences of acute and chronic spills on water treatment plants (WTPs), finished water quality, and customers. In recent years, several different spills have occurred in source waters throughout the country. These experiences have provided a wealth of knowledge about early warning systems and technologies to monitor and track spill events, however little work has been completed to compile all of this information. As such, we recently completed the testing of a 3-D fluorescence dissolved hydrocarbon detection system, conducted evaluations of commercially available early warning and detection equipment, and catalogued spill response measures from other major utilities in the US. The outcome of this study was to provide recommendations for infrastructure, sensors, and response measures to an eastern Water Filtration Plant (WFP) to improve resilience to chemical and petroleum spills.

In order to improve lead time for responding to a spill, utilities and river basin organizations have implemented early warning systems to detect chemical contamination before it reaches utility intakes. For this particular WFP, there was an urgent need to address emergency spill preparedness since a large mixed fuel pipeline crosses the river 2 miles upstream of the WFP intake. As such, the intake is susceptible to various different hydrocarbons and petroleum products either due to leaks or breaks in the pipeline. In order to address these contamination concerns, preventative measures and treatment strategies along with decontamination strategies were evaluated. Additional online monitoring techniques and strategies to provide early warning detection were also evaluated using 3-D fluorescence excitation-emission matrix spectroscopy (EEM) and compared to other existing systems throughout the country. This comparison includes commercially available technologies, previous utility experience, as well as bench-top contaminant detection studies, and a final decision matrix on the use of sensors for early warning.

Overall, preventative measures, targeted treatment strategies, decontamination protocols, and early warning detection provide additional levels of robustness for any run of river system that is susceptible to upstream water quality disturbances.

For more information, please contact the author at

Hear about new publications with our email newsletter

We will never share your details with anyone else.


Newsletter Newsletter

Horizons Fall 2017 (pdf)

Horizons showcases significant water, wastewater, reuse, and stormwater projects and innovations that help our clients to achieve their goals, and can help you achieve yours. Articles are written by top engineers and process group leaders, demonstrating and explaining the beneficial application of a variety of technologies and tools.

View previous issues »