December 2012, Vol. 24, No.12

WEFTEC report

Click the headline below to jump to that article



WEFTEC 2012 picks up the pace

Everyone at WEFTEC® 2012 in New Orleans had to move quickly to see it all. Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3, more than 17,400 water professionals visited 980 exhibits and chose among more than 1000 presentations in 148 technical sessions, 24 workshops, and seven local facility tours. In addition, several special offerings targeted specific audiences. Academics could learn about the good and the bad of nanomaterials at the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.)/Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (Wesley Chapel, Fla.) Scientists Luncheon. Engineers could hear about progress in bringing sanitation to developing countries at the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (Annapolis, Md.)/AIDIS (São Paulo)/WEF Breakfast. Utility executives and hiring managers could discuss the latest developments at the Utility Executives Forum or the Work for Water session. And stormwater practitioners, in addition to attending stormwater programming, could visit the Stormwater Pavilion on the exhibition floor.

Insights from water leaders

And there were still more events to keep attendees running. WEFTEC also included several open-access events for the water sector and the public alike. Of particular interest was the high-powered session “Rethinking Water Services: Navigating Our Water’s Future,” which featured an opening keynote address by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

Following Jackson’s address, WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger hosted a panel of water leaders who shared their perspectives on challenges faced by the water industry and how to meet them.

Moving at the speed of change

WEFTEC officially kicked off with the Opening General Session on Monday, Oct. 1. Audience members were welcomed with a special video introduction that connects how the efforts of water professionals worldwide support virtually all aspects of modern life, public health, and the economy.

Jim Carroll, a respected author, columnist, media commentator, and consultant, provided the keynote address. WEF President Matt Bond introduced Carroll as an expert who “helps people draw energy from change.”

“The future belongs to those who are fast,” Carroll told the audience. He revved up the crowd as he illustrated how the innovations of the future will be mastered by the individuals and companies that are the most agile. He laid out typical roadblocks that innovators encounter and provided several examples of how other industries grabbed hold of changes and new opportunities to make the most out of uncertain times.

Ultimately, he provided 10 words to help innovators unlock a fast future and make the most of WEFTEC:

  1. Observe — Go in with open eyes and an open mind.
  2. Think — Think about what you need to do and its scope to innovate.
  3. Change — Ask yourself what you need to change, identify organizational barriers that stand in your way, and challenge yourself to change.
  4. Dare — Take some risks. Write down three risky ideas you see during WEFTEC, then go home and commit to do them. “If we take risks, we are innovators,” Carroll said.
  5. Banish — You have to guard against those words and phrases that shut down the ability to pursue new ideas.
  6. Try — Write down three more ideas from WEFTEC, but make these easy, low-hanging fruit. Sometimes you need an easy win to help break out of a state of inertia.
  7. Question — Industries have assumptions, habits, and routines that should be broken down.
  8. Grow — Seek opportunity and focus on growth. “Everything about a conference like this is … all about helping you accomplish the things you need to accomplish to ensure that we are providing society with what it needs when it comes to water,” Carroll said.
  9. Do — Have a sense of urgency and action.
  10. Enjoy — If you do these first nine things, Carroll said, then you get to enjoy the progress you will have made.


Water leaders plot the path forward  

Evolving the water sector will require wholly new thinking

Finding the best path forward quickly emerged as the unofficial theme of WEFTEC® 2012. Nowhere was this more evident than in the featured session “Rethinking Water Services: Navigating Our Water’s Future.” Following the keynote address by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, thought leaders from four different areas of the water sector laid out their ideas of what’s next and how to get there.

Jeff Sterba, president and CEO of American Water (Voorhees, N.J.); Gretchen McClain, CEO of Xylem Inc. (White Plains, N.Y.); Kala Vairavamoorthy, executive director of the University of South Florida (Tampa) Patel School of Global Sustainability; and George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water (Washington, D.C.), comprised the panel. Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) Executive Director Jeff Eger moderated the session.

All four panelists agreed that the next step of evolution for the water sector will require wholly new ways of thinking about issues and supporting that thinking with concrete and incremental measures of progress.

Continuous improvement and building communities

For Sterba, new thinking means building a culture that scans for new technologies and always looks for opportunities to improve. He cited the example of working with technology developers to create control programs to
reduce energy needs and supplemental carbon sources up to 45% in American Water facilities. Was that program a home run? No, Sterba said, “but it’s a single.”

