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Innovation and Challenges from the Leading Utilties of the World New Member Inaugural Session

 

By Meg Kramer

April 25, 2019

The Water Center At Penn’s (WCP) Executive Director and Chairman of the Leading Utilities of the World (LUOW) Howard Neukrug introduced the newest LUOW members to a packed room at the Global Water Summit in London, England on April 9th.  LUOW is an exclusive group of the world’s most innovative and successful water utilities. This group comes together twice a year at the Global and American Water Summits to discuss challenges, share successes, and spur further innovation. Utility leaders from across the globe want to hear what this group has to say.

The newest LOUW members include Yarra Valley Water -Victoria Australia, Aguas de Portugal – Lisbon Portugal, Berliner Wasserbetriebe – Berlin Germany, SIAAP – Paris France and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) – Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The addition of these five utilities brings the total number of LOUW members to 41. LUOW will cap its membership at 100 utilities.

Collaboration is a hallmark of the LUOW membership, so when utilities join the group they are asked to present their key challenges and innovations so that other utilities can expand their knowledge and potentially glean new ideas and strategies for their own operations. While the five utilities that presented in London shared some common challenges such as increasing stakeholder engagement, storm water management, wastewater treatment and increasing operational digitization, their unique approaches to challenges were as interesting as they were diverse. Here are a few that stood out.

After listening to its customers carefully, Berliner Wasserbetriebe discovered that its customers highly valued a particular part of the Spree River for swimming. However after heavy rains the Spree River is subject to short-term pollution due to combined sewer overflows. That part of the river was tested only every few weeks with results coming back 24-48 hours later, so customers didn’t know when it was safe to swim. To address the issue Berliner Wasserbetriebe undertook a research project with Flusshygiene company to develop a forecasting tool that would predict when the river is safe for swimming. The result was the creation of an app that forecasts water quality so customers have access to first hand information on the quality of water where they want to swim.

Aguas of Portugal is the largest water company in Portugal serving 80% of Portugal’s population. With the frequency and intensity of drought increasing, Aguas of Portugal understands it must take a broad perspective to address key challenges. Closing the water cycle through the development of wastewater treatment facilities that allow urban grey water to support agriculture and industry is part of that broad perspective. To close the water cycle, Aguas of Portugal works with industrial plants and agriculture to integrate water reuse for energy as well as irrigation needs, thus reducing overall dependence on groundwater.  In addition, water reuse ensures green corridors along city stay green so citizens see and enjoy the benefits of water reuse.

 

 

 

 Yarra Valley Water serves the Victoria region of Australia and is the third largest water utility in Australia. The impact of climate change in the region is being felt acutely through higher temperatures and lower rainfall, yet the population continues to grow. Providing sufficient water supply under these increasingly challenging conditions is costly as desalination is now essential. As the cost to supply sufficient water through desalination went up, Yarra Valley Water had to grapple with raising costs customer  costs, but they took a novel approach to do so.

To understand what their two million customers expected and valued and to find a price that would be considered fair by everyone, Yarra Valley Water created a Citizen’s Jury.  The Citizen’s Jury consisted of 36 citizens selected at random to determine the price the community would pay for water. Yarra Valley provided the jury with background quantitative data about how clean and reliable water was being supplied to the community then let them find a balance of price and service that was fair for everyone.  The verdict?  A price that was equitable and that the community embraced.

One of Yarra Valley Water’s goals is to be an “environmentally restorative” utility through commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025. To accomplish this goal they built Australia’s first large-scale food waste to energy plant which has also become a new business development opportunity. The Yarra Valley energy plant not only decreases food waste at landfills and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it provides financial return through gate fees, energy exports and decreased operating expenses.  In addition, through a partnership with the community, local government, and a nearby agricultural college, a sustainable farm that uses renewable energy and recycled wastewater is located at the energy plant and serves as a volunteer, education and food center for the community.  Yarra Valley Water has demonstrated that the more they can do to extend selves into community, the better for everyone.

These inspiring examples of leadership, innovative problem solving and commitment to do more as a utility showcases what it means to be a member of LUOW.  To close the session Raveen Jadurem, CEO of Watercare Services New Zealand, another LOUW member, summed up what it means to be part of the group. Being part of LOUW allows utilities to “take bits and pieces from each other, join the dots and share and grow to make the planet a better place.”  For more inspiration about what these leading utilities are doing to change the world, go to the LUOW website.

 

 

America’s Water Crisis Isn’t Just in Flint

 

By Meg Kramer

April 8, 2019

The Global Water Alliance conference was held on March 21st at the University of Pennsylvania to explore Water and Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) challenges globally as well as in the United States. The conference was supported by The Water Center at Penn (WCP) and the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and attracted over 100 interested faculty, students, and representatives from external organizations.

The first panel of the morning was a wake up call to many in the audience. Many people assume that WASH challenges exist in developing countries, not in the United States. When Americans think about our national water problems, they often think about Flint Michigan where contaminated water has had negative health, economic and social impacts on thousands of residents, the majority of whom are underprivileged. And while Flint Michigan has become the symbol of America’s water crisis, the first panel of the Global Water Alliance conference showed that Flint is just one of the many water crises plaguing communities across the United States.

The first panel, titled WASH Challenges in the US: Water System Vulnerabilities in the US, was lead by Howard Neukrug, Executive Director of WCP and included Zoe Roller, US Water Alliance, Emily Kutil, We the People of Detroit and Mustafa Santiago Ali, World Wildlife Federation.

After Neukrug provided a brief description of how and why much of the US urban water system is failing, Zoe Roller discussed how water access and affordability reflects deep inequalities across America. Over 1.6 million people in the US lack access to water facilities, most of whom reside in vulnerable communities such as minority and tribal groups.

Data on this topic is insufficient so the US Water Alliance conducted a National Hotspot Study to understand how lack of water in these communities affects health, educational and economic potential. Using a combination of approaches, research teams went to six Hotspots around the US.

  1. California where at least 85,000 homes are without plumbing and groundwater contamination is rampant due to agricultural run off and industrial contamination. Some migrant workers live in their cars and therefore have no access to running water.
  2. The Four Corner states where researchers found that in tribal areas 40% of households have no access to plumbing. Water is also contaminated from radioactive uranium as a result of nuclear testing and some people have to drive several hours to get water.
  3. Colonias on the US/Mexico border where informally built housing units lack access to wastewater treatment and complete plumbing. Lack of trust in water systems is another hallmark of this part of the country.
  4. Appalachia where water quality is seriously impacted from acid mine drainage. People then compound the public health problems caused by contaminated water by releasing wastewater into the streams from which they drink.
  5. The Deep South in Alabama and Mississippi. In this part of the country only 20% of the population has septic systems, but those septic systems are failing. Additionally, soil in the region is not absorbent so spraying wastewater simply causes raw sewage to run into peoples’ yards.
  6. Puerto Rico where 5% of the population lacks plumbing and almost all water issues have been exacerbated by Hurricane Maria. Today many houses are still unable to connect to sewer lines.

 

 

 

Despite the unique WASH challenges each Hotspot faces, there are commonalities between them. Each Hotspot faces a multitude of problems, all of which are interrelated.  Each Hotspot lacks funding to maintain and or fix their water infrastructure. And each Hotspot has a legacy of colonialism that helped to create disproportionate water problems for underprivileged communities.

Emily Kutil of We the People of Detroit picked up on Roller’s point about disproportionate water problems in underprivileged communities and the lack of environmental justice by showing how the Flint water crisis was a result of a series of political decisions made in favor of wealthier suburban versus lower income city residents. These decisions resulted in the removal of Flint from Detroit’s water infrastructure system, which lead to the serious water quality issues that have been making headlines for several years.

Mustafa Santiago Ali of World Wildlife Federation rounded out the panel by pointing out that over 3,000 locations in the US have higher lead levels in their drinking water than in Flint. “Why aren’t we talking about it?” he asked. Ali listed other surprising facts such as that in Appalachia over 3,000 mines are still leaking toxic chemicals into US waterways; that in poor areas, people on fixed incomes have no choice but to drink contaminated water because bottled water is simply too expensive; and that it is not just minorities who are impacted. People on military bases are commonly exposed to many toxins including PFOS and other contaminants in their water supply.

“Who gets to make decisions about what type of infrastructure will exist in our communities?” Ali asked. Unfortunately, right now the people who own the copper mines and fracking operations are making the decisions due to their influence with politicians and regulators, while the many citizens, especially the underprivileged, don’t have that same access or influence.

But these injustices will soon become too difficult to bear. With increasing impacts of climate change, water resources will become scarcer and water quality will be more challenging to maintain. Ali reminded the audience what Martin Luther King said long ago, “We come to these shores in different ships but we are all in the same boat now.”

 

A Walk for Water

 

By Samira Mehta

April 1, 2019

On Saturday, March 23rd, forty-eight people – adults, college students, and even two babies – gathered on Shoemaker Green to participate in Isla Urbana at Penn’s first annual Walk for Water in collaboration with the Water Center at Penn. The walk was organized with the goal of starting a conversation in Philadelphia about global water scarcity issues. All proceeds from the event supported Isla Urbana Foundation in combating the water crisis in Mexico City through the installation of rainwater harvesting systems into vulnerable schools and communities.

The event began with a speech by Samira Mehta and Pallavi Menon, the co-founders and co-presidents of Isla Urbana at Penn. They spoke about the origins of the water crisis, explaining that a key factor in the development of water scarcity issues in Mexico City is the rapid depletion of the city’s main source of water: an aquifer underground. Within the city, this has resulted in frequent water shutdowns; however, it is really in the outskirts of Mexico City in the mountainous regions where the true severity of the problem is seen. The people living in these communities are off-grid access to water, meaning that there aren’t pipes coming in from the city to bring them water. These families rely on government issued water trucks known as “las pipas,” which are supposed to bring them water on a fixed schedule. Due to the limited supply of water, these families are living off of around 20 liters a day per person, which is less than a third of the amount of water used during an average shower in the United States. The water trucks, however, by no means stick to their schedule. Often they will not come for 3 to 4 weeks with no advance notice, so families don’t know when they will be getting water next. The burden falls mainly on women and children to walk up and down these mountains several times a day to obtain water for their families. This means that children are unable to go to school and women cannot focus on their careers.

These water scarcity issues are not unique to Mexico City, and are certainly not unique to developing countries, as the next speaker, Swati Hegde, a senior fellow from the Water Center, pointed out. There are currently eleven day zero cities around the globe, including Mexico City, Miami, Cape Town, and Bangalore. Water scarcity is clearly an issue that exists on every continent and is quickly growing. In Africa and Asia especially, the burden of obtaining water is placed on woman. On average, women will have to walk 3.7 miles per day for water, often with the fear of being raped, injured, or attacked by an animal. Even so, there is no guarantee that the water that they have fetched is safe to drink.

 

Although water scarcity is a rapidly growing issue, as Hegde explained, from the development of desalination techniques and drip irrigation to finding ways to implement  stormwater management and rainwater harvesting, technology and innovation have been part of key efforts to solve this issue. In Mexico City specifically, Isla Urbana has been installing rainwater harvesting systems into schools and communities that are most vulnerable to the water crisis. During the rainy season, these harvesting systems are able to alleviate problems of flooding and provide plentiful water to families. In the dry season, families are able to tap into their stored water resources when the water trucks don’t come. Because of this, rainwater harvesting systems can provide families with 40%-80 of their annual water supply.

After the speeches, it was time for the walk! The group of 48 marched through Penn Park holding the Walk for Water banner. As we walked, participants had time to discuss amongst themselves and with the featured speakers about water scarcity issues. This was what was most inspiring to see. Our walk had not only spread awareness about water scarcity, but had started a discussion. It is through this readiness to learn and to openly discuss the topic that we truly take steps towards a solution, so Isla Urbana at Penn is glad to have been an initiator.

            The walk concluded at the Class of 1923 Ice Arena, where we took off our walking shoes and put on ice skates! We all celebrated a walk well done with some victory laps around the ice and pizza.

Isla Urbana at Penn is so pleased with the success of the event. Through ticket sales and donations, we raised $4,287! This Summer, five of our members will be traveling to Mexico City. All proceeds from the walk will be used to fund rainwater harvesting systems that our members will personally be installing in communities and schools. We are excited to continue our partnership with the Water Center at Penn so that we can continue to grow this event every year.

 

The World’s Water Crisis: Equity, Equality and Security: A Water Center Discussion at Perry World House

 

By Meg Kramer, The Water Center at Penn

March 25, 2019

On Tuesday, March 12th at Perry World House, a full house of interested faculty and students listened to Scott Moore, The Water Center at Penn’s (WCP) Senior Fellow and Director of Penn’s Global China Program and Howard Neukrug, WCP’s Executive Director and former Commissioner of Philadelphia Water discuss the global water crisis. A wide-ranging and lively discussion covered different facets of the global water crisis and key challenges to solving the crisis, including the extraordinarily difficult challenge of assigning a value to water that is both fair and affordable.

Moore began the discussion by pointing out that the world’s water crisis is actually several different intersecting crises including equity, equality and security. Climate change is causing a wide range of repercussions related to groundwater which impacts how and where the world’s water is available and therefore used.

Satellite images from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) show what is happening to groundwater on a global scale. Groundwater has been described as the earth’s last major available source of freshwater. GRACE shows severe groundwater depletion on every continent. This is an extremely serious issue as groundwater supports a large portion of global agricultural production as well as data centers, power plants and a multitude of other industries.

Water availability and distribution are also impacted.  “Water is not always available where and when you want it” Moore pointed out, and although water availability is typically uneven across time and place due to seasonal fluctuations, the problem of insufficient water supply is getting worse for a larger portion of the global population. The majority of the world’s population experiences some water scarcity for at least some part of the year.

Water quality issues are also worsening although they affect different regions in different ways. Agricultural run off causes nutrient pollution in rural areas while urban areas confront exotic pollutants including chemicals that disrupt hormone balance in aquatic life. 800 million people across the world currently lack access to clean water due to these as well as other water quality issues. And water quality issues occur in both developed and underdeveloped countries.

While Moore’s new book, “Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation and Institution-Building in Shared River Basins” finds that we likely won’t see as many conflicts over water as some people predict, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take water issues seriously, particularly the need to identify a shared value of water that is both equitable and affordable.

Moore noted, “Its really hard to get people to use something sustainably, efficiently and effectively if they don’t have some concrete way to value it. The best way to do that is to put some type of price on a resource or a commodity. I hasten to add that water is not like energy or minerals or other resources where you can just leave it at that and let the market do the work. Obviously everyone needs access to at least a minimum quantity of water.”  This is where the significant issues of equity, equality and security come into focus. Ethical issues necessitate that both people and the environment maintain access to sufficient water supply.

When it comes to water pricing what is the answer to the affordability question?  According to Neukrug, “It’s a very difficult paradox – the ultimate paradox. On the one hand, as a water utility leader, you need to ensure that the water is safe to drink but on the other hand, you have to pay to fix crumbling infrastructure.”  Water rates need to increase to ensure access and quality but no mayor or city leader wants to raise water rates.  Moore noted, “Virtually everywhere in the world, water prices have to rise. People may not like it but I think it’s probably a fair statement. But…. you have to get back to the equity and equality considerations and find a balance.”

Neukrug gave the example of Philadelphia Water’s Tiered Assistance Program (TAP) as an example of how equity and equality can be factored into a water rate system. Through TAP, households are charged a percentage of total monthly income (between 2 and 4%) based on the household’s percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), with the lowest percentages of FPL being charged the lowest percentage of income. TAP is seeing initial success with a growing number of households participating in the program.

As the Philadelphia example shows, despite steep water challenges, decision makers can find solutions by working with a broad base of water users, understanding how those users perceive water’s value and incorporating equity and equality in the decision making process.

Subnational Hydropolitics: Book Talk Review

 

By Meg Kramer, The Water Center at Penn

February 28, 2019

Scott Moore, Senior Fellow at The Water Center at Penn and Penn Global China Program Director, gave a talk on his latest book, Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflicts, Cooperation and Institution Building in Shared River Basins, at the University of Pennsylvania bookstore on Tuesday, March 26th to a group of interested faculty, students and West Philadelphia community members.

Moore first became interested in understanding the potential for increased conflict over water due climate change during his time at The World Bank. Moore says there are three primary challenges to the current global water crisis. These challenges are not new. Populations around the world have been dealing with these challenges throughout millennia. However, each challenge has become more formidable due to the impact of climate change.

Challenge #1 – There is not enough fresh water available where it is needed. The amount of water on the planet is fixed and only .5% of the world’s total water is usable, primarily in the form of groundwater. The world’s growing population is putting pressure on that small percentage of usable water. First, the world’s largest user of water is agriculture, which uses 70% of the .5% of available fresh water. A growing population requires greater agricultural output and therefore more water, but agricultural production is not necessarily located in areas with sufficient water resources to support increased output. Second, the growing global population is becoming more urbanized, requiring more water on a daily basis in urbanized areas, which are not necessarily in water rich locations.

Challenge #2 – There is not enough fresh water available when it is needed. Water cycles are becoming more unpredictable and extreme. Weather events such as droughts and floods are becoming more common due to climate change, disrupting the natural seasonal cycles necessary for food production and creating challenges to securing the water necessary for energy production and other demands of modern living.

Challenge #3 – Water quality is not reliable. In addition to traditional water quality threats from non-point source pollution such as agricultural and urban run off, exotic chemicals from endocrine disrupting chemicals found in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals such as birth control are degrading water quality. While the full impact of these chemicals is not yet fully understood, evidence of their impact such as declining fish populations and species malformation indicates that threats to human health are likely.

So what do these multi-faceted challenges mean?  Should we expect these water issues to lead to forms of violent conflict as some past and present thought leaders suggest?

According to Moore’s research, there isn’t a strong correlation between these challenges and violent conflict. During the modern era, out of 6,500 incidents between multiple countries regarding water issues, only 27 resulted in any type of violence and none resulted in warfare. Instead, there were approximately 200 cases where countries came together to agree on how to share and manage water.

However, within countries there are appears to be more conflict and even some cases of violence over water issues.  Moore’s book examines the commonalities in these situations and attempts to identify the causes of water conflicts as well as ways those conflicts can be resolved. Using examples from the US, China, Israel and France, Moore reveals that the cause of water conflict is often emotional. People get upset when they perceive that water is being distributed and used unfairly or if water quality is threatened, particularly in areas where water is scarce.  Unfortunately, politicians have tapped into this emotional trigger and sometimes use it as an issue to polarize population segments for political gain.

Despite this tension, the good news is that water conflicts often lead to cooperation and mutually beneficial solutions to managing and using water resources. The most successful instances of cooperation are when governments involve civil society and third parties in finding the solutions. When water solutions are confined to the political sphere, polarization continues, but taking an inclusive approach that brings together multiple voices from multiple sectors transforms conflict into cooperation.

