Water Flows in Iraq

Last December, in Badaah, Iraq, David Watts was adding finishing touches to his PLC programming work in the Nasiriyah Water Treatment Plant—his home away from home for nearly eight weeks. How he got there and what he has done since include experiences beyond those of most system integrators. As the largest water treatment facility in southern Iraq, the Nasiriyah Plant will supply 10,000 c...


Last December, in Badaah, Iraq, David Watts was adding finishing touches to his PLC programming work in the Nasiriyah Water Treatment Plant—his home away from home for nearly eight weeks. How he got there and what he has done since include experiences beyond those of most system integrators.

As the largest water treatment facility in southern Iraq, the Nasiriyah Plant will supply 10,000 cubic meters (2.64 million gallons) per hour of fresh drinking water to approximately 3 million Iraqis in Ad-Dawayah, Badaah, Al-Shatra, Al-Garaaf, Nasiriyah, and Sug Ash Shuyuk. The plant is located just north of Nasiriyah City, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in the food-growing area known as the “Fertile Cresent.”

It draws from the Garaaf River and delivers the water into 10 large clarifiers to allow sediments to settle. Alum is then mixed in to allow any remaining particles to coagulate prior to sending the water to flocculators. Next, the partially cleaned water is sent to sand filters where most of the bacteria are removed. Finally, chlorine is added to kill any remaining bacteria, and the water is sent to two underground storage tanks.

“This is a very agricultural area,” said Watts, “and except for a small water treatment facility nearby, some of the people in the region get water in buckets from the river, so this is going to be a great improvement for them. This new water facility rivals any state-of-the-art water treatment plant we have in the States.” But it didn’t start out that way.

Just a few weeks earlier, Watts was a world away, working in his home office in Krum, TX, when he received an e-mail from a friend asking if he would be interested in going to Iraq to program PLCs. The devices had been ordered and shipped to the facility, but no one in the area knew how to do the programming. Watts owns DWC Technology and is primarily involved in systems integration and consulting for automation projects.

“I thought about it for awhile,” said Watts. “Then my daughter said, 'Wouldn’t it be awesome to go and help build this plant and be a part of history?’” His wife and children agreed traveling to Iraq and helping build community infrastructure would be a great experience. So he packed his bags.

Joining in mid stream

Once in Iraq, he discovered an assortment of devices and manufacturers, including ProSoft, Rockwell Automation, and Schneider Electric. Some Allen-Bradley PLCs were already largely wired but only 10% of their programming was completed. The Modicon Quantum PLC (Schneider Electric) was roughly 80% ready, but they did not share a common network. He could see immediately that he had plenty to do. “The GUI was also limited and very static in its appearance and function,” Watts said.

Individual ControlLogix processors from Rockwell Automation were placed at the three pump stations along the Garaaf River. A fourth processor was placed in the control room to function as a SCADA host for the plant. The Quantum PLC, with 20 remote I/O drops, was used to control the backwash of 20 filter cells.

“Then came the problem of getting the Quantum PLC to communicate with the ControlLogix,” said Watts. “I had never used a ProSoft technology interface module before, and of course there were no manuals or cables on location to help, so I called ProSoft.”

ProSoft technical support engineer Scott Lee answered the call. “You could tell right away that he had his hands full,” said Lee. “But he obviously knew how to program and only needed a little nudge in the right direction to get the ProSoft Modbus Interface module up and running.” One conversation was punctuated with the sound of machine gun fire in the background.

Like many infrastructure projects in Iraq, Nasiriyah is being built with Iraqi and outside contractors with local operation and maintenance intended. Fluor-AMEC, the project coordinator, felt the construction went exceptionally well and gave ANCo and Snaffee, two Iraqi contractors building the plant, a safety award for 4.5 million safe personnel-hours.

“That award was really something,” said Watts, “when you consider we had as many as 1,000 workers at a time building this plant, including the pump stations as well as the pipeline that measures one meter in diameter. The local workers are a big reason why the building of this plant has been so successful. It has created jobs and has become a source of pride for southern Iraq.”

One of the Iraqis, Nabeel Abbood, has been instrumental in the programming and commissioning phase, and will continue once the plant is operational. “Nabeel was hired to handle IT at the plant,” said Watts, “but he has also received a crash course in PLC programming and integration, which has been a great help to me. When I leave, he will be the person with the most PLC programming experience at the plant.”

Working in Iraq does have its unique aspects. A private security detail from the U.K. and General Saad, the top ranking Iraqi officer in the province, provided troops for the workers’ safety when traveling in the region. “I heard machine gun fire every day. If we had to go outside the camp, we wore body armor and traveled in bullet-proof [Chevy] Suburbans,” Watts recalled. “General Saad came to the plant personally. He was an incredibly nice guy. After he shook my hand, he then touched his heart, which is a way of showing respect here.”

A return trip

Watts finished his work in Nasiriyah last December, but the experience was so positive, he returned to northern Iraq in late January for five weeks to help with the Erbil Water Plant. At that time, construction was nearing completion on a $100 million project to bring 6,000 cubic meters (1.58 million gallons) per hour of clean drinking water to the people of Erbil. That project includes a potable water treatment plant, intermediate booster station, storage tanks, and pipeline.

Now back in Texas and working on much more typical projects, Watts has remained in contact with people from both plants in Iraq. Erbil is running and Nasiriyah is expected to be online in a few weeks. The experiences have given him a stronger sense of history, and a deeper appreciation for what he has here. “People in Iraq are no different than we are. They just want to have a job and raise their families in peace.”

Author Information

Danetta Bramhall is a writer for ProSoft Technology. Reach her at danetta@prosoft-technology.com .

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