After the session, Sterba expanded on these ideas for WE&T: “Two years ago we developed aspirational goals for six key areas of focus that will drive our growth and performance,” Sterba said. “The path to reach these
goals wasn’t clear at the outset — and in some senses it still isn’t — and that created some nervousness and consternation among our folks who hadn’t really been asked to aspire and take risks.”

Now, American Water has 5-year targets and current-year performance plans for each of these goals, Sterba explained. This “has brought reality — and confidence — to this process,” he said. “It is creating momentum for the organization and a pull for quality process tools and error elimination techniques, as well as more strategic thinking about our business of the future.”

One way to foster this type of progress is to create “communities” that incorporate customers, utilities (public and private), manufacturers, and researchers to bring all points of view to bear, Sterba said during the session.

What areas are ripe for such communities to act right now?

“First, I’d say engagement on ‘value of water’ to promote understanding on the water cycle, appropriate conservation opportunities, and our infrastructure challenge,” Sterba said. “Second, using the right water for the right purpose so we aren’t using high-quality drinking water for all things — this will help make water supplies nationwide more sustainable while saving treatment costs.”

All of that, Sterba said, “requires getting pricing right, or at least more close to right than it is today.”

Full-cost pricing and attracting talent

McClain also spoke about leveraging technology and innovation and cooperation among such players as manufacturers, utilities, and academia to develop comprehensive solutions. These solutions bring together elements of wastewater transport, treatment, and analytics to optimize energy efficiency or reduce the total cost of ownership, enabling the resources saved to be invested into more progress, she said.

"So our analytics start bringing in the ‘smarts’ to a ‘smart infrastructure,’ that today I would say is a ‘dumb’ infrastructure that’s starting to get smarter,” McClain said. She explained that getting there will require much closer partnerships than ever before among technology providers, consulting engineers, operators, and academics to look for solutions together.

Later in the session, McClain talked about how to achieve full-cost pricing for water services.

“We all take it for granted; we turn on the tap and it’s there most of the time,” McClain said. Even after a drought or a service disruption, when the water comes back, “the issue is gone,” she said.

Education is key, McClain said. A Xylem survey showed that when people understood what it takes to deliver water services, they were willing to pay a little more, she said.

After the session, WE&T asked McClain how far public education can go in reaching full-cost water pricing. “I don’t think we’ll get all the way there, but it will be an enormous step forward,” she said.

McClain explained that work begins with getting people to value their water and understand what is required to take water from nature, treat it, deliver it, and then carry away and reclean the wastewater. She added, however, that it’s also going to take new technologies and new partners in business strategies to get there. During the session she used the example of a secondary treatment system to illustrate the point. She explained that by choosing the right combination of blowers, fine-bubble aerators, and mixers monitored and controlled by analytics, facilities can see up to 65% in energy savings.

"When you get that savings, you then can apply it somewhere else, which allows you to address the number of other concerns we’ve got in the water industry,” McClain said.

Showing off the talents and opportunities in the water sector is another area to look toward, McClain said after the session.

There’s a need to show off the professional and innovative possibilities in the water industry, McClain said. Despite the major advances being made in all aspects of treatment and management, the water sector is sometimes viewed as slow to change and not adaptive to technology, she explained.

“We need to attract the young, talented individuals coming out of school who want to make a difference in the world and use their minds to make this country even better,” McClain said.

New paradigms in practice and education

Vairavamoorthy echoed the need for new emphasis on education to foster innovation. During the session, he quipped that engineers currently are trained much like they were in the Victorian era.

After the session, Vairavamoorthy elaborated on that idea. “We’re teaching them essentially 19th century principles,” he said. “These principles are not easy, they’re highly complicated, but we’re very scared to teach them a new way of thinking.”

Typically, the shapes of cities are handed to engineers and plumbed in gridded, energy-intensive systems with little consideration given to the natural forms of the land, Vairavamoorthy explained. However, if engineers could influence the urban form, he wondered aloud, how would we design our systems so that they would be less energy-intensive and move water around more intelligently?

"We don’t teach our students that,” Vairavamoorthy said. Water and wastewater treatment are segregated into different classes, the concept of using different grades of water for different uses is lacking, and stormwater is not often viewed as a resource, he said.