An example of this is the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), established in 1961 after President Kennedy approved legislation that allowed the federal government to participate in the compact under which the DRBC was formed. The DRBC includes the governors and state leaders of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as federal government leaders.  Including both state and federal representation helps ensure that disputes between states over water issues can be resolved and that no one state has more of an advantage than another.

Beyond inclusive problem solving, Moore stressed the growing need to value water appropriately through monetary measures. “When it comes to resources, especially a resource as valuable as water, its hard to use something well that we don’t value monetarily” Moore said.  Moore used gasoline pricing as an example. If the price of gas goes up, people tend to change their behavior, driving less in order to use less gas. Water, like gas, must have an appropriate economic value. It will be difficult to make water use sustainable around the world if there isn’t a way to charge people more for the water they use, especially as water becomes scarcer. This is especially true when it comes to water quality.  It’s expensive to treat water and wastewater to ensure its quality. Higher water pricing will be necessary, particularly in urban areas where treatment is essential.

In closing, Moore stressed the need to consider equity when it comes to water pricing. “Water, as the most essential commodity of all, is not something you can deny people.  Its not the case that you can just put a price on it and let the market take its course.  You have to ensure that everyone has access to water.” Avoiding conflict around water issues will require solutions that are both sustainable and equitable.

Salt Intrusion: A Threat To Source Water Quality

 

By Swati Hegde, Senior Fellow, The Water Center at Penn

February 14, 2019

Salt (salinity) intrusion is the movement of saline water into freshwater aquifers resulting in contamination of drinking water resources. Salinity intrusion can occur during the events of reduced streamflow caused by severe drought or, potentially, due to climate change-related sea level rise[1]. However, other significant factors such as increased ground-water pumping can increase the rate of intrusion of saline water into ground-water sources resulting in a high water treatment cost in places that rely on ground-water for a source of drinking water[2]. Salt intrusion also renders ground-water wells unusable due to elevated chlorine concentration. In case of surface waters, as the sea levels rise, a hydrodynamic phenomenon occurs, where the ‘salt-fronts’ progress further upstream (for example, Delaware Bay). This phenomenon is happening at an alarming rate in various regions and may diminish the quality and availability of water sources for drinking water utilities.

An illustration of salt intrusion phenomenon, source: EPA

Cases of Salt intrusion:

Many case studies have reported the extent of contamination caused in crucial aquifers by salt water. In Gaza, the Mediterranean Sea is percolating through the sand, impinging on a fresh ground-water reserve—a salty invader contaminating the primary drinking water source for more than a million people[3]. Miami Beach, Florida, stands as a sign of the times in which coastal regions are being impacted by sea level rise. Nearly seven million people in four south Florida counties rely on the Biscayne Aquifer for their drinking water[4]. As a coastal aquifer connected to the floor of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it is vulnerable to potential salt contamination. In the Mid-Atlantic region- the Delaware Estuary- a primary source of drinking water to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, is at a significant threat by saltwater intrusion. Because saltwater contains high concentrations of dissolved solids and inorganic matter, it is unfit for human consumption and other recreational uses. Saltwater intrusion affects ground-water stock negatively and, in extreme cases, results in the abandonment of supply wells when dissolved ion levels exceed drinking-water standards. Several other case studies can be found here.

Several city planning departments have been taking proactive measures to track salinity levels in the drinking water supply. The Environmental Fluid Dynamics Code (EFDC) modeling has been utilized by the departments to model salinity intrusion in York River, Indian River Lagoon, Lake Worth and Philadelphia Water Department. Salt-laced water known in the water world as “salt front” or “salt-line” is identified where the chlorine concentration is 250 mg/L[5]. The total dissolved solids concentration in seawater is about 35,000 mg/L, of which chloride ion is the most significant component (about 19,000 mg/L). Levels of chloride in fresh ground water along the Atlantic coast are typically less than about 20 mg/L, so there is a significant contrast in chloride concentrations between freshwater and saltwater[6]. The salt line’s locations fluctuate throughout a water body as the inflows can increase or decrease, resulting in dilution or concentration of chlorides in water.

 

[1] https://www.hakaimagazine.com/news/water-wars-seeping-saltwater-threatening-our-drinking-water/

[2] https://foresternetwork.com/weekly/water-efficiency-weekly/water-sources/protecting-drinking-water-from-saltwater-intrusion/

[3] https://www.phila.gov/water/sustainability/protectingwaterways/Pages/default.aspx

[4] https://www.epa.gov/arc-x/climate-adaptation-and-saltwater-intrusion

[5] https://www.state.nj.us/drbc/hydrological/river/salt-line.html

[6] https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2003/circ1262/#figurecaption44411400

 Approaches to reducing salt intrusion:

A common approach to reducing saltwater intrusion has been to reduce the rate of ground-water pumping from coastal supply wells or to move the locations of pumping further inland. Reduced coastal extractions allow ground-water levels to recover from their stressed levels, and allow space for fresh ground-water to displace the intruded saltwater. In some states like New Jersey, reductions in ground-water withdrawals in some coastal counties due to a State mandate have resulted in ground-water-level increases in aquifers that have been affected by saltwater intrusion. There have also been efforts to artificially recharge freshwater into an aquifer to increase ground-water levels and control the hydraulic movement of the invading saltwater. Specially designed Injection wells or by infiltration of freshwater at the land surface are used to accomplish artificial recharge[7]. The most noticeable example of the use of artificial recharge in the United States is in southeastern Florida. In that area, a widespread network of surface-water canals is used to transport fresh water from inland water-storage locations during the dry season to coastal regions, where the water is recharged through the canals to the underlying aquifer to slow saltwater intrusion in the aquifer.

In addition to conventional methods, scientific and innovative strategies are now being used to control or manage saltwater intrusion along the Atlantic coast. These include aquifer storage and recovery systems and desalination systems. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a process by which water is recharged through wells into a suitable aquifer, stored for a duration, and then extracted from the same wells when needed[8]. Typically, water is stored during rainy and wet seasons and pumped during dry seasons. ASR systems have been developed in New Jersey, the town of Chesapeake, Virginia, Wildwood (Cape May County), the and at several locations in Florida.

Desalination is a water-treatment process that produces freshwater by removing dissolved salts from saline or brackish waters by using a membrane-based process called reverse osmosis. Desalination systems are increasingly being adopted in the United States. One of the exciting aspects of the increased use of desalination systems is that it changes the perspective on saline or brackish water from that of a potential water problem (a contaminant) to that of a potential water source. The desalination plant in Cape May, New Jersey is capable of producing 2 million gallons treated water output per day and was installed at a total cost of USD 5 million in 1998[9].

Challenges and Opportunities:

Despite the regulatory and non-regulatory efforts to manage salt intrusion, there are several challenges and opportunities associated with this problem. Some of the issues that need immediate attention are,

  • Periodic evaluation of the ground-water monitoring systems and estimates of ground-water use especially in areas where ground-water development has recently begun or increasing at a substantial rate
  • Improved understanding of the phenomena that lead to saltwater intrusion via monitoring, modeling and simulation studies
  • There is a growing need to quantify the relative importance of ground-water as a source of drinking water and contaminants to different types of coastal ecosystems
  • There are a number of areas in which scientific evaluations are needed to support conventional and emerging approaches for ground-water management in coastal regions.

Because of increasing awareness of the critical role of ground-water in sustaining coastal populations, ecosystems, and economies, the time is right to review some of the essential water-management issues and scientific principles related to ground-water and to identify some of the management challenges that lie ahead.  As coastal populations and ground-water use increase, new monitoring and research efforts will be needed to characterize the occurrence and hydrodynamics of saline ground-water in different types of coastal terrains. Novel methods are required to better understand the linkages between ground-water discharge and quality and the sustenance of coastal ecosystems.

[7] https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2003/circ1262/#figurecaption44411400

[8] https://www.epa.gov/uic/aquifer-recharge-and-aquifer-storage-and-recovery

[9] https://www.capemay.com/blog/2000/10/desalination-cape-may-leads-the-northeastern-u-s/

Municipalities Get Boost from Major Water Legislation

 

By Stephanie Chiorean, Senior Fellow, The Water Center at Penn

January 28, 2019

Following years of advocacy, bipartisan sponsorship, as well as House and Senate support, the administration signed the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act amending the Clean Water Act on January 14, 2019. A progressive move, considering the recent efforts to repeal the 2015 definition of the Waters of the United States rule and revise it, narrowing the definition of the bodies of water that the Clean Water Act applies to.

The new Water Infrastructure Improvement Act addendum codifies integrated planning and green infrastructure, optimizing municipalities’ abilities to develop flexible, affordable, and adaptable programs addressing critical water quality impacts. With municipalities facing mounting challenges such as aging infrastructure and climate change, balancing financial priorities and preparing for current and future realities is more critical than ever. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $472.6 billion in drinking water infrastructure are needed between 2015 and 2034, and $271 billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure from 2012- 2032. The total projected cost of over $750 billion will likely be exacerbated by climate change, and the effects are disproportionate based on socioeconomic disparities. Keeping rates affordable for all, and demonstrating the value of infrastructure investments is part of developing comprehensive strategies to deliver sustainable solutions protecting public health and the environmental.

In the new amendment, the definition of an integrated plan refers to a plan developed following the framework outlined in EPA’s 2012 guidance: “Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework.” Integrated planning enables municipalities to apply for permits with a scope incorporating all requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA), including wastewater and stormwater management plans, rather than developing distinct programs to address obligations for each separately.  The EPA Administrator also has the responsibility to inform any municipality undergoing an enforcement action that they have the opportunity to develop an integrated plan. In addition, municipalities that have obligations under a consent decree or agreement can request a modification based on an integrated plan that the municipality has developed. This allows for the renegotiation of how to meet CWA obligations, and aligning municipalities’ priorities for capital investments, while tailoring the combination of solutions to local water issues and considering sustainability and affordability factors. The Act also outlines terms for compliance schedules, as well as interactions between other standards within the CWA, and the flexibility and clarification of State authority.

[1] Proposed Revised Definition of Waters of the United States, EPA, December 2018.

https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule/proposed-revised-definition-wotus-factsheets

[2] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-10/documents/corrected_sixth_drinking_water_infrastructure_needs_survey_and_assessment.pdf

[3] https://archive.epa.gov/epa/newsreleases/epa-survey-shows-271-billion-needed-nations-wastewater-infrastructure.html

Critical elements of an integrated plan include a process for community stakeholder engagement throughout the planning and implementation phases; a process for alternative development and selection, including financial strategies and capability assessment for each alternative; and development of performance criteria and measures of success for implementation. Most significantly, an integrated plan can include the implementation of “innovative projects, to reclaim, recycle, or reuse water; and green infrastructure.”

The Act further legitimizes green infrastructure to manage stormwater by specifically calling for amending the Clean Water Act to include green infrastructure and its promotion by EPA’s administration. As defined by the amendment, green infrastructure encompasses a “range of measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable surfaces or substrates, stormwater harvest and reuse, or landscaping to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate stormwater and reduce flows to sewer systems or to surface waters.”

Green infrastructure has been encouraged at the federal level by the EPA’s Office of Water for more than a decade, with policy memos supporting green infrastructure integration into federally regulated programs regarding municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).

An intentional focus on green infrastructure, combined with assistance by the proposed establishment of Office of Ombudsman, headed by a Municipal Ombudsman, reinforces the connection between integrated planning and green infrastructure as one of its important elements. The Municipal Ombudsman’s role is to provide assistance and publicly share information about available Federal financial assistance, what the flexibility potential is under the Clean Water Act, and the opportunity to develop an integrated plan.

Committing to increased promotion of green infrastructure and integrated planning will hopefully boost the adoption of green infrastructure and capacity for planning integrated investment, across small and large communities across the US. Locally, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD)  has led the charge of proposing and implementing a stormwater management program primarily focused on green stormwater infrastructure with its groundbreaking Green City, Clean Waters program. Historically, PWD also has provided technical support to upstream communities through its watershed based approach, contributing towards building capacity for improved water quality benefiting those communities and Philadelphia’s sourcewater. With this additional support, as well as federal and state funding, hopefully this points to a continued improvement to water quality across our region.

[4]  Water Infrastructure Improvement Act. H.R.7279 https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/7279/text

[5] https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/integrating-green-infrastructure-federal-regulatory-programs

Water for Cash – A Primer on Water Markets

 

By Dipak Kumar, January 17, 2019

Originally posted by Wharton Public Policy Initiative: 

https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/1803-water-for-cash-a-primer-on-water-markets

Introduction

Despite heavy rains and snowfall last winter, the water issues in the western United States have not been resolved for the long term. Groundwater tables are still low after being relied upon heavily during the previous drought years. The underlying legislative and infrastructural conditions prior to the drought have not changed. A sustainable, free-market solution, addressing future water crises could be a market for water trading. Instead of the government allocating water resources, water trading incentivizes and monetizes water conservation on the demand side while also helping water get to where it is most needed [1].

(Thumbnail Source: http://businesswolf.org/improve-small-business-cash-flow-6-amazing-tips/)

A water market and its benefits

Water rights are central to any discussion about a water market. In the western United States, water is allocated primarily by historical precedent and fixed [2]. In California for example, if a piece of land came with a right to 10,000 acre feet of water 100 years ago, that water right is likely still bundled with that land. Moreover, any piece of land that is adjacent to a body of water or over a groundwater source comes with a right to the adjacent water. Under most current arrangements, owners of water rights lose their right to water if they do not use their entire allocation [3]. This arrangement incentivizes a “use it or lose it” mentality, where users of water are encouraged to utilize their entire allocation instead of conserving water. The perverse incentive scheme results in a race to the bottom of the water barrel. Users are pushed to pump as much groundwater or utilize as much of the surface water as possible so that other users cannot take advantage.

A potential free-market solution that addresses these poor incentives is a water market. As explained on an NPR segment on water, a water market can be described as a stock market for water [4]. Instead of offering financial products like stocks and bonds, sellers in water markets can offer short or long term leases on their water rights and even sell them outright.

A water market offers numerous advantages. First, it encourages conservation. By creating a price for water, it can visibly demonstrate the effects of saving it [5]. According to the Nature Conservancy, there is still much potential to implement water conservation technologies and irrigation techniques in the United States [6]. If a user can trade their water savings for cash, they will be much more likely to invest in conservation technologies [7].

(Utilizing Dripline, a popular irrigation technique that optimizes water use Source: https://www.precisionfarmingdealer.com/articles/1317-tapping-the-irrigation-market-with-precision-technology)

Water trading, done right, also has the reciprocal effect of getting water to where it is most needed. In the short-term, transfers can reduce the economic effects of droughts by shifting water to activities and places where a lack of water will cost the most [8]. In the long-term it can account for geographic changes in water demands and in turn a shifting economy [9]. Proponents of the transfer benefit can point to successful real world examples. When a stable market for water rights was opened in Nebraska, a conservation group invested to restore the Platte river without the hassle of legislation [10]. In Washington State, farmers with junior water rights saw their allocation evaporate in 2015, but because of a water market they were able to purchase the necessary water from senior rights holders to keep their fruit orchards in production [11]. In Australia, a water trading market designed during the worst years of the Australian drought increased conservation and preserved the Murray-Darling river basin agricultural industry [12].

Water markets offer the clearest opportunity where environmentalists, urban users, and agriculturists can work together to optimize water allocation.

[1] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0308/How-water-swaps-help-the-West-manage-a-precious-resource.

[2] http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=A1846C70733741E093A2710176E9BCF6&CID=171B4C325C636C6C093E46785D526D7D&rd=1&h=6HrZMkahFAd_638323M3-ryL97oKSd51pBl-9Wa15Cw&v=1&r=http%3a%2f%2faic.ucdavis.edu%2fevents%2foutlook05%2fSawyer_primer.pdf&p=DevEx,5061.1.

[3] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0303/America-s-biggest-water-users-farmers-learn-to-use-less-of-it.

[4] http://www.npr.org/2015/04/18/400573611/a-water-markets-might-work-in-california.

[5] http://www.npr.org/2015/04/18/400573611/a-water-markets-might-work-in-california.

[6] https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/riverslakes/water-markets.xml?redirect=https-301.

[7] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0303/America-s-biggest-water-users-farmers-learn-to-use-less-of-it.

[8] http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1177.

[9] http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1177.

[10] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0308/How-water-swaps-help-the-West-manage-a-precious-resource.

[11] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0308/How-water-swaps-help-the-West-manage-a-precious-resource.

[12] http://www.nationalwatermarket.gov.au/about/

Procedural Challenges

The benefits of a water market are only realized if the market is managed effectively. An effective water market needs the following characteristics: established and clear water rights, an ability to undertake transactions related to those water rights, and access to relevant market information [13].

Most water markets in the western United States do not meet these conditions. Many states, just like California, have a lack of clear water rights [14]. In addition, these rights are not easily tradeable. For one, they are often bundled to the land and cannot be separated [15]. Secondly, sellers undertake a significant amount of risk. A lack of clarity in water rights law leaves the potential for attorney involvement in any water transaction [16].

Even without legal interference, the exchange market as it currently exists is difficult to navigate. A seller must gain permission from countless local and state government water authorities before leasing or selling their water rights [17]. Even then there is no guarantee the water will be delivered. Sellers do not have control over the decision to operate state aqueducts that ultimately determine where water goes [18].

(The State run State Water Project of California, Source: http://www.watereducation.org/aquapedia/state-water-project)

Additionally, it is hard to tell whose water is whose, and if people own the rights to the water they sell. The nature of water itself dictates that it must be stored somewhere, and this storage is frequently communal. Also, there must be some way to measure the seller using less and the buyer using more as it is impossible to trade the same water that is on one’s property to someone else miles away. This measurement information must be accessible by all potential sellers and buyers, and currently the infrastructure for providing this information does not exist. “Because water is liquid in the liquid sense, it is not at all liquid in the financial sense.” [19] Building a water market then will require tremendous coordination amongst buyers, sellers, governments, and technologists who will engineer the online systems that would make water trading feasible.

Potential Drawbacks

For all its benefits a water market does come with considerable risk that must be acknowledged and addressed.

The need for greater coordination amongst different stakeholders does invite the potential for increased government regulation, especially as it pertains to measuring water use. The water market in Australia could not have existed without mandatory meters on every water pump in the water trading area [20]. In the 1990s, when water users utilized a water trading platform to substantially increase water trading in California, the platform was managed by a temporary government entity called the State Drought Water Bank [21]. Without substantial private investment, it is hard to imagine a water trading market without similar types of government involvement.

