WANAQUE, N.J. -- The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission has wrapped up replacing its 20-year-old process control system with a distributed, networked system using fiber optics and open communications protocols.

The new system allows operators to receive real time alerts on water samples, and the new infrastructure will also support the addition of security cameras and detection sensors. The real time data, and historical data, is available to operators anytime by using a standard Web browser via the commission's intranet.

The commission reported seeing immediate benefits -- faster response times mean that operators making changes saw water quality modifications immediately, allowing them to optimize operations.

"We are moving all of our reporting and data mining needs to this technology," said Charles Billings, the commission's director of IT. "It's user-friendly, produces a significant return-on-investment and lowers IT overhead."

Officials also said the commission will apply new technologies to watershed management by developing and testing an early warning system against contaminants with new online chemical and biological sensors. The sensors will transmit reservoir water-quality data directly to the operations center, allowing the commission to deter, react and respond almost immediately.

The commission, which sells water to Newark, N.J., and 10 other partner cities, manages a 94-square mile watershed and operates a 21-mile distribution system. The commission worked with EMA, Inc., to develop and implement the system.