Vairavamoorthy said he wants to see more emphasis on systems that are “smart by design,” as well as make use of innovations in sensor technology and the analysis of large quantities of data.

“With all of this change happening — urbanization, climate change — which might impact the availability of water, we’re moving into a much more uncertain world,” Vairavamoorthy said. “So we have to have an ability to design systems that are much more flexible and adaptable.”

The crux of this matter is designing systems that can function equally well when there is too much water or too little. “That means not designing with long horizons of 30 to 40 years but designing in small increments with the capacity to move in two or three directions,” Vairavamoorthy said.

On a practical and applied scale, Vairavamoorthy explained, innovations in sensor technology and the analysis of large quantities of data are useful tools in designing the water utility of the future. For example, he said, the data from high-speed, high-resolution sensors that take 2000 readings per second can be used to pinpoint breaks in water lines. Then, other programs can choose an optimal valve to stop a leak while minimizing the number of customers affected, inform consumers that an interruption is likely, and deploy repair teams.

“Smart pipes” also are an area to be investigated, Vairavamoorthy said. He specifically mentioned pipes with nanosensors embedded throughout the pipe wall to collect much more data, self-healing pipes that have vascular systems that can exude a chemical to heal small breaks, and frictionless pipes that use new technology to remain very slippery and reduce the energy needed for pumping.

"It’s not going to happen in 5 years, but I see [that] in 20 years, we’re going to have really intelligent systems,” Vairavamoorthy said.

Start small, exchange ideas, and build on successes

DC Water’s George Hawkins laid out a plan for modernizing water utilities, and after the session, he shared what he sees as the place to start: He said you’ve got “to think about how you relate to the customer.”

Hawkins cited DC Water’s public challenge to design a new logo as an example. The utility asked people to submit their ideas, kicked off the challenge at a design school, and involved the local school systems. The contest received 180 entries.

“That was the start of people beginning to think about us,” Hawkins said. “Just to submit their idea, they had to think about ‘who are these people?’” And the contest was low-cost, he said.

From this relationship, so many of the next steps occur, Hawkins said. “The excitement of figuring out who you are and feeling pride in it is always a great place to start,” he said. From there, he noted, employees start thinking, “How can I do something in my job to be innovative?”

To be truly effective, this attitude of progress has to be embraced and supported both from the top down and from the bottom up, Hawkins said.

Hawkins emphasized the value and need for learning and information exchange that can happen at venues like WEFTEC. “One of my favorite aspects of WEFTEC is the capacity to learn here,” he said.

No single city or utility can be the expert leading change in every part of what a utility needs to do, Hawkins said. “I have a list of 15 cities where I’ve gotten one thing or another,” he said. “No one of us is going to be able to do it all or be an expert at it all. But there’s at least one of us that is [an expert] on almost everything.”

“Sometimes, my staff is worried that I’ll come back with 15 ideas,” Hawkins said. “You’re doggone right I will!”

Everyone should take home those great ideas, Hawkins said. You can’t do all 15 at once, but you can learn from the people who are the experts and start to drive change forward, he said.

“It starts generating support on its own,” Hawkins said. He added that the staff at DC Water now tend to lead the charge themselves by continually pushing for change in their own areas.

Steve Spicer, WE&T 

U.S. EPA Administrator Jackson ‘comes home’ to WEFTEC

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson delivered the keynote address at “Rethinking Water Services: Navigating Our Water’s Future,” a special session at WEFTEC® 2012 to bring together water-sector leaders.

In her opening remarks, Jackson said, “EPA’s roots and most of our technology roots and engineering roots are in WEF. … For so many of us at EPA, this is a bit of a homecoming.” For Jackson, personally, this was doubly true, since she grew up in New Orleans.

Jackson said another reason she was excited to visit WEFTEC was to say ‘thank you’ to the water sector. “You’re the deliverers of clean water,” Jackson said. “You’re making the tough decisions ... and I don’t think you get thanked often enough.”

Jackson reflected on the successes of 40 years of the Clean Water Act. Today, 92% Americans have round-the-clock access to safe, clean drinking water that meets national health standards, and more than two-thirds of America’s assessed waterways meet water quality standards, she said.

"So much of this progress is due to your work and your commitment to clean water,” Jackson said. But, she added, “I can’t just make you feel good.”