(The State Drought Water Bank ran during 1991 and as a likely consequence, water trading increased dramatically. Source http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1177)

On the contrary, private investment could also be a drawback. One of the greatest dangers of a water market are that current private water users will divest completely liquidating their water rights. In Colorado, perhaps the State the most developed water markets, “some communities turned into virtual ghost towns when Denver suburbs bought their water rights.” [22] The reality is that many rural communities across the Western United States are similarly built on agriculture, sustained by water, and are subject to similar risk as those Colorado towns. Unfettered selling raises even further ethical questions regarding whether those investors not involved with the underlying core water needs should become involved in the market. Many rural communities simply do not have enough control of their own resources to resist geographically distant investors with access to troves of capital or middlemen who will try to make a quick buck. A potential solution could be a market solely based on water leases and not on selling water outright.

There is also the drawback of not just encouraging water conservation, but encouraging water production. That is instead of implementing technologies to save water, users will be encouraged to pump more groundwater to sell more which will drain aquifers further [23]. To create an environmentally sustainable water market, there would have to be legislation curtailing the sale of groundwater that is pumped solely to sell on the open market.

Conclusion

In the West, the water issue has not been solved for the long-term. Water markets might be a viable, free-market solution that optimizes the allocation of water we currently have. They present the best opportunity for urban users, environmentalists, and agriculturists to find common ground, conserve water, and get water to where it is most needed.

However, for a water market to function and benefit all stakeholders, architects of any market must address key procedural issues and potential drawbacks of the system. Without proper design and implementation, water trading could generate further challenges that would outweigh any potential benefits. With the right team, clear intentions, and inclusive conversation we could soon be looking at a world where we together will decide where water flows.

[13] http://www.nationalwatermarket.gov.au/about/

[14] http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1177.

[15] http://www.nationalwatermarket.gov.au/about/

[16] http://grist.org/food/california-has-a-real-water-market-but-its-not-exactly-liquid/

[17] http://grist.org/food/california-has-a-real-water-market-but-its-not-exactly-liquid/

[18] http://grist.org/food/california-has-a-real-water-market-but-its-not-exactly-liquid/

[19] http://grist.org/food/california-has-a-real-water-market-but-its-not-exactly-liquid/

[20] http://www.nationalwatermarket.gov.au/about/.

[21] http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1177.

[22] http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Inhabit/2017/0308/How-water-swaps-help-the-West-manage-a-precious-resource

[23] https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2014/06/23/some-california-farmers-fallow-fields-others-sell-water-for-big-profits/

Impacts of Aluminum on aquatic organisms and epa’s aluminum criteria

 

By Dr. Swati Hegde, January 14, 2019, Senior Fellow, The Water Center at Penn

Though not discussed often, aluminum is one of the significant sources of water pollution primarily due to its abundant natural occurrence and industrial use. Aluminum is a versatile material due to its excellent properties such as lightweight, corrosion resistance, long life, and electrical conductivity. Hence aluminum finds its presence in a wide range of applications including transportation, packaging, construction, electronic hardware, and electrical transmission lines, to name a few. Naturally, the consumption of aluminum is very high reaching as high as 5.4 million metric tons in the United States in 2017 alone[1].  The release of aluminum to the aquatic environment occurs through both natural and anthropogenic forms resulting from weathering of rocks, acidic springs, and volcanic activities. The anthropogenic aluminum release is a result of human activities such as industrial processes resulting in wastewater and solid waste, fossil fuel combustion, manufacturing, aluminum production, and agriculture. Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), a chemical used in clarification of drinking water and wastewater can also be a source of aluminum if released untreated[2]. High levels of aluminum are observed predominantly in freshwater compared to marine water as low pH of freshwater compared to ocean water favors its solubility. Acid rain due to industrial activities is a major reason for increased aluminum levels in water as acid rain reduces water pH favoring dissolution of anthropogenic and natural forms. Hence aluminum is an inevitable source of contamination in freshwater in both urban and rural areas resulting in toxic effects on aquatic life and eventually can enter the human food chain.

Aluminum cans littering the ocean floor; source: http://oceancrusaders.org/aluminium-cans/

Effect of Aluminum on aquatic life:

There has been a proven negative impact of aluminum on a number of beneficial freshwater algae species[3]. Freshwater algae are crucial to maintaining a healthy synergistic ecosystem as they increase the bioavailability of dissolved oxygen for the organisms underneath. The toxicity of aluminum on aquatic life, however, depends on various physicochemical factors such as water pH, temperature and salt level. On the flip side, use of aluminum is well known in controlling toxic algal blooms where it acts by cutting off an essential nutrient (phosphorus) supply. Even though the low concentration of aluminum in water is not extremely toxic, the downstream industrial point sources of aluminum-rich process water are a threat to the natural ecosystem. In the aquatic environment, aluminum acts as a toxic agent on animals that use gill-breathing such as fish and invertebrates, by causing a loss of their osmoregulatory function (i.e., maintaining appropriate body pressure in water by aquatic organisms by controlling the uptake of salts and ions from water)[4]. Aluminum can also react with other chemical contaminants in the water leading to unforeseen impacts on biodiversity. Even though it is often stated that low concentrations do not negatively impact aquatic life, chronic exposure to these levels has been observed to be toxic to certain species of aquatic plants, zebrafish, fathead minnow, rotifers, and snails[5]. While there is a handful of literature studying the effect of aluminum on aquatic life, this is an ongoing topic of discussion as the aluminum level in water is a function of physical, chemical and environmental conditions of an aquatic ecosystem. Nevertheless not following regulatory guidelines on acceptable aluminum levels is always a threat as this heavy metal can eventually enter the human food chain via drinking water. The flowchart presented in the recently released EPA document shows the sources, fate and effect of aluminum on aquatic life.

[1] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/IF10998.pdf

[2] Gidde, M.R., A.R. Bhalerao and H. Tariq. 2012. Occurrence of aluminium concentration in surface water samples from different areas of Pune city. Intern. J. Emerg. Tech. Advan. Eng. 2(7): 215-219

[3] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10643389991259245

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24202562

[5] https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/etc.3901

Conceptual model showing aluminum sources, fate of transport, and its effect on aquatic life; figure reused from EPA document Dec 2018[6]

EPA recommendations on Aluminum levels in water

EPA’s office of water recently released a report on the toxic effects of aluminum on aquatic life. The states and tribes can obtain information via this document to establish water quality standards about aluminum under the clean water act (CWA). Even though this document provides recommendations on the basis of scientific information, one must note that it is not a regulatory guideline. Therefore, the states and tribes are not legally bound to follow this act. The Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 304(a)(l) directs the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish water quality criteria that accurately reflect the latest scientific knowledge. This section focuses on the type and extent of all identifiable effects on health and welfare that might arise as a result of the presence of pollutants in any body of water, including groundwater[7]. As required by CWA, the EPA periodically revises these criteria to ensure that the revisions accurately reflect the up to date scientific knowledge and technological progress. The last update to the quality criteria for aluminum was developed in 1988[8]. The 2018 update of the document contains scientific data on the effect of aluminum on 13 different species of invertebrates and dataset can be found here. Table 1 provides a comparison of 1988 and 2018 national recommended aquatic criteria for aluminum.

Table 1: Comparison of the EPA’s 1988 and 2018 National recommended aquatic criteria for aluminum; table reused from the EPA document December 20186; DOC: Dissolved Oxygen Concentration

The 2018 aluminum criteria provide an acceptable range that is obtained using multiple linear regression models to normalize the toxicity data unlike the fixed values in 1988. For freshwater criteria, users can also enter specific water quality information in the Aluminum Criteria Calculator to evaluate site-specific impacts of aluminum on aquatic life. The resulting acute criterion indicates that freshwater organism would be protected if the ‘one-hour average’ concentration has not exceeded the recommendation more than once every three years on average. The chronic criterion indicates that freshwater organisms would be protected if the ‘four-day average’ concentration has not exceeded more than once every three years on average. More information on EPA recommended aluminum criteria can be found here.

[6] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-12/documents/aluminum-final-national-recommended-awqc.pdf

[7] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-12/documents/aluminum-final-national-recommended-awqc.pdf

[8] https://www.epa.gov/wqc/national-recommended-water-quality-criteria-aquatic-life-criteria-table

 

There is Some Good News Coming Out of Harrisburg

 

Good News Regarding Lead Pipe Replacement for Pennsylvania Residents!

By Howard Neukrug, December 4, 2018, Professor of Practice, The University of Pennsylvania

There are hundreds of thousands of residential lead pipes still in use in Pennsylvania, especially in older neighborhoods where persons of color, seniors or economically disadvantaged citizens often reside. Over time, lead may leach from the pipe surface into the home drinking water supply causing serious health problems, particularly for children.  While great strides have been made reducing lead levels from our environment in other areas including leaded gasoline, lead paint, contaminated soils, industrial smokestacks, and water, lead pipes remain a legacy asset, the replacement of which has been largely ignored.

Instead, the approach to date has primarily been to educate homeowners about the dangers of the lead pipes and to create financial incentives and assistance to encourage homeowners to replace their lead service lines. Despite these incentives and assistance, the cost of pipe replacement is just too high for the average homeowner, particularly for Pennsylvania’s rural and urban poor who often live in older neighborhoods where replacement of lead service lines is needed most.  

Similar to lead pipes, broken laterals that cause sewage back-ups into basements and leakage into the groundwater are also often not replaced due to high cost, and often not even temporarily repaired. 

Pennsylvania’s water infrastructure is aging and in need of replacement – not just repair. Pipe breaks and service outages are well known to residents, businesses and politicians throughout our state. The cost to upgrade water and sewer pipe networks across the US may be over $2 Trillion! As a result, there will be significant pressure to raise water rates to cover these costs, despite the fact that an increasing number of Pennsylvania residents already find it difficult to balance the costs of basic needs such as water, food, rent and medicine. Increased water rates due to replacement of residential lead service lines and/or damaged wastewater laterals may make balancing household budgets impossible and lead to devastating financial impacts such as foreclosure. This issue is real. Even the author of this blog had to figure out how to pay for his own damaged sewer pipe just this month!

 

Fortunately, there is good news coming out of Harrisburg. Governor Wolf signed Act 120 into law, at last providing the financial and legal mechanisms for Pennsylvania’s private water utilities (eg Aqua Pa, Pa American, SUEZ) to replace residential-owned lead service lines and damaged wastewater laterals. For the owner of a home with early 20th century pipes, this will help relieve costs that can go as high as $20,000 in plumbing fees. The costs of these community-wide replacement programs will be recovered through water tariffs.  This provides an incentive for utilities to move ahead with replacement programs and provides a mechanism to share the cost across the larger customer base.

By removing lead pipes that provide drinking water, we can, as a society, greatly reduce the public’s exposure to lead in drinking water and thus the ravages of lead accumulation in children’s bloodstreams.  By replacing cracked or blocked wastewater pipes leaving a residential property, we can greatly reduce the environmental harm caused by contaminated sewage leaking into the groundwater – or into people’s basements.

Thankfully, Act 120 now improves environmental and public health for at least a portion of Pennsylvania residents – those serviced by private water utilities and regulated by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC).  But private water utilities service only 12% of America’s homes, the rest are serviced by publicly-owned water utilities.  Now we need to figure out how to do the same thing to benefit our public water systems in areas such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Act 120 is a big step in the right direction.  Stay tuned for Act Two!

 

American Water Summit: Chief Technology Officer Panel

 

The American Water Summit convened a diverse, expert panel of chief technology officers (CTOs) to discuss the drivers of new technology developments and key approaches between the water provider and end users. The panel consisted of CTOs from private and public water utilities and academia, discussing the innovative thinking involved in ensuring that the American water sector capitalizes on opportunities in technological advancement. Furthermore, the panel provided insight into the congruencies and discrepancies regarding technology prioritization in the private vs. public sector. 

Jay Iyengar from Xylem, a water technology provider, claimed that justifying investment in technology advancements is not just about creating economic value – but also social value. She further described that it’s about understanding the unspoken needs of the consumers and that one solution doesn’t always fit all. Ting Lu from Clean Water Services, a public water utility serving Portland, Oregon, claimed that outcomes are directly related to the value of resource recovery and water reuse for customers. Lu is committed to prioritizing technology usage to tell ‘the story’ better, not just as it pertains to infrastructure, but rather by addressing the potential impact on the community as a whole. Cindy Paulson of Brown and Caldwell, a small entrepreneurial company with a goal of being the connector/unifier between water service providers and customers, identified the stark value in transparency between the potential influence of new technologies on the water sector. Paulson suggests that as a technology company, they are tempted to find solutions before they’re ready to define the problem. As a response to this dilemma, and diverging from both the public and private water utility space, Karen Golmer from MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation discussed the value of a “reverse pitch,” in which utilities approach technology companies and present them with a problem they’re facing, instead of technology companies approaching utilities. By working collaboratively, Golmer describes that this approach highlights the opportunity for utilities to discuss the problems and give the technology companies the opportunity to find appropriate, targeted solutions. Both panelists believed that a reverse pitch could lead to more productivity and less risk in infiltrating advanced technology into the water sector.

 

A member of the audience asked the panel what they each believe is the “most destructive technology.” Although, almost in unison, the panelists proclaimed that there isn’t just one, some of the technologies they all agreed on included:

  • Drones and lidar for satellite imaging
  • Artificial intelligence equipped with self-learning technology and adaptability
    • Smart Water, Smart Energy, Smart City

To conclude the discussion, Iyengar conveyed that one of her biggest fears is missing the next big technology, as she described getting unmanageable amounts of emails from entrepreneurial technology companies suggesting that they have ‘it.’ Perhaps technology innovators need to create something that fits this need as well?

 

American Water Summit Sessions: Leading Utilities of the World (LUOW) Welcomes New Members

 

During the American Water Summit held October 24-26 in Philadelphia, four utilities were inducted into LUOW, a network of the world’s most successful and innovative water and wastewater utilities. New LOUW members included Denver Water, Alexandria Renew, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Northumbrian Water, UK. A senior leader from each new LUOW member was asked to present the utility’s key issues and innovations. While each utility has its own unique challenges and strategies to
address those challenges, common threads ran throughout the presentations.

Adaptation to climate change: Adaptation was part of each utility’s long-term strategy. An outstanding example of addressing climate change challenges came from Denver Water where, in response to wildfires that threaten Denver’s surface water supply, they formed the Forests to Faucets Partnership with the US Forest Service. This partnership restored forests in priority watershed areas by removing dead trees in order to reduce fuel for fires and helped to plant over 1 million trees to reduce soil erosion.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission created four key strategies to ensure sufficient water supply in response to a multi-year drought. These strategies include conservation (with the goal of reducing water usage to 40 gallons per person per day), groundwater sourcing, a new water recycling plant and use of non-potable water to offset 89 million gallons of potable water per year.

Talent acquisition and development: Across the board, utilities are dealing with a gap between the existing pipeline of water professionals and the high number of experienced water professionals nearing retirement. To address this issue Alexandria Renew created a highly successful apprenticeship program with three tracks of participation including operators, electricians and mechanics. Each year a new class of apprentices is brought in for specific training. It takes four to five years for the apprentices to earn their licenses, which corresponds well with the retirement of the experienced workforce.

In addition to attracting new employees, employee development is a key issue for many utilities. Denver Water works had to develop its employees and encourage innovation by creating a culture where it is OK to make mistakes. Encouraging “learning by doing” and weaving the goal of continuous improvement into all parts of business planning has paid off, as innovation and improved efficiency has resulted in a significant decrease in Denver Water’s operating costs.

Energy efficiency and vulnerability: Each utility understands the need to improve energy efficiency to reduce operating costs as well as the need to become energy independent to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Alexandria Renew created an energy efficiency master plan with the goal of reducing energy consumption 25% by 2025. As part of the master plan, Alexandria Renew constructed a new LEED platinum headquarters building and is developing a system to capture methane for power.

Denver Water intends to become energy neutral by 2020. To achieve this goal, Denver Water worked to change Colorado’s regulatory framework regarding CO2 emissions and created its own long-term sustainability plan. Denver Water now generates hydroelectricity in seven locations, is exploring increased use of renewable solar energy and is increasing its number of energy efficiency projects in order to decrease energy use by 40% vs. 2017.

Better customer insight and engagement: Each utility saw better customer insight and engagement as integral to its long-term success. Examples of successful customer engagement include Northumbrian Water’s “Every Drop Counts” educational campaign to help customers better understand the importance of water conservation and the “Love Your Drain” and Rainwise campaigns to engage customers in better management of stormwater runoff. Northumbrian Water’s goal is to have 2M customers participate in programs like these, demonstrating how critical customer engagement is to the utility’s success.

 

Dwain Pipe – Northhumbrian Water

In response to prolonged drought, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission employed a different but equally effective consumer engagement program. The clever and effective “Short and steamy” shower ad campaign helped customers understand the need to
conserve water through simple, every day changes at home. Despite the differences in approach to their common challenges, it is clear that the four new LOUW members share an innovative, progressive style that will serve them well in the challenging times ahead. It is also clear that their approach distinguishes them as leading utilities and merits their inclusion in the prestigious LUOW group.

Short and Steamy Ad campaign for San Fransisco Water Power Sewer

 

What Does a Great Water Future Look Like?

 

The future of the water industry depends on the aspirational vision of the next generation of utility leaders. To encourage this vision, a novel session held at American Water Summit in Philadelphia paired young water professionals with senior water leaders to help young leaders crystalize their thinking around the vision of an ideal water utility in the Year 2040 and develop a roadmap on how to achieve that vision. The goal of the session was not only to encourage young leaders, but also to create long-term mentoring relationships between generations of water professionals. After a private morning session where mentors and mentees collaborated to refine the mentee’s vision of the ideal 2040 water utility, mentees presented their vision to the audience. The result was an exciting session with plenty of energy and hope for the future. Following are a few highlights.

From Dana and Raul Gonzalez of Hampton Roads Sanitation District (Mentor: George Bailey, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District)
Dana and Raul focused on the benefits of direct potable reuse (DPR) and identified multiple related opportunities for their ideal 2040 water utility to capture including:

1) Using the cost savings from DPR to fund needed upgrades for aging infrastructure
2) Strengthening partnerships with industry, NGOs and regulators to increase water reuse project and overall utility effectiveness
3) Pursuing changes in regulations to create more sensible site specific regulations
4) Overcoming public perception of DPR by focusing on the quality of water versus its history
5) More closely integrating water and wastewater utilities by merging resources and adapting regulations to make water usage more fluid

From Stephanie Chiorian and Abby Sullivan of Philadelphia Water Department (Mentor: Patrick Cairo, PCairo Management Consulting, LLC) In Stephanie and Abby’s ideal utility, climate change adaptation is integral to every aspect of the utility’s operation and financial planning. As Abby said, “Climate change is water change. If you are a water professional and are not thinking about this, you aren’t doing your job.” Given that the impact of climate change is not yet fully known and that adaptation is an iterative process, Stephanie and Abby’s vision of an ideal water utility did not have a specific year attached. Rather, they stressed that change will be ongoing for utilities of the future and that leadership mindset must be open and constantly evolving. Changing employee mindset through education about climate change and the need to integrate adaptive thinking in all aspects of utility operation will also be essential.