Challenges remain

If 92% have access to clean drinking water, 8% don’t; if today more than two-thirds of America’s assessed waterways meet water quality standards, then one-third are not where they need to be yet, Jackson said. In addition, such factors as climate change, lack of infrastructure investment, rising population, and emerging contaminants all put stress on our nation’s waters.

New ways forward — firmly rooted in technology and innovation — will be needed to deal with these new challenges, Jackson said. “Luckily, this room, and this nation, is filled with the people who I think are going to be the leaders — you are our water leader practitioners for the future,” she said.

Jackson described how much the water sector contributes to the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, she said, the U.S. environmental industry in 2010 generated about $312 billion in revenues. In 2010, the environmental industry employed nearly 1.7 million Americans and included about 61,000 small businesses.

Water equipment and chemicals form the largest component of the environmental technology sector — about 37% of exports; in 2009, the U.S. saw almost $10 billion in these exports and a $3.9 billion surplus in trade, Jackson said.

“This is quite a track record — it is your track record — and it gives me great confidence in the innovative spirit and ability of this group to marshal the market to keep moving forward for clean water,” Jackson said.

EPA supporting commerce

Jackson touted cooperation among environmental experts and analytical companies exporting U.S. technologies to help solve problems internationally and aid business here at home. She described several EPA initiatives designed to both bolster the economy and enhance environmental protection at ome and abroad. For one, EPA is working to tap into the global market expertise that exists in the Commerce Department and other federal agencies, she said. This means more strategic support for American companies that are in a position to help solve environmental challenges in countries around the world.

“We’ll be working with American environmental trade associations to share information on environmental solutions and American providers with our international partners through our government representatives in embassies around the world,” Jackson said.

Jackson also used her speech as a chance to unveil an environmental technologies exporters’ online portal.

“The portal is one-stop-shop that provides information on the range of U.S. government programs,” Jackson said. “It’s intended to help you expand your exports of environmental product and services, and it’s up and running now.” More information can be found at

New research

“Our challenges are pretty great, but I happen to believe, because I’m an engineer, that they are matched by the opportunities,” Jackson said.

Jackson described activities in EPA’s Office of Water and Office of Research and Development to cultivate new technologies and innovative solutions. These offices are advancing research and innovation in such areas as wastewater treatment, the water–energy nexus, green infrastructure, and financing mechanisms, she said. The offices also are seeking opportunities for partnerships across the agency and externally.

"I want to highlight one … and that’s our Water Technology Innovation Cluster based in Cincinnati, Ohio,” Jackson said. “That cluster brings together public utilities, research partners, small businesses, and large corporations to meet our 21st century water needs.” They are researching and developing new, more efficient technologies to make water protection efforts more effective while creating good jobs and opportunities in the process, she explained.

Projects that have emerged from this cluster include an adaptive monitoring system for drinking water distribution systems, real-time water infrastructure monitoring software to improve utility operations and enhance their security, and subsurface moisture sensors and flow-monitoring technologies for infiltration-based green infrastructure.

The value of water

Jackson also talked about connecting to people through water.

“Despite what we see on the local news shows, there are quite a lot of issues that Americans agree on even in this day and age,” Jackson said. “And the good news for you is that the need to protect our water resources is clearly one of those things.”

Jackson cited a Gallup poll on a range of environmental issues that showed at least 75% of Americans “worry a great deal or a fair amount” about pollution in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and drinking water.

“I like to remind folks that behind poll numbers are stories,” Jackson said. “Stories that demonstrate how closely linked we are to water. Parents who want to know that the water their children drink is safe, kids who spend their Saturdays fishing in their local pond or creek, or families whose livelihoods depend on stretches of beautiful clean water.”

With this in mind, Jackson called on the water sector to adopt shared terms and semantics when talking about water. This type of consistency can “make sure that we take advantage of all of the synergies available” when communicating with the public, she said.

With success to reflect upon and more challenges ahead, “the best path forward is partnership,” Jackson said. She credited partnerships with so much progress during the past 40 years, and pointed to them as a model for
the future.

Steve Spicer, WE&T 


The big ramifications of small particles

WEF/AEESP Scientists Luncheon guest speaker explores the good and the bad of nanomaterials

Nanomaterials can be employed in multiple ways. From silver nanoparticles used to control odors in sweaty gym socks to carbon nanotubes used in microbial fuel cells as a way to generate energy from wastewater, the possibilities of nanoparticles are endless.

But everything has a good side and a dark side, and nanomaterials are no exception. According to Mark Wiesner, guest speaker at the joint Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.)–Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP; Wesley Chapel, Fla.) Scientists Luncheon, the good side is nanomaterials’ applications, and the dark side is their implications.

“These materials are making their way into commerce and therefore into the ecosystem,” said Wiesner, a professor at Duke University (Durham, N.C.) and director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (Durham). Their gateway to the ecosystem usually is through surface water and groundwater.

“What are the implications of this?” Wiesner asked the scientists assembled at the luncheon.

Wiesner has spent years conducting field research to answer this question. “We’re looking for engineered, natural, and incidental nanomaterials in nature,” he said.

So far, the research team has discovered that “the nanomaterials that we make are not the same that will come in contact with the ecosystem and organisms,” Wiesner said. The nanomaterials often will undergo transformations. For example, fullerenes, or C60, can mineralize when attacked by bacteria. Also, aqueous fullerenes can undergo photochemical transformation under ultraviolet irradiation. In the presence of dissolved oxygen, the photochemical transformation of these nanomaterials can result in surface oxygenation and hydroxylation.

Learning more about the nature of nanomaterials has caused scientists to rethink what they once believed about science. “Everything that won’t fit through a 0.45-µm membrane was once thought to be dissolved, but now we know that isn’t true,” Wiesner said.

The emergence of nanomaterials also has required scientists to rethink what they once expected to see in nature. “A tobacco plant can take up gold particles into its leaves,” Wiesner said. “You don’t traditionally learn about that in biology class.”

Finding gold in tobacco plant leaves has led Wiesner and his team to focus on the surface affinity of materials to determine if there is a set of particles with surface affinity that can help predict where they will go in the environment.

Wiesner said it is important for environmental engineers to look at the production of nanomaterials and address it from a life-cycle perspective. “What possible wastes can be produced?” he said.

From there, scientists can answer the next question: How does society manage the risks that come with nanomaterials?

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 


The push to work for water 

Industry, colleges, associations, and the federal government share ways that they are trying to enhance recruitment and improve training of future operators

The water and wastewater treatment industry is in flux. With more people set for retirement, there is a push to introduce new blood into the industry, properly train them, and maintain the passage of institutional knowledge from one generation of engineers and operators to the next. This was the topic of discussion during the “Work for Water” Session at WEFTEC® 2012 that took place Oct. 3 in the Innovation Pavilion.

“Most people who enter the industry on the operator side don’t go in with prior knowledge,” said Jamie Eichenberger, a senior engineer at Brown and Caldwell (Walnut Creek, Calif.) who presented the “Work for Water” website during the session. In addition to that, “we have a 50% gap in the workforce, and we have no one to fill it,” he said.

With these staggering numbers, there is a push by utilities, engineering firms, industry associations, colleges, and the federal government to get younger and eager workers into the water and wastewater treatment field.

Recruitment and incentives

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are trying diligently to help place veterans in water and wastewater operator positions, said Angela Wilcher, national employment coordinator in the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Division of the VA. However, she said during her presentation that “it is important to understand what the limitations of the veterans are, and the VA can help with that.”

But Wilcher said veterans also offer a quality that’s unique and comes with their military experience. “They are trained to be soldiers, and when they come out, they are still soldiers. They have the same level of dedication,” she said.

Wilcher said utilities and businesses can receive many incentives for hiring veterans. First, they can “test drive” veterans as potential employees for 6 to 9 months for free. VA provides the income during that time through monthly stipends as the veterans go through training. There also is minimum paperwork. VA also assists in on-the-job training. It will provide veterans with the necessary tools, uniforms, and other essentials, Wilcher said.

Public utilities that are not part of the federal government can qualify for the special employer incentive. These utilities can get up to 50% of the veteran’s salary reimbursed and are provided with other tax incentives ranging from $2400 to $9600 for hiring unemployed veterans.

More-intensive training

In addition to recruitment, there is also a push for proper training of new operators.

Fred Edgecomb, water reclamation manager at the Rancho California Water District in Southern California, said that training of new operators has definitely dwindled over the years. He witnessed the gradual reduction of local college training programs. He said the U.S. Air Force once trained environmental technicians but halted the training once Air Force personnel stopped running wastewater treatment plants themselves.