From Serge Haddad of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (Mentor: George Hawkins, Moonshot, LLC) Serge’s utility of 2040 has shifted from today’s Anthropocene, human centric, approach to water management to a more sustainable, eco-centric approach where utilities focus on making the most of available resources and working on the local level. Serge’s 2040 utility takes a one water approach, maximizing local resources through greater stormwater capture, greater water reuse, groundwater and conservation. Key to this approach is the understanding that when choosing a strategy to solve a specific problem, the ripple affect of that action is taken into account. Also, given the likelihood of earthquakes in Los Angeles, Serge’s 2040 utility is proactive and prepared. Technology such as earthquake resistance ductile pipes that bend instead of break are installed in strategic locations such as hospitals and schools, and pressure monitoring to detect drops in pressure, identifying leaks before they become breaks, is standard. And critically, Serge’s 2040 utility understands the importance of inspiring its staff and ensuring, through specialized training, that employees are constantly aware that what they do day to day matters to customers.

From Aisha Nang of Houston Water (Mentor: Adel Hagekhali, City of Los Angeles) Aisha described her ideal 2040 water utility and gave it a name, Jetson Water. One of Jetson Water’s hallmarks is its mastery of collaboration. An example of this collaboration
is Jetson Water being part of a regional emergency preparedness hub where utilities partner together and assist each other during climate change and security emergencies. In the year 2040 there is greater public understanding of water’s value and the imperative for access to safe drinking water. This shift in thinking has created excitement among youth to become water professionals. As Aisha explained, when something goes wrong, “Water professionals are considered first line heroes”. In addition to attracting top talent due to water professionals’ hero status, Jetson Water uses the latest technology, creating a cutting edge industry and exciting work culture. Drones sample and test water remotely and leaks are fixed through use of virtual reality technology. Another shift in water utility thinking by 2040 is understanding that a successful utility must balance environmental
and community needs, so Jetson Water produces zero waste and operates from a one water management perspective.

From Tera Fong of DC Water (Mentor: Carla Reid, Washington Suburban) Tera wrapped up the session with an inspiring description of the four key traits her ideal 2040 water utility possesses. Her utility of the future is resilient, smart, collaborative and
engaged. The resilient utility of 2040 clearly understands risks and acts to mitigate them. It protects its assets and operations through back up supply chains and is self-reliant via renewable energy. It is networked within its watershed, working together with other organizations to identify and address source water issues. The smart utility of 2040 doesn’t just collect data. It uses data effectively to manage operations, predict problems to prevent failures and streamline human systems. The collaborative utility of 2040 creates procurement partnerships with other utilities to secure greater savings on equipment and services. It uses the collective wisdom of the group to set standards and act regionally for more impact. These collaborative efforts have allowed water utilities to provide social assistance for water to low income households in the same way LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) provides assistance for heat. And finally, the engaged utility of 2040 has a workforce that is excited, is acquiring new skills to adapt to automation, and has the right people in the right places to create an effective and dynamic work culture. With the inspirational visions these young leaders presented, the future of water utilities is bright indeed.

American Water Summit Sessions: Utility Leader Perspectives on Digital Systems

 

The 2018 American Water Summit was held in Philadelphia from October 24th through the 26th with “Inspiring Innovation” as the conference theme. A pre-conference workshop on “Utility Perspectives” got the conference off to a strong start. Chaired by George Hawkins, former CEO of DC Water and Sewer Authority, the workshop gave utility leaders a chance to describe the challenges and opportunities they face in digital systems procurement and operation and to discuss how they are positioning their utilities to adopt smart technology in the future. The group of distinguished utility leaders included Erin Mahoney, Regional Municipality of York, Canada, Andy Kricun, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Jason Tucker, Anglian Water Services, UK, Sue Murphy, Water Corporation Australia, Marty Adams, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, David Stanton, Suez North America and Bill Teichmiller, EJ Water Cooperative.  Although each utility leader had his or her own unique circumstances, common themes emerged.

Many utility leaders struggle with how to decide on large technology investments.  While technology investments are necessary, with constant advancement in capabilities, utility leaders are concerned that large tech investments will become obsolete before the investments are fully installed and or paid for. There is also no clear path on how best to measure the long-term value of a tech investment. Suggestions for how to address these concerns were to ask vendors for case studies demonstrating the technology’s value and even more importantly, asking other utilities about their experience with the technology.  As Marty Adams stated and others concurred, “Water is one of the few businesses where there is no room for error.”

Utilities have traditionally been considered cut and dry business models, due in part to rate constraints. It’s clear that the old business model is not sustainable, and a new, more operationally efficient business model must be created. A lot of that improved operational efficiency will come from advances in technology. But beyond operational efficiency, new business models can come from using intuition and ingenuity. Bill Teichmiller cleverly added Wi-Fi service capabilities to EJ Water Cooperative’s rural pipeline, thus opening a profitable new revenue stream, providing a needed service for its customers and rebranding EJ Water Cooperative from a traditional water utility to a provider of “Water and Wi-Fi”. This illustrates how changing one part of the business model can positively impact the rest of the business and potentially inspire others to seek to positive change.

New technology and digital capabilities are only part of the solution. Equal attention must also be given to customers and employees.  As Sue Murphy stated, “All the talk about tech is really about culture”.  It is critical to help people embrace change by helping them understand the business and personal benefits of technology. Preparing the workforce for digitization and the massive changes coming to the water industry will be essential as the pace of change increases.  A related imperative noted by David Stanton was finding a way to match the wisdom and experience of older employees with the tech savvy and spirit of Millennials in order to create a strong and adaptable workforce. 

To close out the workshop, utility leaders had plenty of advise for water sector tech providers on how to best work with utilities. A few pieces of advice were that trust between utility and vendor is critical, that vendors must stand behind their products and that vendors should “do their homework” in order to truly understand what utilities need versus what vendors want to sell. And finally, while every utility has its own unique circumstances, they all face similar issues and should look toward each other for solutions as much as toward vendors.

Financing Water: Past, Present and Future

 

Two stimulating panel discussions at the American Water Summit 2018 on October 25th debated different aspects of financing water systems across the USA.  While there was consensus across expert panels that the future of finance looks generally good, particularly with interest rates at record lows, there was also recognition that sector needs are daunting and urgent, with one speaker estimating that $2-3 trillion will be needed for water infrastructure upgrades over the next 20 years.  While innovative financing options are reason for optimism, smaller water operators having the capacity to pay back investments remains a major cause for concern.

Hopeful opportunities offered by panelists included:

  • Mainstreaming the concept of fair market value by addressing the historic lack of municipal motivation to consider the sale of water assets. The original model of appraising water assets resulted in significant undervaluation thus stymying the appetite of both public and private sectors to consider partial or full privatization. But new legislation in a growing number of US states on fair market value has been enacted, introducing a new, fairer appraisal methodology.
  • Opportunities for water operators to consider bundling water services with other, higher margin services such as telecommunications. One panelist operating a not-for-profit cooperative model of water utility management threw down the gauntlet to other water system operators to maximize existing water infrastructure opportunities and put boots on the ground to look into acquisition of complementary utilities.

Concerns raised included:

  • A sense from the majority of panelists that politicians and city managers continue to be hesitant to consider selling water assets in cases of water and sewer utility underperformance. Factors including fear of losing control over core services as well as union pressures to keep utilities public were cited as common reasons.
  • Continued underpricing of water and an inability of water operators to establish rates that reflect the true cost of water service delivery. Panelists described water system operators as the ‘silent utility’, impeding the sector’s ability to educate consumers on what water delivery services really cost.
  • Water affordability. Panelists debated the responsibility of water system operators in addressing the increasing percentage of US residents with decreased capacity to pay for water or sewer service. Looking abroad at how other countries were managing this challenge was encouraged.

So, is the sector in crisis?  If crisis is understood as a decisive moment, after which recovery will be difficult, a majority of panelists said yes.  The pervasive ‘fix as fails’ approach to dealing with aging US infrastructure was deemed unacceptable, given that for every $1 of deferred maintenance costs, $4 in future capital expenditure will be needed.  Given the importance of water in sustaining life, the sector needs to harness the brightest and most courageous minds to develop context specific models to address these challenges.

Water as Leverage: Stories from Rotterdam to Philadelphia

 

Cities worldwide are experiencing significant, multi-faceted challenges as the rivers they rely on and live beside become threats due to flooding, pollution and sedimentation. On Thursday, October 18th The Water Center at Penn held a networking reception to welcome innovative water professionals from the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Philadelphia to discuss solutions to our shared water problems.

Howard Neukrug, Executive Director of The Water Center at Penn, kicked off the program by noting that throughout much of history, cities have attempted to protect themselves from water. He suggested that instead of trying to keep nature at bay, creating water management strategies that work with, instead of against nature will not only be more effective, but will produce additional benefits for cities and their residents.

Carter Craft, Senior Economic Officer at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, agreed and noted that another critical factor in creating sustainable water management solutions is making connections. Connections and collaborations between organizations like The Water Center at Penn and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will be essential to finding solutions for cities worldwide.

Han Dijk, Urban Designer at Posad, a spatial design and strategy firm, picked up the connection theme when discussing how his firm approaches design for cities like Rotterdam, one of the world’s busiest port cities. Diijk explained how urban planners find solutions that address and connect social, mental and physical health and environmental issues.

Key to finding these solutions is understanding residents’ concerns, values and perspectives. For Rotterdam residents, while the river defines the city’s history and culture, it is also seen as a dividing line, fracturing the city into two groups – one that is struggling economically and suffers more health issues and one that is better off.

This understanding helped Dijk and his colleagues find nature-based water management solutions that changed residents’ perception of the river from a divider of the city to a connector between communities. Creating tidal parks along the river not only addressed needed water management issues, such as providing a way to reuse silt that is constantly dredged from the river, but also provided common areas and networks of trails for recreation and socializing. In addition, the conversion of hardscapes into green space created new ecological habitats and positively impacted people’s health by reducing\ noise and stress and improving air and water quality.

These types of nature-based solutions helped change the river from a threat to an asset.

Gerda Roeleveld, Expert Advisor in Spatial Planning at Deltares, a leading global water research institute, began her presentation by noting that climate change will be felt most intensely in cities in the form of increased heat, related system stresses, river and sea level rise and storm water issues. How can cities adapt to these climate change impacts? Roeleveld and her team at Deltares provide water system analysis as a critical part of the adaptation puzzle.

Deltares creates multi-dimensional water and soil models that simulate past and current situations to predict future scenarios. While these models can provide a wide variety of functions, such as analyzing a city’s vulnerability by calculating whether or not reservoirs have enough water for a region’s irrigation needs, or showing how and where water will rise based on precipitation rates, one of the key distinctions of these models is that many of them are designed to bring stakeholders together to find optimal solutions.

One example of this type of modeling tool is the Circle Tool, designed to help a variety of stakeholders understand and discuss the vulnerability of critical infrastructure such as hospitals or the power grid in order to prioritize water management efforts. Another
example is the Adaptation Support Tool, intended to create a dialogue among stakeholders regarding the effectiveness of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) strategies, like green roofs and permeable parking spaces. Stakeholders can click on GSI strategies to see their impact, such as how much each strategy helps minimize stormwater run off or store water, then compare different strategies to determine which ones provide maximal benefit.

Roeleveld noted that, “Measuring is knowing. Another way to say it is that data tells the tale.” Modeling will be an important part of solving water management problems, both because of its ability to connect disparate pieces of data to help make better decisions as well as its ability to connect stakeholders to ensure greater understanding and participation in order to build more resilient cities.

Consul General for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dolph Hogewoning, closed the program by reiterating the need for rapid adaptation in the face of acute climate change. ‘The world is looking urgently for solutions. I think we all agree that Planet Earth has sort of exhausted her patience with us.,” he said. “For a healthier future we must expand our idea of infrastructure. It’s wonderful to see how we have shifted from infrastructure that is purely engineerial – nuts and bolts, concrete, dams and dikes –
toward green infrastructure concepts that nature has given us. We must learn to work with nature, to use nature, to give way to nature and accept water instead of keeping our feet dry.” To do this, we must work together, to share our challenges, ideas and new technologies. These challenges are simply too big to do otherwise.

Left to right: Nick Bijlsma, Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Han Dijk, PosadMaxwan; Dolph Hogewoning, Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Gerda Roeleveld, Deltares; Howard Neukrug, The Water Center at Penn; Carter Craft, Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Imagine a Day Without Water

 

It can be easy to forget that some issues we all care about cut across political and geographic lines. Constituents may have different opinions on health care and tax reform, but when it comes to our daily lives, voters have a lot in common. They get up in the morning and brush their teeth, use the bathroom, and make coffee. They shower, do their laundry, and wash the dishes. But none of which would be possible without safe and reliable water infrastructure.

If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s hard to imagine a day without water. Most citizens recognize that water is essential to our quality of life. In fact, the vast majority of Americans, across parties and regions, want the government to invest in our water infrastructure. The data shows 88 percent of Americans support increasing federal investment to rebuild water infrastructure, and 75 percent of Americans want Congress to be proactive and invest in our nation’s water infrastructure before our systems fail.

Renewed investment in our water infrastructure isn’t only about avoiding a day without water for personal use. A day without water would mean havoc for businesses and our economy too. Basically, every business is a water reliant business in one way or another.

According to the Value of Water Campaign’s report on The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure, a one-day disruption in water services at a national level would result in a $43.5 billion daily sales loss to businesses.

Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between what Americans value and the actions of the federal government. Investment in water infrastructure has not been a priority for decades. The federal government’s investment has declined precipitously, leaving states, localities, water utilities, and people who pay water bills to make up the difference. Meanwhile, our systems are crumbling. The US government is currently funding $82 billion less than what is needed to maintain our water infrastructure, putting our health, safety, economy, and environment at risk.

So, what can we do about it?

October 10th is Imagine a Day Without Water, a national day of action to raise awareness about the value of water. We have the opportunity to leverage our collective power, educate our decision makers, and inspire our communities to put water infrastructure on the agenda. There is a groundswell of communities and partners coming together to promote safe and reliable water systems on Imagine a Day Without Water. Together, on this fourth annual day of action, we can make a difference.

Here in Philadelphia:

  • Our aging infrastructure needs upgrades to stop leaks, corrosion and accommodate increased flows
  • The Water Center at Penn will be fostering partnerships with utilities and water experts to solve our shared water problems
  • We will be engaging with the community in Philadelphia to spark innovation and learn from experts through conferences

No matter what the cause, a day without water is a public health and environmental crisis. That’s why we are joining with hundreds of groups across the country for Imagine a Day Without Water to educate our communities on the value of water. No community can thrive without water, and every American deserves a safe, reliable, accessible water services. Let’s invest in our water systems now, so no American ever has to imagine a day – or live a day – without water again.

Expert Opinions – Pennovation

 

Highlights from an interview with Ani Hsieh, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania

Q: You are a faculty member in both the General Robotics Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Lab and the Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub (PERCH), and your lab is on Pennovation’s campus. Would you explain how these organizations are related and how you work within them?

A: GRASP is an academic and research center focused on robotics within the School of Engineering. PERCH is the entrepreneurial extension of GRASP.  Having our lab located on Pennovation’s campus gives us the experimental and collaboration space we need to test applications and accelerate innovation.

One of our primary goals is to learn how to use teams of robots for monitoring applications. Our main project right now is ocean monitoring. We have a big tank, (approximately 3500 gallons) that allows us to create certain types of flow conditions that are observed in the ocean. This allows us to validate surveillance and monitoring strategies we develop for the robot teams in a realistic flow setting. We are trying to figure out how to better coordinate autonomous marine and aerial vehicles to work collaboratively for tracking and monitoring different dynamic processes in the ocean. This work can help us better understand how contaminants disperse, how to improve search and rescue efforts in a marine environment using both aerial and marine assets, and possibly even how to better manage the water quality.

Q: Your research interests include marine robotics and geophysical fluid dynamics.  How do you see your research being applied to help water utilities in the future?

A: We are learning how to design strategies that will improve data collection efforts within the marine environment. Our goal is to develop autonomous systems capable of collecting high quality, high-resolution data, both spatially and temporally. We believe autonomous vehicles are well suited for obtaining high-resolution data since they can take measurements at many different locations and do it more efficiently and cost effectively when compared to existing strategies. Autonomous vehicles also have the added advantage that they can get to places that are difficult or dangerous for humans to work in. Our vision is to enable a human operator to command and control multiple autonomous assets simultaneously to collect data in real time. This is important for monitoring water quality and for figuring out how run offs travel or collect.  It could help us understand how concentrations of chemicals change over time and determine cause and effect for spikes in concentrations of certain types of chemicals.

 

 

Q: Are there any current projects you are particularly excited about that you would like water leaders to know about?

A:  My favorite project right now is developing strategies for power constrained mobile sensors in the ocean to synchronize when and where they meet to offload and/or exchange data.  The idea is that sensor swarms deployed in large scale environments will occasionally have to meet up and exchange information or offload the collected data so it can be used to provide an up to date description of the environment. For power constrained vehicles it makes sense to leverage the ocean currents to get to where they need to go. So how can we get these mobile sensors to meet up with other each other by using the ocean currents to move from one location to another? This problem is very similar to the problem of getting coupled oscillators to synchronize. Many systems in nature can exhibit such synchronization behavior. For example, collectives of fireflies can synchronize their flashes and the neurons in the brain can synchronize when they fire. Our work suggests that it is possible to solve the problem of synchronizing time of arrivals at a given location for sensor swarms by treating it as a coupled oscillator synchronization problem. While synchronizing mobile sensors in the ocean is a bit trickier, we were a bit surprised at how similar the problems are.

Q:  As you know, water quality and scarcity issues will only increase in the future. What issues do you feel are essential to explore through research in order to address these issues?

A: Although we are not working on these issues right now, contaminants are going to be an increasing problem, so tracking what is in the water is going to be more important in the future. The better you can track and map what is in the water, the better you will be able to figure out good mitigation strategies for specific concerns. When we consider investment in new infrastructure, it will be important to determine what the instrumentation needs are to help deliver water services more efficiently, effectively and equitably. I believe autonomy will have a lot to contribute.

Q:  How would you recommend that the water industry work with researchers and academics to help address critical water issues?

A: We are always interested in hearing from practitioners and helping solve real world problems. We may not always have a solution right off the bat, but we are always looking for opportunities for collaboration. Collaborations can range from large-scale externally funded projects that fund post-doctoral researchers and full time PhD students to sponsorship for Senior Design projects or Masters theses. I believe with the right problem and the right team, there are opportunities for collaborations between industry and academia that can be very fruitful and impactful. We are always happy to have people come visit and show off what we are doing.

 

The ABC’s of Water Management: A Lesson from Singapore

 

Singapore’s national water agency, Public Utility Board (PUB), is a member of the organization The Leading Utilities Of The World (LUOW), as they have gained recognition in sustainability mitigating water scarcity issues and developing innovative water technologies. The Water Center at Penn hosted Singapore PUB at The University of Pennsylvania Singh Center for Nanotechnology to exchange ideas about our respective approaches to water management. This event attracted over 50 researchers, students, and water professionals to gain insight into adopting a transdisciplinary approach to water management.


Left to right: Stephanie Chiorean, Environmental Scientist & Planner at Philadelphia Water Department, Christiana Shen, Senior Engineer Drainage Operations Division, Singapore PUB, He Qihui, Senior Engineer, Catchment & Waterways Department Urban Livability, Singapore PUB, Howard Neukrug, Executive Director The Water Center at Penn, Tan Nguan Sen, Chief Sustainability Officer, Singapore PUB, Hua Chie Nan Dorinda, Principal Engineer, Catchment & Waterways Department Singapore PUB, Julie Heffernan, Communications & Office Manager, The Water Center at Penn, Erica DePalma, Research Program Manager, The Water Center at Penn

Mr. Tan Nguan Sen, Chief Sustainability Officer at PUB, described how Singapore’s water scarcity issues propelled the municipal leaders to being a strategic water management transformation. What once was a city with polluted waterways, seasonal flooding and open sewers, with only two national taps and imported water from Malaysia, is now capable of providing potable water for the entire city population with four national taps, a diversified water supply, and complete modern means of sanitation.

What lessons can water professionals learn from PUB? PUB takes a cooperative, watershed approach centered on two key strategies: increasing water supply and managing demand. Its approach is better known as the ABC Waters Program – Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters.

To increase water supply, PUB maximizes rainwater collection through green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). They have broken the mold of traditional sustainability practices by using a closed loop system which continuously collects and treats all water (including sewer water). 

Simultaneously, PUB manages demand through educational campaigns designed to create a paradigm shift in how Singaporeans perceive water. By creating a stronger relationship between residents and their water resources, PUB has helped Singaporeans evolve from being passive about water to becoming guardians of Singapore’s water resources.

 

 

The relationship shift between Singapore residents and their water resources began in 2004 when major reservoirs were opened to recreational use. PUB’s premise was that the more people enjoyed the water, the more they would cherish and protect it. Meanwhile educational programs were launched to educate residents on the importance of water.

Like many other cities, Singapore has been dealing with increased urbanization, which leads to more impervious surfaces and therefore more water run-off.  Combined with climate change and its associated increase in rainfall intensity, PUB’s challenges have only increased over the years. To tackle these additional issues, PUB has taken a three-pronged approach. The approach includes development of an ABC Master Plan which takes a holistic, multidisciplinary view of waterway enhancement as an integrated part of urban planning and stormwater management. Many beautiful examples of ABC Water Design were shared during PUB’s presentation including wetlands, rain gardens and bio-retention swales.

 Following Mr. Tan Nguan Sen’s impressive  presentation, Howard Neukrug, Executive Director at  The Water Center at Penn, led a discussion between  the PUB team and panelists Fran Lawn, GSI Partners  Manager of the Sustainable Business Network, Andy  Kricun, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden  County Municipal Utilities Authority, Allison Lassiter,  Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning at  PennDesign and Stephanie Chiorean, Environmental  Scientist & Planner at Philadelphia Water  Department. It was clear from the enthusiasm of the  panel and audience that PUB’s ABC Waters Program  is something to aspire to in the Philadelphia area. The Water Center at Penn looks forward to fueling more of these discussions between stakeholders from across the world coming together to address our shared water problems.

Left to right: Fran Lawn, GSI Partners Manager of the Sustainable Business Network, Andy Kricun, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Allison Lassiter, Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning at PennDesign and Stephanie Chiorean, Environmental Scientist & Planner at Philadelphia Water Department

Expert Opinions –  Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU)

 

Highlights from an interview with Brett Jokela, General Manager, Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU)

Q: What are some challenges you face due to your unique climate?

A: Cold is obviously a challenge. Frost can penetrate deep into the ground over the course of a long winter. We go to a depth of at least 10 feet to bury pipes versus the three to four feet depth common in many communities in the Lower 48. That greater depth leads to higher construction, replacement and repair costs. Our break rate is probably lower per 100 miles of pipe than more southern communities, but when a pipe breaks, it’s a big deal. It takes a lot more equipment and time to repair, but our crews are great. To break through frost they have to use special technology where they drive steam into the ground to thaw the ground, then excavate to repair the pipe. The frozen ground also affects the prognosis of pipe breaks. There could be a break at Point A, but because of frozen soil the leaking water may not show at the surface at that location.  The water travels further down the pipe and the leak shows up at Point B. Our crews dig at Point B only to find out that the break is actually somewhere else. Also, because of the depth of the frost, thawing makes the ground move and we see more pipe breaks in the late winter and early spring.

Q: What innovations have you created to address some of your most pressing needs?

A:  You know they say necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes a wrench nut at the top of a buried valve becomes stripped so you can’t open it. Our 10 feet water main depth makes repairing the valve a unique challenge. In the past, our crews had to dig up the valve to make a point repair and it cost $10,000 to $15,000 each time. So our field crew invented “Tap Daddy” where they take a standard hand-held drill and extend its reach using tools mounted on 10 feet long rods. Tap Daddy lets them reach down through the valve box and make repairs from the surface instead of digging it up. We’ve saved over $500,000 in the past three years fixing valves this way.

 

 

Q: Is climate change impacting your ability to provide clean drinking water to your customers? What is AWWU doing to address climate change?

A: We are actually less impacted by climate change than many of our peers, like communities facing highly variable rainfall, as in California. Ninety percent of our water comes from Eklutna Lake, which is dominated by runoff from a glaciated mountain watershed. We worked with glaciologists from Alaska Pacific University because of our concerns regarding climate change.  Their studies indicate that although the glacier is receding, runoff from the glacier and other portions of the watershed will provide a secure source of water for a long time to come. Separately, we saw an opportunity to decrease our power needs plus convert to renewable energy. Back in the 1980’s all the water in Eklutna Lake was dedicated to hydroelectric power production. We negotiated with the federal agency running the power plant to take some water directly from the lake, instead of pumping water from the hydropower tailrace at sea level. We realized we could use the elevation of the lake to provide water to our customers without pumping. Today, only a small fraction of our distribution network at higher elevations, less than 10%, depends on pumping for water delivery. The Utility also uses the flow from the lake to our water treatment plant to generate electricity for our own use. It’s enough to cover all our water plant power needs and put power back in the grid.  The cost savings really help us appreciate renewable energy.

Q: How do you stay connected to others in the utility arena so you can stay on top of trends and the latest information?

A: We are very active working with industry groups. While we are new to Global Water Intelligence (GWI), we have been a member of American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) for decades. We think connections with professional groups at both the executive and staff levels are very important. About 20% of our staff travels outside of Alaska to attend training opportunities and industry workshops each year.

Q: Is there an innovative solution AWWU devised that you are particularly proud of?

A: We partnered with our sister utility, Municipal Light & Power, to share cooling systems in a new co-generation plant. In the multi-stage process, power is generated first from combustion of natural gas and then from steam created by the heat of the natural gas turbines.  The water is then condensed using cooling towers, and the last bit of heat from warm cooling water is transferred to potable water destined for AWWU customers through our distribution system. This novel approach warms the water going through AWWU’s pipes to 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit versus the typical source water temperature of 45 degrees. Warmer water in the pipes reduces the likelihood of breaks because the occurrence of frozen soil around the buried pipe is less likely. But the best advantage is to our customers throughout the city. They can now use less fossil fuel to heat the water in their homes since it is coming in 10 to 15 degrees warmer than in the past.

Expert Opinions – Water Corporation, Perth, Western Australia

 

Highlights from an interview with Ross Hughes, Chief Financial Officer, Water Corporation, Perth, Western Australia

Q: The Water Corporation’s motto is “Fresh Water Thinking” which encompasses three goals: diversifying water sources, increasing water recycling and reducing water use. Would you describe some of the ways Water Corporation is helping customers think differently about water in order to decrease use?

A: We experienced a significant reduction in runoff into our surface water dams in the early 2000s. We did a lot of advertising to educate people on how to conserve water. That created a groundswell of community support for Western Australia’s government to put restrictions on outdoor water use. For example, outside sprinkler use was only allowed two days per week and by 2007 this had become a permanent measure that still remains in place today. The communities often act as an enforcer for the sprinkler rules and let us know if they see people breaching them.

In addition, legislation was passed so that all new homes were required to have dual flush toilets. Now 80% of homes have them. Our work with washing machine manufacturers was also successful, resulting in the creation of more water efficient machines. And business customers did a great job reducing water use. Businesses were required to develop water efficiency management plans and we rewarded top performers through Waterwise awards. Each of these efforts might seem small, but they have combined to have a big effect.

Q: Western Australia is one of the fastest drying climates in the world. You have been able to shift your original water sourcing from 90% surface water and 10% groundwater to today 50% desalination, 30% groundwater, 10% groundwater recharge and 10% surface water. Would you describe some of the keys to your success in making that shift?

A: It’s a combination of public acceptance, leadership and funding. Moving to seawater desalination was a leadership challenge, not just for utilities, but for others as well. During the early 2000s, the then Premier (our head of state) really picked up the ball. While many said “don’t invest in desal”, as leaders, we had to ask ourselves, “Are we prepared to take the pain if we are wrong?”. Whatever technology is chosen will always have pros and cons and criticisms. At that time, with desalination, one of the criticisms was the associated high-energy use. We overcame these criticisms by ensuring desal energy use in Western Australia had to be offset by renewable energy which has become popular nationally. In the south west corner of Western Australia where our plants are located, desal is very well accepted because this area remains severely impacted by climate change. But over in the East in Sydney and Melbourne for example, it hasn’t been because even though their dams have been down 75-80% at times, they keep getting recharged just in time, so the desal plants haven’t been used as frequently. If you look at desal as an insurance policy though it becomes a worthwhile investment, and when combined with greater water efficiency efforts by the community, could ensure a city doesn’t run out of water.

 

 

 

Q: Water reuse can be controversial for some people. How have you been able to gain public acceptance?

A: It’s important to be clear with the public and to be patient. It’s understandable that there would be a defense mechanism against water reuse. We provided a lot of education as part of a large-scale public awareness campaign. We opened a trial plant where water was recycled and then recharged into an aquifer and called this new water source ‘Groundwater Replenishment’. The community was invited to the trial plant so they could see it for themselves and get comfortable with it. We are now doubling the capacity of our Advanced Water Recycling Plant to be able to recharge up to 28 billion litres each year. Now we are getting encouragement through our latest customer research about direct potable reuse.

Q: Water Corporation faces some significant challenges due to climate change. How do you keep your teams motivated and moving forward to address these challenges?

A: The people involved in solving water problems love it. They are really motivated to help the community. Water supply planning is never static – it is about responding and adapting to changing circumstances, including climate change and our engineers are motivated to find solutions. Their lights get turned on when they see what other innovative utilities like Los Angeles and Washington, DC are doing.

Q: At the 2018 Global Water Summit, was there a specific technology, trend or innovation that you were particularly excited about?

A: Our technology debt is considerable. We need to move forward in data analytics, meter reading and high tech plants. We need to work together as utilities so we don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel. That’s what we are starting to do through Leading Utilities of the World. And companies like Suez are addressing issues like stormwater through their innovation centers in Bordeaux. There is a huge opportunity for Government utilities and private companies like Suez to learn and work together, and we welcome that.

Expert Opinions – Las Vegas Valley Water District & Southern Nevada Water Authority

Highlights from an interview with Dave Johnson, Deputy General Manager, Engineering and Operations

Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) and Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)

Q: What is the greatest challenge your utility is facing for which you do not yet have a solution and how are you currently approaching that challenge?

A: We have had 18 years of sustained drought in the Colorado River Basin. We have tried to address both supply and demand to deal with it. While we have had success on the demand side through water conservation efforts, we really need tech solutions to help further enhance our demand management while also addressing supply. For instance, on the demand-management side we are interested in technologies that help reduce drift and evaporation losses from cooling towers. From a supply perspective, although our leak rate is low, at less than 5%, we would like to minimize it even more. We have a need for early warning and detection systems for leaks and pipe breaks, so we put out a relatively broad request for proposal (RFP) to find out from others how to address these issues. Of course, while we need to drive unaccounted for water down, the cost of the tech solution has to make sense economically. The cost of the solution cannot be more than the value of the water saved.

Q: Do you have a unique perspective or approach that might be helpful to other utilities?

A: Many utilities look at existing innovation and try to fit it into their utility. We take a different approach. First, we define our problem or need very clearly and look to see if a solution already exists. If it doesn’t, we look to see if an existing innovation could be modified to meet our need. If not, we look for others to help us find a solution to our problem statement. Another example of a unique approach we employ as a water utility comes from our 50-year resource plan. In the plan we identify the permanent, temporary and future resources we will need. Due to ongoing drought conditions, we knew our community would need additional water resources in the future, so we looked for groundwater in other parts of Nevada. Working with others, we created a solution by purchasing ranch land north of Las Vegas Valley to secure groundwater rights that we can access for potential future use. The land we purchased was either being used for agriculture or livestock and it continues to be used in those ways today. Although we have made some enhancements to the properties to manage the water resources, we maintain them as working ranches. It’s important to keep the land, people and jobs functioning as they always have to maintain the local culture and have a positive impact on the local economy. You might be surprised, but you actually use generally the same principles to manage a ranch as you do to manage a utility.

 

 

Q: Do you have a key lesson learned from your experience at LVVWD that you would like to share with other utility leaders?

A: We have six goals in our strategic plan. One is dedicated to innovation. Our Board approved the organization’s goals and the strategic plan. That gave us the high-level commitment and financial support needed to fund pilot projects and have the manpower required to complete the pilot projects. In conjunction with WaterStart (a group of global leaders in water innovation and implementation), we were able to evaluate our priorities, initiate RFPs, launch pilots and evaluate the results. Through this process, we have not only piloted new technologies, but also adopted many of them into our utility operations. You really need that upper management level of commitment to pave the way for innovative solutions.

Q: Is there any technology, innovation or trend on the horizon that really excites you or that you perceive to be a game changer for utilities?

A:  The smart water network concept. These systems will allow utilities to minimize energy use and improve water quality via feedback from customer meter data. Although we have a model now, more and better data inputs —as well as having a way to synthesize that data —  will allow utilities to operate more efficiently. That in turn will also help us address larger issues that are so critical, like climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Q: What areas would you most like to collaborate on with other utilities?

A: We need to work together to further the concept of smart water networks. Smart water networks could create a roadmap to help utilities deal with issues like cyber security and efficient operations. Being a large utility like LVVWD, we have the innovative culture and resources to work on these kinds of pilots. But we also want to help mid-size utilities that don’t have the same resources we have solve the problems we all face. The more we can take our pilot program results and share them with small to mid-size utilities, the better. Utilities are really about providing public health protection and reasonable rates for our customers. We need to support each other to do that.

Expert Opinions

Highlights from an interview with Patrick Regan, Director of Global Corporate Accounts, Evoqua

Q: At the 2018 Global Water Summit in Paris there was discussion about the declining number of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the water sector based in part on lack of trust between public and private entities. Do you agree with that assessment and if so what could be done to help build more trust in the PPP model?

A: I agree that we are not seeing the number of PPPs you would expect given the needs in the water sector. Of course different people have different definitions for PPPs. The loose definition of a PPP is using private funds to facilitate manifestation of a project. Many urban municipal entities are stuck in the conventional design-bid-build mindset. We need to shift to a progressive design-build mindset where the customer may not know the specifics of what they want but they find a good partner to help figure it out with them through a PPP. PPPs require a new mindset. For most folks, that’s scary because its new territory. There are some exceptions to this but we need collaboration and mentoring to help change that mindset on a larger scale. We need a framework or a program that smaller utilities can plug into to help facilitate PPPs and help foster innovation in a space that really needs innovation.

Q: Collaboration is often cited as essential to success these days. What characteristics do you think create good collaboration?

A: When it comes to collaborating with other solution providers, checking egos at the door is key. When it comes to collaborating with customers on a solution for their challenges, it is on us to demonstrate our credibility if we are going to earn a seat at the table.

 

 

Q: What new technology or projects are you working on that you are excited about and think other water professionals would be interested in?

A: I get excited about anything that can improve the quality of water coming into my home. One of the compounds that has received a lot of press lately is PFAS (perfluoroalkyls). It is commonly used for a lot of things, from fire suppression to keeping food from sticking to pans. The EPA has published health advisory levels of 70ppt (think one drop of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool). But an increasing number of domestic water supplies have levels above this, and even 70ppt may still be toxic. As a result, states like New Jersey and Michigan are taking the lead to put out tougher regulations. The exciting part for Evoqua is not just that we have several solutions to remove these compounds from drinking water supplies, but also that we are working to make them more cost effective so that the people charged with protecting public health can more easily implement them.

Q: What needs do you think are imperative for the water industry that no one has yet filled?

A: Figuring out the power/water nexus is not just about power. A municipal wastewater treatment (WWT) plant, and many industrial WWT plants have the ability to not only produce clean water, but also renewable energy. If the industry can figure out how to leverage this capability toturn a cost center into a source of revenue, it will redefine the industry and foster a new wave of innovation.

Expert Opinions

Highlights from an interview with Bill Malarkey, Managing Partner North America, Amane Advisors

Q: What key take-aways did you get from the 2018 Global Water Summit in Paris this year?

A: It’s encouraging to see digital starting to make inroads in the way people do business. Although digital in some ways is still a buzzword with people having their own ideas of what digital means, there were some concrete examples there of how digital is working in real life. One example is remote monitoring and maintenance where a technician with a virtual reality headset is guided by colleagues who can see what he sees and guide him in how to fix a problem. Also, it was great to see that attendance was much larger than at previous conferences.

Q: In your role as a consultant to the water industry, are you seeing any new trends in what your clients are asking for?

A: Clients are searching for how to change their current business model. They realize they need to create an ongoing link to customers and provide value added services. It’s no longer enough just to sell products. There is increasing understanding that providers have to listen more, figure out what their clients need in different segments and different regions and then find more customized solutions. We see this trend with equipment and technology providers that are now becoming service providers.