“It’s about time to get back to community colleges and let the administrators know that we need those people,” Edgecomb said.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is trying to do its part to help train future generations of operators. Christine Radke, manager in WEF’s Water Science and Engineering Center, spoke about the National Wastewater System Operator Apprenticeship Guidelines. Radke said that 2 years ago, WEF started an Operators’ Initiative and solicited input from members of the WEF House of Delegates, committee members, and external sources. During an operator summit, the participants established several objectives: Convey the clear message that operator certification at the state level is a requirement, establish the minimum body of operator knowledge, give an entry point into the industry, and enhance recognition of the profession. To achieve some of these goals, WEF took on the task of helping to update the U.S. Department of Labor’s
(DOL’s) guidelines for operator training.

First, WEF and other collaborators decided to broaden the training from only wastewater treatment plant operators to include wastewater system operators. The National Guidelines for Wastewater Systems Operator Apprenticeship suggests a 2-year intensive schedule of 3520 work process hours and 480 instructional hours. Work process hours will provide on-the-job experience alongside supervisors and co-workers.

On Nov. 1, DOL adopted these new guidelines and announced them to its state divisions, which will work with employers and local sponsors to introduce them to wastewater utilities. The new standards are a model for developing local apprenticeship programs registered with the Office of Apprenticeship or a State Apprenticeship Agency for the wastewater treatment plant operator occupation.

After that, the next step is working with community colleges, Radke said.

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 

Stand and deliver

Utility leaders discuss what it will take to meet future demands

To the general public, the term innovation may conjure up visions of the latest consumer gadget. For some businesses, it may mean a way to enhance efficiencies and increase profits. But for water and wastewater utilities, innovation is a matter of survival.

That was the general consensus among the participants in the Utility Executives Forum, which was held Oct. 2 at WEFTEC® in New Orleans. The theme of this year’s forum was “Rethinking Water Services: Revolutionize Using Innovative Approaches.”

Aging infrastructure, high unemployment rates, consent decrees, and lack of public understanding are among the many challenges that forum participants discussed. George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water, added to this list the fact that water is an essential service that must be available 24/7. If the electricity goes off, people know what to do, he said. But if the water goes out, “even for 5 seconds … it’s an instant calamity.”

Participants agreed that for utilities to manage an array of competing demands, a new paradigm is needed. Several also remarked how difficult it can be to encourage change and innovation in a highly regulated, risk-averse industry. Speakers shared what they have learned in their attempts to harness innovation at their utilities.

Play offense

When David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, first came on board, the district — much like the Chicago football team — “had been playing defense for about 10 years,” at the mercy of a regulatory schedule rather than setting its own.

“If we’re not out on front … paving the way for what is the next best step for improved water quality, then other people are going to decide this for us,” St. Pierre said. “As long as we are playing defense, someone else is going to score.” He now works closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine nutrient control processes and schedules that work for the district.

Seek alternate solutions

With multiple combined sewer overflows (CSOs) under federal consent decree, Tony Parrott, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, was considering a $537 million deep tunnel system. But as it turned out, a sustainable solution — a project that would create an urban waterway and wetlands and separate some sewers — would provide community benefits while saving $200 million.

And despite the clay soil in Chicago, St. Pierre is pushing for green infrastructure solutions. “The idea hasn’t been fully embraced by the engineering community, but … we know we’re not going to replace 10,000 miles of
pipe and 10,000 more miles of laterals,” he said. “So we’ve got to do something about keeping water on the property.”

Strengthen your brand

Karen Pallansch, CEO of Alexandria (Va.) Renew Enterprises, spoke about her utility’s recent name change from Alexandria Sanitation Authority. The problem with the old name, she said, was that residents thought the authority was responsible for collecting trash and recycling.

“People need to know who you are if you want them to invest in you,” Pallansch said. The organization’s new name was chosen to reflect not only the reclaimed water and solids products that it offers, but also the benefits of the products: the last three letters of Renew refer to nutrients, energy, and water.

Build stronger ties

“We can’t, as utility operators, do this alone — we need the public to be involved,” said St. Pierre, who has had success partnering with the nongovernmental organization community on such issues as agricultural runoff.