Q: Amane Advisors has significant industry knowledge. Are there any highlights you think water professionals should be aware of for their long-term planning?

 A: There is a lot more interest in mobile or semi-mobile treatment applications, especially for industrial water and wastewater treatment. On the municipal side, utilities are now seeing that they also need resiliency. They can’t rely on a single source of water anymore. Of course bringing in new sources can be expensive which comes back to the question, “Who is going to pay for it?”.

 

 

Q: The topic of how to more accurately value water comes up frequently these days.  What are your thoughts on the topic?

 A: Trying to make sure people understand the value of water is difficult, but it can be done. San Francisco and Washington, DC are examples of municipal utilities that have been successful in explaining to customers what they are paying for when it comes to water and sewer service. When a system is first put in, people have to pay for it. That’s OK because the system is new and people expect to pay for it. It’s much more difficult to update a system because people don’t see the system and it’s no longer new. But ultimately the price of water must go up. This past year was the first year in the last 10-15 years that water-price increases in the US didn’t match inflation. It’s a strange dynamic that people have no problem paying for other things they need like electronics but don’t think about water in the same way.

Q: There has been a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the water industry recently.  Do you expect this trend to continue? Why or why not?

 A: Yes the trend will continue. There are advantages with scale and companies are seeing that they can add to their offerings more quickly through acquisition versus developing new technology themselves. This aligns with the trend of trying to figure out a new business model. Right now the market is barbell shaped with big companies at one end and lots of small tech companies and small utilities at the other. Also, there is a lot of private equity interest. Private equity firms are realizing the value of the water industry and that the demand for solutions to water problems is going to go up due to issues like increasing water scarcity and the increasing number of pollutants being regulated. But you have to have patience. The water sector is a good long-term value and a great place for patient money, not for people only looking for a big short-term gain.

 

Highlights from an interview with Kevin Shafer, Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD)

Q: At the 2018 Global Water Summit in Paris, you mentioned four un-invented technologies that MMSD needs.  Which one do you most need and why?

A: We need more real-time, low-cost active controls for green infrastructure. Our top priority is green infrastructure because it meets a lot of needs at once and we already have a lot of green infrastructure in place. However it could be managed better. Bioswales are landscape elements designed to concentrate or remove debris and pollution out of surface runoff water. We would really like to see bioswales hold about six more inches of water than they presently do to maximize their use. We would also like to increase the holding capacity of the drains and piping under porous pavement as well as be able to control the release better.

We also really need to deal with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are known carcinogens and are hazardous to our constituents. This is a problem that probably any utility in an industrial area has, but just doesn’t know about it yet. MMSD found out about PCBs because PCBs got into Milorganite, MMSD’s organic nitrogen product made from bio-solids, which has been sold as fertilizer since 1926. PCBs are a problem because they create a black tar-like substance at the bottom of pipes. To solve the problem we spent about 10 years working with the EPA. And since there are no PCB responsible parties left to help cover clean up costs, municipalities will have to clean it upon their own. Fermilab, outside of Chicago may have a possible solution to clean up PCBs using electron beams but its still being tested.

Q: MMSD is a public utility that oversees a private operator, Veolia, as part of a blended public private partnership (PPP). How is that working and what might other utilities find useful to know about the partnership?

A: In 1998 we began a 10-year contractual relationship with United Water Services. In 2008 we signed a 10-year contract with Veolia, which was renewed in 2018, so we have a long history with this kind of partnership. MMSD owns all the assets and makes capital improvements while Veolia operates and maintains the system. It’s like having a landscape service where the homeowner owns the land and the service provider takes care of maintenance. We saved $160M under the United Water contract and $10-11M under the Veolia contract so far. This kind of partnership can produce a lot of savings in the beginning but now we are getting to a point where the majority of savings have been squeezed out and we are moving to a more steady-state efficiency. PPPs work differently depending on the state, utility and other unique factors, so a PPP’s success can’t be guaranteed. One key to MMSD’s success was a lot of due diligence up front which allowed creation of a strong contract favorable to both parties.

 

 

Q: You have said that MMSD has evolved from a being considered a polluter of waterways by its customers to being a protector of waterways. How did that evolution happen?

A: In the late 1990s we were known as a polluter. There was a lot of bad press and stories in the newspaper every time there was a combined sewer overflow (CSO). MMSD was also insular at that time. People didn’t want to come out into the public realm. They wanted to stay behind the scenes. I recognized that we needed to have a consistent message and to bring that message into the public realm. We needed to pursue visible green infrastructure and flood management projects so people could see the positive impacts. We took a vegetative approach instead of concrete. In fact we actually took out a lot of concrete. These actions created a metamorphosis for the river. The fish came back and so did the people. People starting connecting MMSD to these positive improvements. And as part of the effort to address previous bad press regarding CSOs, we not only tried to minimize CSOs, but when they did happen, I got out in front of the public. I went on camera on location to explain the problem and show how it was being addressed.  I was in my uniform and pretty disheveled so they could see that we were actually working to address the problem.

Q: Do you have any insights for other utilities looking to follow in MMSD’s footsteps in terms of transformation?

A: Appreciate great staff.  Allow them to implement their ideas and don’t micromanage. Lay out an aggressive vision then step back and let your staff make it happen. Also, understand the importance of messaging to the public and how that messaging ultimately drives politics.

Q: What inspires you about the future for utilities?

A: I think we are seeing change in the industry as a whole. We are beginning to move beyond a focus on pipes and treatment plants and toward an approach that is both green and oriented toward watershed versus political boundaries. This shift in approach will help utilities start addressing larger agricultural and storm water issues. The water industry should be proud of how far it has come since the 1960s. We now have a much better understanding of issues. We are optimizing water management and are better prepared for climate change challenges. Global leaders are also showcasing examples of what is working and helping other utilities improve, which will help the entire industry move forward.

MMSD’s Milwaukee County Grounds Flood Management Projectincludes a 65 acre basin that holds 315 million gallons of water. 1.6 trillion gallons would fill the County Grounds basin 5,079 times.

Expert Opinions

Highlights from an interview with Andy Kricun, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA)

Q: How has CCMUA changed its approach to water and wastewater management over the years?

A: Traditionally, the goal of a utility has been to “meet the permit” where water has to be treated to minimize the level pollutants to a certain permissible level. Permit compliance was the ceiling of accomplishment and aspiration. At CCMUA we look at permit compliance as the floor, not the ceiling. Our goal is to optimize operations, which often means going beyond the permit. For example, 30 parts per million is the permit requirement for pollutants, but by making some operational changes, we are at four parts per million with no additional costs. We made a conscious decision to run the same plant better despite already meeting the permit. Now, even though we are removing more solids to prevent them from going into the river, we are drying the solids out to 90% instead of 18% as we did in the past. And because we are removing so much more water from the solids, there are significantly fewer solids to remove and our costs have gone down.

Q: What is your approach to problem solving?

A: After meeting or exceeding the permit, the first thing we do is try to optimize environmental performance. The second is to look for other opportunities to make a positive difference in the community. These solutions must be either cost neutral or provide a cost benefit. An example is green infrastructure where instead of just solving a storm water problem with a pipe or tunnel, you can solve the problem and provide both community and environmental benefits. Water utilities should become environmental and community champions instead of just factories complying with permits. My hope is that innovation and considering the community and environment in problem solving will become the norm versus the exception.

 

 

Q: Could you provide an example of this type of thinking in action at CCMUA?

A: Given CCMUA’s location in the city of Camden, odor control is very important to city residents. When I first started at CCMUA there were no odor control attempts at all.  Now we address it by adding a chemical base to neutralize odor. It’s morally wrong not to address it. I tell my crew, “If you are fixing the chemical pump that neutralizes odors, you are protecting an entire neighborhood.  You are an environmental champion, you are a community service champion.” The most important paradigm shift that needs to occur is moving from thinking about the single bottom line of maximizing profit to the triple bottom line, which includes environmental and community responsibility. Indifference is harmful. When we put in odor control at CCMUA, we graduated from indifference to doing no harm. Now CCMUA is neutral, but it’s not a final solution. We are working on being a pro-active good neighbor and becoming an anchor institution where we are invested in creating a good quality of life for Camden residents.

Q: How has CCMUA tried to be a good neighbor to Camden residents?

A: Camden city has significant challenges associated with stormwater flooding and brownfield remediation.  The CCMUA wanted to be strategic in helping the city and its residents with these challenges, and as an anchor institution in the community we wanted to do our job but also serve the community in new and positive ways. So we started the Camden Collaborative Initiative to create a green infrastructure project that would provide green space and a park for the community. The Camden Collaborative Initiative is an organization with 60 different environmental and community non-profit partners including CCMUA, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, The New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Rutgers University and many community neighborhood groups. Each partner acquired funds separately through grants for which only they were eligible then we combined the funds to build the park. This effort shows how collaboration and a common goal can bring a community together to create a better quality of life for its residents.

Creating Stormwater Fees

Stormwater fees are increasingly being used to address runoff.  Moderator Gary Belan of American Rivers led a panel including Adam Ortiz, Director for the Department of the Environment, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Rick Gray, Former Mayor of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Alicia Smith, from The Junction Coalition in Toledo, Ohio, Darryl Haddock, Environmental Education Director of the Western Atlanta Watershed Alliance and Andy Kricun, Executive Director and Chief Engineer at Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) to discuss what these leaders are doing to keep stormwater fees fair and affordable in their communities.

Central to every panelist’s strategy was engaging the community.  As Alicia Smith stated, “It’s about how you do the work and who you do the work with.” But there are a lot of steps to community engagement. One of the first is listening. Adam Ortiz described the challenges he faced while trying to meet the EPA’s Clean Water mandate by replacing impervious with pervious surfaces. He described his first attempt at working with churches (due to their large impervious asphalt parking lots) as a failure and explained that some of his initial assumptions about the churches turned out to be wrong. Thanks to persistence and determination, he and church representatives eventually “learned how to hear each other”, understood the other side’s story and built trust. “It’s not over after one meeting or even 20 meetings”, Adam said.  But it was worth the effort as more and more churches came on board with the necessary.

Another critical step toward community engagement is education. An important lesson for water professionals is that education goes both ways. Water professionals need to educate communities about water solutions like green infrastructure but they also need to beeducated about the issues within the community. Alicia Smith emphasized the importance of sharing information between citizens and between generations of citizens. An example of this is how, in an underprivileged community in Toledo, green leaders were established for each city block and young people were mentored by the elderly in order to provide both inspiration and aspiration toward a better quality of life.

Water professionals need the best data to help solve problems. Often, the community has the best, most accurate data. Andy Kricun described how CCMUA went directly to Camden residents to ask where the flooding from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) was occurring in order to address the issue as quickly as possible. In Atlanta, when data wasn’t available from outside sources, Darryl Haddock and the Western Atlanta Watershed Alliance asked residents to help collect data. This kind of collaboration not only met the need for information, but also created a voice for community members.

 

 

 

Panelists agreed that high visibility and awareness of efforts to address stormwater is important when it comes to gaining acceptance of stormwater fees. Camden and Atlanta both recommended starting with small projects such as rain barrels and gardens, then building to larger projects over time. Rick Gray explained how early green infrastructure projects in Lancaster helped build acceptance of stormwater fees long before the fees were actually imposed. In Lancaster, each time a new park or green community project was completed, signs saying, “Green infrastructure at work” were posted in the area to ensure residents understood how green infrastructure helped improve the community. After completion of six projects and four or five years of seeing the infrastructure signs, the community not only associated green infrastructure with a better quality of life, they asked for more green infrastructure in a park known as “Peace Park” and raised the money for the park themselves. When the time finally came to impose stormwater fees, the goodwill built around green infrastructure eliminated any community opposition to the fees. In fact, the only opposition at the final hearing to approve the fees was two attorneys for commercial interests with very large parking lots.

Transparency and accountability are also important. In Prince George’s County Rick Oritz described how performance metrics and a map showing the location of projects and the progress toward each project’s goals is updated every night so the community can actually see where their dollars are going and the impact of those dollars. In Toledo, Alicia Smith stressed the importance of quantifying results in ways the community can understand and appreciate. Information regarding the dollars saved through green infrastructure projects is shared as well as more tangible and perhaps more meaningful benefits such as the fact that 13 blocks were saved from flooding, four demolished homes were replaced by green space and 1300 families were helped by providing funding to pay for plumbing repairs.

There was consensus among the panelists that stormwater fee acceptance requires engagement of a wide group of stakeholders instead of a top down approach. Lancaster’s multi-stakeholder panel unanimously endorsed a tiered stormwater fee schedule based on the amount of impervious surface per property while the Prince George’s County turned the “rain tax” required to meet the EPA Clean Water mandate into an opportunity to address community needs, use projects to attract and engage innovative private companies, generate jobs, build business mentorship programs and incorporate educational experiences into every project. Green infrastructure not only attracted private partners to help grow the local economy, green infrastructure projects were supported by non-profit community partners such as schools, churches and community organizations.  

While community engagement, education, visibility, transparency, and a multi-stakeholder approach are necessary to address stormwater fees, creativity may be the underlying factor in all stormwater fee successes stories. Camden city is one of the most financially distressed communities in the United States, so the CCMUA took a unique approach to stormwater fees for its Camden city residents. CCMUA is a regional utility servicing 36 mostly affluent suburban communities, as well as Camden city. CCMUA’s wastewater treatment plant is located in Camden city while many of the 36 suburban communities are miles away. CCMUA uses variable water rates, with local residents receiving a 40% discount on the rationale that those residents shouldn’t have to shoulder the same water conveyance costs as their suburban neighbors. As Andy Kricun put it, “Your zip code should not determine the kind of services and quality of life you need.” And in Toledo, Alicia Smith and her team knew that all the new green infrastructure would require maintenance, so they asked for additional an 15% in funding from the EPA to pay young people to maintain the projects and turn maintenance into an educational experience. In addition, adults in the community pulled together, with each person contributing five dollars to pay young people to maintain the new green spaces. These types of solutions aren’t typical. They are creative, but most importantly, they get the job done.

Even though the panel recognized that the local level can’t solve stormwater fee issue alone and that there is a significant need for more federal funding, with the creative, holistic and long term thinking demonstrated by the panelists, solutions are clearly possible. Alicia Smith said it well, “Its all about how you connect the dots. It’s one thing to sit and to talk about it.  It’s something different to make solutions.  There are solutions even in the midst of crisis.”

The Affordability Crisis

While the water crisis in Detroit, Michigan isn’t at the top of the mainstream news cycle anymore, the crisis continues to rage for many in the Detroit community. The first session of the Water Affordability Conference, titled “The Water Affordability Crisis”, demonstrated just how raw emotions still are in Detroit. Howard Neukrug, Executive Director of The Water Center at Penn kicked off what turned out to be a very powerful morning session by reminding the audience that, “There is so much more work that the water utility industry needs to do, along with communities, scientists, academicians and everyone else, to get us to the point where our utilities and cities are highly resilient and sustainable for the future. We are not there.” One of the essential steps to getting there, and the goal of the conference, is to come together to better understand what is needed to solve one of the most urgent US water problems, water affordability.

The discussion panel was moderated by Jessica Loya, National Policy Director for Green Latinos, and included Mustafa Ali, Senior VP of Climate, Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus, Professor Emily Kutil, Founding Member of We The People of Detroit and Jerome Shabazz, Executive Director of the Overbrook Environmental Education Center in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Mustafa Ali began the panel discussion with a startling statistic. Fourteen million families in the US are unable to pay for water. This inability to pay for water is not just an economic issue. Lack of affordable water degrades communities because of its cascading impacts that create a negative downward spiral that is difficult to stop. Emily Kutil provided an illustration of this spiral from Detroit where lack of affordable water creates water shut off, resulting in less hygienic living conditions and a 155% increase in skin, soft tissue and gastrointestinal infections which leads to more emergency room visits versus the general population.

Members of the conference audience from Detroit provided emotional descriptions of how in Detroit, unpaid water bills are attached as tax leans to homes and can cause already struggling households to lose their homes to foreclosure. In addition, to get clean water for basic living needs, residents must pay for expensive bottled water, which puts the household under further financial hardship and stress. Co-Founder of We The People Of Detroit, Cecily McClellan put it simply, “We can live without many things. But we can’t live without water.”

Jerome Shabazz discussed how water is often viewed by city and or utility officials from a financial perspective, when in reality, water is a human centric issue that is closely tied to human dignity. He described water as a linchpin of communities and stressed the need for all stakeholders including utilities, local government, academia and community representatives to have open and frequent discussions that form the basis of public policy. Mustafa Ali called for greater civic participation and “authentic collaborative partnerships” where communities inform and influence the process of setting policy at the state and local levels. The panel was in agreement that communities need to be educated about the complexity of water affordability issues and elected officials must be held accountable. Emily Kutil noted that when it comes to water, “ infrastructure is political as well as physical.”

This powerful session, through both panel and audience member participation, helped everyone in attendance better understand water affordability issues on the intellectual level, but perhaps more importantly, feel the devastating impacts of the water affordability crisis on a much deeper, emotional level.

 

 

 

 

 

Making Ends Meet: A National Dialogue on Water Affordability

The introductory session of “Making Ends Meet: A Workshop on Water Affordability” was held on Wednesday evening, May 30th at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. The full day workshop takes place on Thursday, May 31st. It is supported by The Water Center at Penn, American Rivers, the Mayors Innovation Project and Clean Water for All. The workshop brings community and utility leaders from around the nation together to discuss and find solutions for the growing water affordability crisis.


The introductory session told “The Philadelphia Story” of how too many low-income Philadelphia families were struggling to pay their water bills and how in response, Philadelphia water and community leaders came together to create an innovative income based tariff system to ensure affordable water for all Philadelphians. Led by Howard Neukrug, Executive Director of The Water Center at Penn, a panel including Debra McCarty, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, Rob Ballinger, Community Legal Services and Sonny Popowsky, former Consumer Advocate of Pennsylvania, described how Philadelphia created the ground breaking income based water tariff system known as the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP).  

TAP came about due to significant input from multiple stakeholders, all of whom recognized the critical need to address the mounting water debt of low-income households. Bringing stakeholders together on a regular basis allowed participants to understand each other’s perspectives and find a solution that worked for all parties. Having dedicated public advocates to represent water customers was also essential. According to Debra McCarty, “the process matters as much as the final outcome.”

 

 

 

On several occasions, credit was given to Philadelphia Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez whose district had a heavy concentration of households below the poverty line that were also in water debt. Councilwoman Sanchez took the initiative to sponsor the legislation that ultimately led to the TAP program, showing how the efforts of one person can catalyze others to make significant and necessary changes. Now through TAP, Rob Ballinger noted, “We have a powerful tool to achieve water affordability.” Sonny Popowsky added that Philadelphia is fortunate to have water leaders who are willing to take progressive positions on environmental and consumer issues. Philadelphia’s TAP program can now serve as a model for other utilities in terms of the program’s structure and well as how it was developed.