“Until we start dealing with these issues from a wider perspective … we’re not going to solve these problems,” St. Pierre said. “I like food and I like water. If we stop using fertilizers, they are saying there will be a 40% reduction in food production, so how do we work together to help find the answers we need to do both?”

Tell your stories

Water professionals are passionate about what they do, Pallansch said, and they all have positive stories to tell whether they work for a big utility or a small one.

“We share [these stories] amongst ourselves, but we forget to share them with the public. And it’s the public who we need that support from,” she said.

In Chicago, St. Pierre had his public affairs staff document the “firsts” that the district has provided since 1898. This resulted in more than 27 pages demonstrating the progress the district has made and the groundbreaking actions it has taken.

Invest in your future workforce

A few years ago, when Cincinnati realized that about 35% of its staff would be eligible to retire, it piloted an intern program to bring young talent into the district’s workforce.

"If you can’t afford something at the market, you’d better learn to grow it yourself,” Parrott said. The intern program, now in its sixth year, has graduated more than 125 high school students, some of whom have come back to work at the district after completing their college degrees.

By using vacancy savings from the rest of the year, DC Water is able to hire 60 to 65 interns each summer, many of whom perform research. Since these interns are college graduates or graduate students, “we can hire right from this group,” Hawkins said.

And you don’t have to be a big utility to have a thriving intern program, Pallansch emphasized. Alexandria Renew partners with a local university to offer 10-week information technology internships, and also has a 12-week
operations and maintenance program for high school seniors who plan to study environmental science in college. “The economy and environment mean there are a lot of good, highly qualified and talented people,” she said.

Always seek strategies

Speakers acknowledged that embracing change and innovation, however critical, still will be difficult given the circumstances utilities face.

“To me the biggest resistance to change is just overload. There’s so many things that we are trying to do all at once,” said Hawkins, who cited “highest priorities” at DC Water as mitigating CSOs, nitrogen removal, the long-term control plan, new digesters, the capital plan, and working with council members. “The new thing isn’t good or bad in itself; it’s just a new thing. It’s added to the top of the pile.”

Yet by sharing strategies and templates for success, utilities can learn from each others’ experiences rather than having to start from scratch. In closing the session, Eileen O’Neill, deputy executive director of the Water
Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) emphasized how the examples shared during the forum can support water utility innovation, particularly looking for “game-changing” strategies and seeing what can be learned from their application.

— Melissa H. Jackson, WE&T 


Looking for innovative solutions to turn a profit from treating solids

On Oct. 1, water-sector professionals gathered at a breakfast hosted by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (Annapolis, Md.), AIDIS (São Paulo), and the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) to learn about a project that made recommendations for free-standing latrine-waste treatment systems in developing countries.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Seattle) approached breakfast keynote speaker Richard Kuchenrither, a scholar-in-residence professor with University of Colorado Boulder, with the challenge to “find some technology that would turn sludge to a valuable resource,” Kuchenrither said. So, the search began for an omniprocessor that could convert both latrine and organic waste into beneficial products, such as an energy source and soil nutrients, he said.

Kuchenrither worked with a team that included consulting engineers, several university researchers, Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria, Va.) staff members, and a Water For People (Denver) representative to develop a report published by WERF recommending treatment solutions that met the foundation’s requirement that the technology be sustainable and free-standing; independent of electrical, water, and sewer lines; and capable of becoming a private business that generates revenue and jobs, he said. “That makes it a real challenge,” Kuchenrither said.

After looking for simple, low-cost solutions that meet the foundation’s requirements, have a small footprint, can operate in different types of locations in various weather conditions, and can be built and maintained with locally available resources, the team narrowed down 32 potential treatment technologies to a final six.

Recommended solutions included vermicomposting, single-stage anaerobic digestion, composting, agricultural and soil amendments, Stirling engines, and two methods currently being used in developing countries.

A key tool for the latrine-cleaning business is the gulper, a system in which a simple pipe is put into latrines to suction out waste that is then transported manually to a treatment facility, Kuchenrither said. Citizens take jobs running the system because it’s a business and puts money in their pockets. And in Bolivia, latrine waste is transferred into a holding area in the ground and covered to compost for 2 years, he said. The composted waste
then is land-applied to benefit agriculture.