Former Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter, closed the evening by reminding the audience that water is one of the most essential resources on the planet and that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all households are able to afford water. He appealed to the audience to stay active, stay engaged and stay involved because “this work is not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our children.”

Former Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter with Water Center Director, Howard Neukrug

 

 

 

 

 

CEO Forum Highlights Challenges and the Need for Industry Transformation at the 2018 Global Water Summit

The 2018 Global Water Summit brought leaders from the water industry together in a CEO Forum to discuss their thoughts on major issues facing the industry. The panel was moderated by Verity Mitchell, Director HSBC Global Researchand included Jerson Kelman, CEO SABESP Brazil, Jose Diaz-Caneja, General Director, ACCIONA, Jean-Francios Nogrette, CEO Veolia Water Strategies, Cindy Wallis–Lage, President, Water Business, Black & Veatchand Rafael Perez Feitro, International Operations Director, Aqualia.

While the panel discussed a broad range of topics, common threads wove throughout the discussion as well as the Q&A session. These threads included the need to better understand consumer bias against municipal water, change that bias into trust through transparency and communication, address the real costs of delivering clean water, be resilient and sustainable and demonstrate leadership in unchartered territory. Despite all of these challenges, a sense of purpose and optimism prevailed throughout the session.

Consumer Bias

A question was asked by Jean-Francios Nogrette, “Would you drink a glass of water from a stranger?” Polling at the summit showed most people would not. Jerson Kelman affirmed this point based on recent research done by SABESP that showed consumers don’t trust municipal water. Almost 50% of consumers surveyed in Sao Paula, Brazil prefer to buy bottled water, even though municipally provided water is completely safe.

Is a well-known brand like Evian needed to make people trust a water provider? Is it necessary for people to understand the processes used to treat municipal water? Would empowering consumers to test water quality make them trust municipal water? Answers to these questions are not yet clear, but one thing is certain. The bottled water market is growing much faster than spending on utility water services.  

Building Trust through Transparency

Lack of transparency is at least one underlying issue that leads to consumer distrust of municipal water. So how do municipalities create transparency? “I feel digital could play a key role to establish trust and support the reputation of water.” said Jean Francios Nogrette. Sharing data through digital tools could help both consumers and businesses feel more confident in water quality and reliability.

It’s difficult for anyone to trust what he or she can’t see. As several panelists mentioned, people can’t see infrastructure and therefore have no idea what it takes to bring water to a tap. And while it’s easy to focus on large, headline grabbing new projects like desalination facilities, the real challenge for utilities is to maintain the infrastructure that already exists and bring the benefits of that infrastructure to light in a positive way.

 The Need for Communication

Increased communication will be needed. Communication tools such as education, data, social media, and person-to-person conversations with the public are effective. It is critical to employ these tools consistently and authentically, to create transparency and build trust beforea crisis or controversy occurs. As Cindy Wallis–Lage stated, “If you aren’t in the head and in the heart of the public, you are not going to have the trust in the community that is going to believe that you are delivering the quality of water they need to have every day.”

 

 

 

Currently, consumer marketing from bottled water brands is more powerful than utility marketing efforts. As one astute audience member asked, “If two strangers present you with a cup of water, with one person being neatly dressed and the other not, but both cups appear clean, which one will you take?” This example highlights the need for utilities to build consumer trust through branding, the way that consumer water marketers do, and strengthening positive messaging to compete with consumer water brands. Panelists pointed out that this must happen now, when fresh water is the norm, if the broader public is ever going to accept drinking reused water, a likely scenario to come in many parts of the world. 

Establishing Realistic Tariffs for Water Services

Lack of infrastructure understanding and the inability to visualize infrastructure make it difficult for people to accept a realistic monetary value for tap water. As Cindy Wallis–Lage pointed out, people aren’t able to see infrastructure improvements like they can see transportation improvements that justify a cost. Although there is fear and political backlash almost certainly associated with raising water rates, there is a general understanding among panel participants that, like reuse water, raising rates will eventually become a necessity.

Building Trust for Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)

Lack of public trust can also be seen in the declining number of water sector PPPs over the last few years, per World Bank data. The problem, according to Rafael Perez Feitro, is not that the private sector does not have interest. It is the result of distrust between the private and public sectors. Distrust prohibits needed funding for investments to upgrade and improve infrastructure. “What we are having is a perfect storm of underinvested infrastructure. The nature of public or private should not matter as long as the service is provided with quality, is affordable, accountable and responsible.” said Rafael Perez Feitro.

Resiliency, Sustainability and Leadership

Communities around the globe need water security that can only be gained through resilient and sustainable water systems. While decisions about planning, investing and maintaining infrastructure have typically been made based on past knowledge and experience, these decisions will now need to be made based on a new and unchartered reality. Holistic thinking will be required.  This thinking will require coordination between businesses, industries and communities, regardless of politics and geographic boundaries. Water leaders will need to be bold, transparent, collaborative and communicative. Transformative solutions and unprecedented business models must become the norm. Cindy Wallis–Lage summed up the panel’s sentiments well, “Water is life, but as an industry we need to elevate the conversation beyond entitlement, beyond social good, to the business case for economic development and delivering sustainable communities.”

 

 

Leading Utilities Discuss Needed But as of Yet Uninvented Technologies at the 2018 Global Water Summit

In a lively discussion led by Booky Oren, Chairman and CEO Global Water Technologies, five leading water and wastewater utilities serving over 11M people discussed their search for the technology they need to satisfy customer expectations while simultaneously addressing challenges such as climate change, pricing pressure and growing population demands. Presenters included Terri Benson, Managing Director South East Water Australia, Ken Hutchinson, Managing Director, Scottish Water International, Andrew Kricun, Executive Director & Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Kevin Shafer, Executive Director, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Benjamin Geston, General Manager, Eau de Paris.

There is no shortage of need for new technology solutions, and while each utility has its own unique challenges, all require technology to help them in a few broad categories.  These categories include customer interaction, dealing with climate change and dealing with data. The utilities participating in the discussion are already aggressively working to address these challenges, however, more collaboration and partnerships with other utilities and vendors are needed. This presents a large opportunity for those utilities willing to think more broadly, more creatively and with long vs. short-term vision.

Customer Interaction

According to South East Water Australia’s customer research, utilities must ensure safe and reliable service at all times, warn and inform customers about issues without disrupting service, improve customer experience, and protect the environment and community. And they must do all of this while ensuring a fair and affordable price. Terri Benson noted that customers will not tolerate a price increase to meet these expectations.

An example of technology needed by South East Water Australia to address customer interaction issues is sewer spill detection. Right now South East Water only learns about issues when a problem occurs. They need technology that places sensors strategically in customer overflow outlets to provide early detection and prevention of sewer spills with timely customer notification. This technology must be reliable, with a long lifespan, and must be low in cost due to the high volume of South East Water customers.

Dealing with the Impacts of Climate Change

As climate change intensifies, the incidence of severe weather and flooding will cause more combined sewer overflows and power outages that pose increased risk to the operation of treatment plants as well as sewage pumping systems. More green infrastructure, improved sewer system storage capacity and rapid treatment to reduce the environmental impact of combined sewer overflows will be needed. Green energy alternatives to reduce reliance on electricity will also be needed to keep treatment plants and sewage pumping systems running during severe weather. Both Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District are working toward energy neutral goals to protect against these types of issues.

From the technology perspective, since pumping stations are often many miles from treatment centers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are needed to better predict and fix pumping station problems, thus eliminating the time and expense of sending work crews out to solve the problems after problems occur. And for as many benefits as green infrastructure provides, Kevin Shafer of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District points out that most green infrastructure is passive, merely filling up and draining. He wonders how to optimize green infrastructure performance, making it more interactive through technology as well as more cost effective.

 

 

 

Dealing with Data

Utilities understand the importance of data in making informed decisions and are using technology to gather that data. However doing so at scale is creating information overload, data storage and cyber security issues that must be addressed. Scottish Water is looking for new technology to collect new and different types of data as well as store more data over longer periods. For example, miniscule sensors known as “smart dust” detect temperature, light, moisture and pressure – valuable data that was previously difficult to acquire. Scottish Water is also looking for a way to make “digital twins” of new assets in order to optimize maintenance and would like to be able to repeat the process for existing systems.

Bringing large amounts of data together so that it is accessible and understandable is becoming the next big technology need. South East Water Australia says it needs ccomputing power and cloud based connectivity to process and integrate data to create machine to machine responses as well as workforce and business process redesign. And while the need for more sophisticated technology in increasing, so are cyber security threats. As Ken Hutchinson of Scottish Water points out, utilities provide a vital service that produces a critical and ingestible product. That product must be protected.

 Cost – A Key Underlying Issue

Beyond the broader technological needs described above are more unique needs based on local challenges. These challenges are wide ranging, including odor minimization, bio-solid volume reduction, and the need to destroy PCBs that collect over time as a black tar type substance in pipes.  Underlying each and every need is the understanding that investments made in technological solutions must not cause utilities raise rates.

Creative utilities have found ways to address this issue too. Per Andrew Kricum of Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, when making investments, instead of looking at number of years of payback, utilities should look at whether the annual operational cost savings can offset the annual investment debt. Several utilities described how using the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental benefits to determine the value of a tech investment helps justify the cost and gets more stakeholders to support it. And finally, taking a long vs. short-term view in investment and financial planning is essential.

Finding Solutions to Challenges

So how should utilities approach finding solutions to address their challenges? Booky Oren stresses the importance of clearly defining the problem and parameters of the needed solution as a first step. The second step is looking to see if a solution has already been developed somewhere else in the world, whether through another utility developing its own solution or an industry provided solution. If the solution does not yet exist and the utility must develop its own solution, partnership with vendors or other utilities that need the same or similar solution is a good third step. By following this process, utilities can create effective solutions that not only solve their own issues; they may solve other utility’s issues in the process. As Booky Oren expressed at the close of the session, We are on a great journey together.”

Innovative Solutions From Select Leading Utilties of the World

Today change happens at lightening speed, which is why the lightening round of one-minute summaries from 10 of the Leading Utilities of the World (LUOW) describing their latest innovative solutions was an exciting and appropriate part of 2018’s Global Water Summit. 

Here are a few flashes from the lightening round.

Los Angeles Department of Water & Power

The Los Angeles area is prone to earthquakes that can be disastrous for water and sewer systems. That’s why the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) is taking a proactive approach, using revolutionary Japanese technology to create a seismic resilient pipeline. LADWP is currently installing the largest seismic restraining joint in the world across a known fault line. The earthquake resistant ductile iron pipe not only moves and shifts to protect against seismic risks and improve infrastructure reliability, it also allows more water to move through the system and improve efficiency. Additionally, LADWP has patented technology to solve the problem of water quality degradation in covered storage due to nitrification of chloramine disinfectant. This novel process uses low-intensity ultraviolet light to stop the bacteria that cause nitrification, thus maintaining water quality. LADWP has turned a major problem into a fee generating possibility as LADWP is now getting offers to buy the patent or at least pay LADWP for use of its technolog

The Water Corporation of Australia

The southwest portion of western Australia is the fastest drying climate in the world. For example, in 2016, Water Corporation of Australia received 11 gigaliters of water, lost 14 gigaliters to evaporation, yet still had to supply 300 gigaliters of water to its customers. The Water Corporation of Australia must find ways to make an ever-decreasing supply of water meet the continual needs of its customers. That’s an extreme challenge by any measure. Water Corporation of Australia strives to have a three-year supply of water available at all times in order to have sufficient time to trigger new water sources as needed. It has developed a new sourcing model to achieve that goal. In 2019, Water Corporation of Australia will deliver 300 gigaliters to its customers with 90% supplied from non-surface water sources. The source breakdown will include 50% from desalination, 30% from groundwater and 10% from groundwater aquifer recharge. Water Corporation of Australia credits government support for its ability to manage such a steep challenge in the face of some of the world’s most severe climate change impacts.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has been producing commercial grade Milorganite fertilizer from bio-solids since 1926. Interest in this byproduct has been growing since that time. In 2017, Milorganite became a source of positive income for Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, capturing $10 million in external sales. Beyond this innovative use of a byproduct, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has an exemplary service record. It treats 70 billion gallons of water each year, yet experienced only 1,400 gallons of leakage in 2017. With an excellent system for treating wastewater and track record of 100% permit compliance; it is not difficult to see how Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District went from being known as a polluter of waterways 20 years ago, to being known as a protector of waterways today. And last year, based on community request, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District bought a dam for a dollar and is now removing the dam. Now that’s being a good neighbor!

 

 

 

 

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has been producing commercial grade Milorganite fertilizer from bio-solids since 1926. Interest in this byproduct has been growing since that time. In 2017, Milorganite became a source of positive income for Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, capturing $10 million in external sales. Beyond this innovative use of a byproduct, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has an exemplary service record. It treats 70 billion gallons of water each year, yet experienced only 1,400 gallons of leakage in 2017. With an excellent system for treating wastewater and track record of 100% permit compliance; it is not difficult to see how Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District went from being known as a polluter of waterways 20 years ago, to being known as a protector of waterways today. And last year, based on community request, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District bought a dam for a dollar and is now removing the dam. Now that’s being a good neighbor!

Scottish Water

With fuel prices going up, Scottish Water wanted to help its customers lower their heating bills and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time. Scottish Water realized that within its 50,000 kilometers of sewer network lay a steady flow of thermal energy from showers, washing machines and industrial processes. Through a joint venture with SHARC Energy Systems, instead of being wasted, this thermal energy was extracted to create a heating solution for customers while also reducing carbon emissions. Benefits to Scottish Water customers included zero upfront costs, flexible application and supply and price certainty. The joint venture also supports the Scottish government’s ambitious renewable and carbon reduction targets for 2020. This innovative solution is not only one of the United Kingdom’s first heat from wastewater projects, it also recently won the prestigious Scottish Renewable Green Energy Best Innovation Award.

Central Contra Costa Sanitary District

California’s water problems are severe and complex, often requiring multiple stakeholders to find solutions. That’s why partnerships between water companies in the San Francisco Bay area make so much sense. The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (CCSD) sees an opportunity to divert 95% of the water it currently discharges into the bay to the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCWD) that provides water services to over 3 million people instead. CCSD and SCWD get their water supply from the same source and since there are two refineries next to CCSD, the concept of the partnership is to provide service to CCSD through the refineries, with CCSD in turn implementing an exchange program with SCWD. This solution to a large regional problem in the Bay Area shows how collaboration creates successful results.

Watercare New Zealand

Christopher Gasson, Publisher of Global Water Intelligence, said early during the Global Water Summit that, “Innovation is 10% technology and 90% management.” Watercare New Zealand is keeping that in mind as it prepares for the future. Part of preparing for the future is preparing its staff for change. For Watercare, change includes the use of bots. The first bot Watercare put into service was given a birth certificate, a name and even a birthday cake by Watercare staff.  Now there are four bots in service with more to come. Because each bot does the work of approximately six people, the humans at Watercare understand that the future will be very different from today. Understanding how the future will change and facing those changes fully and honestly is one of the reasons Watercare is at the forefront of utility management today

 

 

Anglian Water – Jean Spencer, Executive Director Strategic Growth & Resilience

Anglian Water is the largest water and water recycling company by geography in England and Wales, an area known as East of England. Anglian Water serves more than six million customers and supplies one billion liters of water to its customers daily.

A key challenge for Anglian Water is that East of England is a water stressed area, receiving approximately the same rainfall as Jerusalem. It is also one of the fastest growing regions in the United Kingdom (UK), with population expected to increase by one million over the next 25 years. Adding to these issues is the fact that East of England supports large energy and agricultural operations, both of which use vast amounts of water. Energy companies in the region generate 20% of England’s power and agricultural producers grow 40% of England’s vegetables.

Despite all of these challenges, Anglian Water has reduced leakage by 20% since 2010 and established the lowest leakage level of any water company in the UK. To achieve this success, Anglian Water implemented a messaging campaign to customers regarding the importance of reducing consumption and worked with customers so that the majority of customers are now metered. These accomplishments are just the beginning of Anglian Water’s solutions to major challenges.

One of Anglian Water’s innovative strategies is the role out of a smart water system. Anglian Water developed and pioneered the Integrated Leakage and Pressure Management System (ILPM). This system allows the network to be viewed and managed by one simple platform in real time. ILPM is unique, using ultra sensitive sound detection via radio networks to detect failing assets before they become an acute problem. ILPM is a permanent network monitoring system, allowing leaks to be identified and fixed within 24 hours while avoiding common issues associated with other monitoring systems such as damage, theft and disruption. ILPM was tested in Newmarket, Suffolk where it achieved a 23% reduction in leakage since installation one year ago. The ILPM system is now being rolled out to the rest of the region and is expected to reduce leakage by more than 23% by 2025.

Anglian Water believes water resource challenges do not occur, nor can they be solved, in isolation. Therefore, in 2016, Anglian Water chaired The Water Resources Long Term Planning Framework, an effort that included representatives from the water and energy sectors, agriculture and the UK government.

 

 

 

 

The Framework’s mission was to look at the combined risk and economic impact of severe drought and climate change and establish a national resiliency network to address these issues. The Framework recommended both demand and supply side management strategies and identified opportunities to trade water across water company boundaries. Importantly, the Framework’s recommendations have been incorporated in the government’s long-term resiliency planning and provided guidance to all UK water companies.

One outcome of the Framework is Water Resources East (WRE), an innovative multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approach to managing water resources in East of England. This collaboration is intended to collectively meet the needs and build resilience strategies for four critical sectors including water, energy, agriculture and the environment. Some of the critical needs the WRE is addressing include larger reservoir storage capacity, a network of strategic transfers to move water across sectors and around the region, desalination capabilities and improved effluent reuse.

Sustainable financing must be secured as part of long-term resiliency planning. Water companies including Anglian Water must invest in operations and infrastructure to meet increasing customer expectations while keeping customer bills low. Green bonds are essential to achieving these goals. In July 2017 Anglian Water successfully launched the first Sterling Green Bond. The £250 million bond now is being used to fund innovative solutions like the largest state of the art filtration system in Europe, installed at Heighman Water treatment works, which supplies water for the city of Norwich.

Planning for a sustainable future requires both short and long-term goals. Anglian Water’s short-term goals include increasing use of smart metering to help customers keep track of water use and keep bills low, continuing to decrease leakage and ensuring that no customers are at risk of severe restrictions as a result of extreme drought. Anglian Water’s long-term goals include making East of England resilient to risks of drought and flooding, becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and helping to improve the environment across Anglian Water’s catchments. Anglian Water’s record of responsible, innovative solutions bodes well for East of England’s future.