“You’re generating revenue for people” Kuchenrither said. Using innovative, business solutions to waste problems can provide the key to proper sanitation and hygiene, which can help protect public health.

"Sanitation and hygiene [are] very important,” Kuchenrither said. “[But] there are very simple solutions.”

— Jennifer Fulcher, WE&T 

WEFTEC 2012 deluges Big Easy with stormwater content 

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) has long covered wet weather issues — stormwater that affects collection systems and creates high-rate treatment challenges. However, in the last few years, WEF and WEFTEC® have expanded their focus on stormwater to include watershed effects and solutions.

“Stormwater has come of age,” said Jeff Lape, deputy director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Science and Technology. “This was evident at WEFTEC.”

WEFTEC 2012 brought manufacturers, regulators, and practitioners from around the world to the table to exchange knowledge and ideas. The conference featured three stormwater workshops and more than 75 technical presentations. Sessions covered topics from urban forestry to creating stormwater utilities to regulatory issues. And already in the works for WEFTEC 2013 is a dedicated space focusing on stormwater programming.

“The amount of programming at WEFTEC is a reflection of the growing demand for information and experience needed to meet expanding and changing challenges in stormwater,” said Mike Beezhold, chair of WEF’s Stormwater Committee. “It covered the range of needs within a stormwater management program.”

Centralizing knowledge

This year, featured sessions highlighted such timely topics in the stormwater sector as industry trends, integrated planning approaches, and EPA’s stormwater effluent limitation guidelines for construction sites.

On the exhibition floor, the Stormwater Pavilion debuted at WEFTEC 2012 and featured more than 30 exhibitors and 930 m2 (10,000 ft2) of exhibit space. Products ranged from manhole covers and frames designed to prevent inflow and infiltration to hydrodynamic separators. There were cisterns for capturing and using stormwater onsite, as well as mobile stormwater treatment units. In addition to the latest equipment, exhibitors offered such services as stormwater certification programs.

“Having a theme-based approach is a great way to bring stormwater technology to one location,” Lape said. It can help attendees find what they are looking for among WEFTEC’s nearly 1000 exhibiting companies, he said.

“We are already looking at ways to expand the number of stormwater manufacturers and to increase the value for those exhibitors in the Stormwater Pavilion at WEFTEC 2013,” said Seth Brown, WEF’s stormwater program and policy manager. “We’ll be working to drive even more traffic to the pavilion and to better align the exhibition with our technical programming.”

This year was also a first for the Stormwater Symposium, a 2-day conference held in Baltimore that attracted more than 360 water professionals. Next year, this event will be held at WEFTEC 2013 as a conference within a conference. The Stormwater Pavilion still will be located on the exhibit floor but will be close to stormwater technical programming.

“I think WEFTEC can be the premier stormwater exhibition,” said Craig Beatty, president of the Stormwater Equipment Manufacturers Association (St. Paul, Minn.). “As time goes on, it will get better and better.”

In the future, Beatty said he would like to see programming that highlights the complementary nature of proprietary devices and landscape-based treatment options; stormwater devices are additional tools in the stormwater manger’s toolbox. “You need to take advantage of the full range of possible solutions,” Beatty said.

Expert connection

In addition to programming and exhibits, WEFTEC also supports networking, idea generation, and open discussions. WEF facilitated a meeting between stormwater practitioners and EPA staff, including Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner.

"We discussed one of the key obstacles to innovation in stormwater — specifically, the importance of a systematic, cost-effective, and timely nationally recognized technology verification program,” said Bob Adair, president of Convergent Water Technologies (Houston). “The meeting was both important and productive.”

Last year marked the founding of WEF’s Stormwater Committee. The group met again this year to assess its progress and generate ideas for future projects.

“There are a lot of topics in stormwater that the committee wants to cover,” Beezhold said, “some on the technical side and some on the regulatory side, especially with EPA’s rulemaking effort.” As the field becomes more
mature, the committee will support more operations and maintenance education and training, he added.

— Kristina Twigg, WE&T 

For more news and events on stormwater, subscribe to The Stormwater Report.

This monthly e-newsletter appears on the first Thursday of every month and highlights advanced practices, cutting-edge research, policy updates, and current events pertaining to stormwater.

Don’t miss

“Ten Reasons Managing Stormwater Is Different From Wastewater”

by Andrew J. Reese in the November issue.


©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.