 

 

 

 

LA Sanitation – Adel Hagekhalil, Assistant Director

LA Sanitation is the environmental agency for the city of Los Angeles (LA) serving over 4 million customers.  It manages LA’s storm water system, protects watersheds and provides solid resource services, all with the goal of protecting public health and the environment.

Key challenges for LA Sanitation include high dependency on imported water, severe drought, extreme rainfall due to climate change and the resulting storm water issues, decreased wastewater flows due to conservation efforts which have limited the ability to create recycled water, fragmented wastewater management and lack of public engagement and trust. 

Addressing these myriad issues took planning, innovation and a willingness to collaborate.  Solutions were conceptualized in the One Water LA Plan, which aimed to create resiliency and connect the “dots, drops and hearts” of LA. Central to the success of the Plan was engaging the public and forming new partnerships. Participants in One Water LA planning included LA’s Mayor Garcetti, water and power partners, and LA’s airport (LAX) and harbor, among others. LA Sanitation’s goal was to find ways to manage water holistically with everyone engaged in finding solutions.

One notable success is the partnership with LAX which was already going through a large-scale renovation.  Spotting an opportunity disguised as a gravel pit considered an eyesore by the community, LA Sanitation was able to buy 1,000 acres of land including the gravel pit via bond and convert it to wetlands to clean and recharge water while providing open space and a park to improve the community’s quality of life. This newly created recycled water system now supplies LAX’s water needs.  Thanks to LA Sanitation’s creative solution to address multiple issues, the “Not in my backyard” sentiment previously held by LA residents has turned into a “Please do this in my backyard” sentiment.  This example shows how innovative water management can bring people together in unexpected positive ways.

 

One of LA Sanitation’s biggest challenges, storm water, became one of its biggest opportunities and successes.  Beach water quality had been low for years; with most LA beaches receiving an F grade due in part to polluted storm water.  In addition, every ½ inch of rain resulted in three billion gallons of wasted run off. LA Sanitation looked for ways to recapture this run off water and improve its quality so the water could be used as a resource. Through a combination of low flow diversions to move water from storm drains to sewers, green infrastructure to capture, clean and reuse storm water and effective sewer management practices, the water quality at LA beaches improved. Now almost 100% of LA beaches receive an A grade in water quality.

Another challenge LA Sanitation successfully met concerned the energy/water nexus. The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant was dependent on electrical power and wasted valuable biogas. In addition, its aging control systems needed an upgrade and the practice of landfilling bio-solids was costly. LA Sanitation found a multi-faceted solution that helped LA residents, including residents of the LA Zoo. LA Sanitation’s Digester Gas Utilization Project now converts the plant’s biogas to electric and steam power, which covers nearly 100% of the plant’s power requirements. As an added bonus, a new partnership was created between LA Sanitation and the LA Zoo where bio-solids at the LA Sanitation’s Green Acres Farm are now repurposed to create specialized feed for zoo animals. This resilient, creative solution shows that sometimes solutions can create even more beneficiaries than anticipated.

LA Sanitation’s future goals include efficiency improvements via smart system integration into operations and energy performance tracking, securing sustainable funding sources for storm water capture, implementing a performance based project delivery model for storm water reclamation projects and creating a regional water reclamation and reuse plan using the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant as a hub. LA Sanitation’s goal is to use every drop of water and resource as wisely, sustainably and efficiently as possible. With LA Sanitation’s track record, the goal is within reach.

With a green Makeover, Philadelphia is Tackling its Stormwater problem 

Bruce Stutz, March 29, 2018

In a major initiative, Philadelphia is building an extensive network of rain gardens, green roofs, wetlands, and other infrastructure to capture stormwater. The goal is to prevent runoff from overwhelming sewers and polluting waterways and to help green America’s fifth-largest city.

Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favourite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By “covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use as I find has happened in all old cities.”

When he wrote this in 1789, many of Philadelphia’s water sources, the scores of streams that ran into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, were already cesspools of household and industrial waste. As they became intolerable eyesores and miasmic health hazards, the city simply covered them with brick arches, turned the streams into sewers, and on top constructed new streets, an expanding impervious landscape that left the rains with even fewer places for “soaking into the Earth.”

Crude as it was, this network of underground-to-riverfront outfalls through ever-larger pipes was pretty much the way Philadelphia and other U.S. cities coped with their stormwater for the next 200 years. But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system that annually pours huge volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Instead of building more and bigger sewers and related infrastructure, Philadelphia has adopted a relatively new paradigm for urban stormwater: Rather than convey it, detain it — recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into the earth.

The city is now in the seventh year of a 25-year project designed to fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce by 85 percent Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflows. These overflows occur when heavy rains overwhelm the capacity of the city’s sewage treatment plants to handle the flow from both storm and sanitary sewers, forcing the diversion of untreated effluent into the system’s river outfalls. But rather than spending an estimated $9.6 billion on a “gray” infrastructure program of ever-larger tunnels, the city is investing an estimated $2.4 billion in public funds — to be augmented by large expenditures from the private sector — to create a citywide mosaic of green stormwater infrastructure.

Integrated into the city’s green spaces, streetscapes, and public and private buildings, this green infrastructure ranges from simple home rain barrels and downspout planters to complex bioretention swales underlain by drains, filled with sandy soil, and planted with resilient species of grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees. Along with rain gardens, tree trenches, green roofs, and urban wetlands, this infrastructure will, as one study put it, “optimize and engineer the landscape” to mimic and restore its natural hydrologic regime. In the end, Philadelphia hopes by the mid-2030s to create the largest green stormwater infrastructure in the United States.

Philadelphia began by adopting and adapting technologies developed on smaller scales in other locales. In the early 1990s, Prince George’s County, Maryland, for instance, explored the use of bioretention — directing stormwater into small depressed landscaped areas where it could infiltrate and be filtered through soil and plants. The success of what were then called “low-impact development” designs in detaining runoff and removing contaminants of all kinds inspired green infrastructure efforts in other places. These local governments eventually realized the advantages, both financial and environmental, of green stormwater infrastructure.

Portland, Oregon began its stormwater control efforts in 1993 with a “downspout disconnection program” that encouraged homeowners to redirect roof water to gardens and lawns. These efforts have since expanded into a Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan that links city agencies in an effort to control runoff. Green stormwater infrastructure is a major component of Milwaukee’s “ReFresh Milwaukee” sustainability plan, designed to reduce pollutant loads into Lake Michigan. By 2035, Milwaukee plans to capture the first half-inch of rainfall during any given storm on the city’s 43.7 square miles of impervious surface. In 2013, Seattle set a goal of using green stormwater infrastructure to control 700 million gallons of stormwater runoff and created a program called RainWise to encourage homeowners to install rain gardens and cisterns. 

In Europe, cities concerned with increasing numbers of heavy storms have instituted green solutions, such as Copenhagen’s Cloudburst Management Plan, which is creating 300 catchment areas throughout the Danish capital to retain and release stormwater. China, where rapid urbanization has caused major problems with stormwater and sewage runoff into waterways, has begun a green stormwater management program called “Sponge City” in 16 municipalities.

In Philadelphia, the measure of the city’s progress is a “greened acre.” Each acre of the city receives some 1 million gallons of rainfall annually. Once “greened,” an acre of impervious surface will have its first inch of runoff managed by stormwater infrastructure and the pollution from that acre sharply reduced. The city plans to create roughly 10,000 of these acres. To date, the Philadelphia Water Department has built nearly 1,100 greened acres and expects to add another 1,300 in the next three years; the green infrastructure already is exceeding targets for stormwater overflow reduction, cutting that volume by 1.7 billion gallons — nearly three times the original projection.

Proponents maintain that the cumulative effect of all these new green microhabitats is not only to contain stormwater, but to reverse the city’s graying nature by creating rain gardens, small parks, green roofs, and similar amenities. Not only does this infrastructure slash water pollution, ameliorate air pollution, and reduce the urban heat island effect, but it also has social and economic benefits.

Nancy Stoner, now a senior fellow at the Pisces Foundation, an environmental non-profit, was influential in developing Philadelphia’s green stormwater initiative in her former roles at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program and the EPA’s Office of Planning and Policy Analysis. The program was never solely about slashing combined sewer overflow, she recalls, but also about providing larger environmental and social benefits.

“Philadelphia wanted to do much more,” Stoner says. “They did a benefits analysis before they began that showed it would enhance air quality and climate resiliency. It takes the problem of stormwater and turns it into an amenity.”

The Philadelphia Water Department has taken the lead in the project through its Green City, Clean Waters initiative. Since one green acre is as valuable as another, Water Department workers have been installing green stormwater infrastructure projects in a range of public areas, focusing on neighborhoods with little or no green space. 

Panati Playground, for instance, occupies half a block at the corner of North 22nd and W. Clearfield streets in a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood known as Allegheny West. Neighborhood associations had done their best to maintain the little park that had, like the surrounding neighborhood, been underserved by the city as factories left and housing vacancies increased.

The neighborhood was built on land created when the city, in 1860, culverted Cohocksink Creek, which the Board of Health had called “a prolific source of miasma.” So it seemed a fitting place to build green stormwater infrastructure and also make the park an improved neighborhood amenity. The Water Department, working with the Parks & Recreation Department, rebuilt the playground, and instead of just putting in new swings and slides, surrounded the play zones with infiltration trenches to convey and contain runoff, constructed rain gardens planted with grasses and perennials, and installed planters of white oak. 

The $227,000 investment not only gave the neighborhood a revitalized public space where kids could play within a much-needed greened environment, it also stores 2,700 cubic feet of stormwater from a 37,000 square foot drainage area. The result: three quarters of a greened acre.

At the Waterview Recreation Center in the city’s Germantown neighborhood, the Water Department, working with the Parks Department and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, added half a greened acre by installing tree planters, downspout planters, and porous concrete sidewalks over gravel infiltration beds to drain water from a 13,000-square-foot area.

In six years, the Water Department, collaborating with environmental groups and civic associations, has completed 152 publicly funded green stormwater infrastructure projects. Some 300 more are in the works in schools, parking lots, parks, and on rooftops. The department has developed a “GreenSTEM”network that engages students in environmental monitoring and data collection. It has initiated a Green Homes project, put together handbooks for developers and contractors, and is working with an AmeriCorps group to engage 18- to 26-year-olds to collect litter and leaves from green infrastructure sites. 

But green acres on public property alone — at an estimated cost of $250,000 to $300,000 for each greened acre — won’t get the city to its 25-year goal of 10,000 greened acres. That will require a great deal of private green infrastructure. Plenty of impervious surfaces are available to retrofit, from large parking lots to extensive rooftops. The Water Department is offering private owners and developers a mix of financial incentives, ranging from outright grants to reductions in stormwater fees, which are levied by the city to cover the cost of handling stormwater runoff.

Of the 1,073 greened acres completed in Philadelphia by the end of 2017, 226 were on public property and 847 on private property; nearly 500 of the privately converted acres were “greened” through redevelopment of the properties or a program of incentivized stormwater retrofits.

For example, Cardone Industries, a manufacturer of auto parts, is taking advantage of a Stormwater Management Incentives Program grant to green its 69-acre property in Northeast Philadelphia. The company is planting swales and detention basins both above and below ground that will manage 5 million gallons of runoff a year from its parking lots and 22 acres of roof. In exchange, the city gives Cardone a $250,000 annual break in stormwater fees.

On the west side of the Schuylkill River, near the University of Pennsylvania, a 1.25-acre roof atop an 11-story parking garage at the Cira Centre South provides not only stormwater management, but an elevated public park. What makes possible the roof’s extensive plantings and long, sloping lawns is that this green roof is also a blue roof, meaning it holds rainwater in retention cisterns and gradually releases it into the surrounding green roof. All this happens while people picnic on the roof, attend concerts, or take in the spectacular views of Center City Philadelphia and the Schuylkill River.

A key aspect of Philadelphia’s green stormwater infrastructure plan is the realization that it will take decades to turn the situation around and re-establish some semblance of ecological balance in the way this city of 1.6 million handles rainfall.

“I hope the big lesson is that this is not something that you do overnight,” said Howard Neukrug who served as the city’s water department commissioner from 2011 to 2015. “It’s a slow evolution of a city, that says, ‘Okay, here we are today in 2018. What do we want the city to look like in 2022? What’s the quality of the rivers, how are our communities built, and how are our assets paid for?’”

Indeed, the “Green City, Clean Waters” program has been decades in the making. A 1987 amendment to the 1972 Clean Water Act led the EPA to order Philadelphia to drastically reduce its combined sewer and stormwater overflows. Most of the 300 miles of streams that once ran through the city had been channelized into a 3,000-mile sewer system. Even small storms overwhelmed (and still overwhelm) the capacity of the city’s three sewage treatment plants, which meant that a combination of stormwater and sewage would have to be diverted from the treatment plants and dumped directly into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.

A total of 16 billion gallons of untreated runoff gushed out of the city annually, eroding remaining stream banks, wrecking fish habitats, and carrying fecal coliform bacteria, petroleum products from the streets, and heavy metals, such as lead and zinc, into rivers. The intakes of Philadelphia’s drinking water system were downstream of these discharges.         

Neukrug, who in 1999 became director of the Water Department’s Office of Watersheds, recalls that initially the solution seemed to be more engineering: Find more ways to speed the water off the streets and into the sewers, and divert whatever the treatment plants couldn’t handle into large underground tunnels, where it could be held and, then, once the rains ended, pumped out for treatment. But Neukrug says the tunnel plan — the ultimate gray infrastructure megaproject, with a central, 34-foot-diameter, 30-mile-long tunnel — would have taken 15 to 20 years to build, would have torn apart streets and parks across the city, and would have cost a fortune.

“It was a $10 billion tunnel and we didn’t have $10 billion,” recalls Neukrug. “We called it the ‘100-year tunnel’ — not for how long it would take us to build, but for how long it would take us to pay for it. The environmental costs were high and in the end you’re not getting a new train tunnel or highway bypass or maintaining your infrastructure or drinking water supply — you’re getting something for collecting rainwater and sewage.”  

The answer, in the view of Neukrug and others, was to somehow change the scale of the solution. Other cities, such as Chicago, were committing themselves to multi-billion-dollar gray infrastructure projects. But Neukrug and officials in Philadelphia were intrigued by a growing green infrastructure movement that favored new low-impact development designs.

At nearby Villanova University, the Urban Stormwater Partnership, founded in 2002 under environmental engineering professor Robert Traver, had begun experimenting with green stormwater infrastructure. Neukrug developed a couple of low-impact pilot design projects, and in 2009, the Philadelphia Water Department released a revision — 12 years in the making — to its stormwater and sewage management plan. Dealing with sewer overflows would be only one part of an expansive plan to integrate management of the city’s watersheds, develop a network of green stormwater infrastructure on public land, establish requirements and incentives for building green infrastructure to manage runoff on private lands, preserve open space to manage stormwater at its source, restore streams, and upgrade treatment plants.

The city is working now to standardize the construction of green infrastructure and monitor its effectiveness. Costs are coming down as green infrastructure becomes more widely adopted.

“We have to work better, faster, and at a lower cost,” said Marc Cammarata, the Water Department’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services and a former student of Robert Traver’s at Villanova.

As the Water Department’s planners expand the network of greened acres, they are bringing social, economic, and environmental investment to often marginalized neighborhoods. Cammarata says that green stormwater infrastructure projects now support 430 jobs. A study by the Sustainable Business Network projects a $3.1 billion economic impact over the first 25 years of Green City, Clean Waters. Residents already report that green infrastructure projects have reduced crime as green spaces proliferate, says Cammarata.

The Water Department’s website map is crowded with green infrastructure sites across the city. Visitors can zoom in on their neighborhood and see what’s there. But a thousand green acres means the city is only about a tenth of the way toward its goal.

Still, Cammarata told me, “It’s working. We’re changing the way you do sustainable development in a city.” 

Bruce Stutz writes on science, nature, and the environment. A former editor-in-chief of Natural History, he is a contributing editor to OnEarth. He has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, Discover and Audubon. He is the author of Natural Lives, Modern Times and Chasing Spring, An American Journey Through a Changing Season. 

MORE ABOUT BRUCE STUTZ →

   Coastal Resilience 

Problems along our coasts and back-bays from weather extremes and rising tides are growing at a faster rate than are the resources to plan and prevent damage. That is the conclusion from a day-long conference held by the Water Center at Penn with our colleagues from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) and the Coastal States Organization (CSO).

Regional experts in coastal management met at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the post-Sandy state of the Mid-Atlantic coasts and back-bays.  Joining the conversation were UPenn Faculty, PhD students and other experts looking to align their academic research agendas to the needs of practitioners. 

While there is significant federal funding available through programs offered through FEMA and The Water Resource and Development Act (WRDA), there is not nearly enough money to prevent future catastrophes, much less to fully understand the approaches we should be taking.

New ideas, leadership, and technologies are needed to prevent tidal flooding and manage erosion if we are to save our shore towns, our coastal cities, and our marine and coastal ecology.

While we work to protect, fortify, and replenish (with sand) our beaches (‘front door’ to the Atlantic) and back bays (‘back door’), they still remain wide open and extremely vulnerable. Our area creeks, rivers, and wetlands (‘windows’) are likewise under attack from riverbank overflows and nuisance flooding caused by land subsidence and sea level rise.

Along the entire Atlantic coastline, there is a critical need for additional funding for planning, research, structural fixes, and land management changes.

How do we fund the solutions?  How do we ensure the solutions are comprehensive and that there is funding for system maintenance?  What do we do after the next disaster?  How do we “use” the next crisis to capture new solutions?

Even the $$ billions of Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Funding were not enough to prevent the next surge coming up the back bays. We are not talking centuries, or even decades from now.  New policies and technologies are needed now.  But we are not funded to investigate the solutions, much less actually construct anything. 

We need to look at political solutions that involve changing existing land uses and the construction of storm-surge barriers and other structural and nature-based solutions. 

At Penn, we have significant research activities investigating many aspects of these issues:

 

Dr. Irina Marinov Assistant Professor; Long Term Guest Investigator, Woods Hole Oceanograpgic Institute

Dr. Irina Marinov’s research investigates the ocean’s role in managing unprecedented amounts of anthropogenic carbon produced at a rate our planted has not experienced for thousands of years. With particular interest in the Southern Ocean, accounting for more than half of modern oceanic CO2 uptake (40%), Dr. Marinov’s research is most effective by being cross-disciplinary, tackling climate dynamics, physical oceanography, biogeochemistry and ecosystems dynamics

Dr. Gina Tonn Postdoctoral Research Fellow; Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center

Dr. Gina Tonn’s research lies at the convergence of risk management and science. Specifically, her interests include risk analysis and management for natural hazards, aging infrastructure, water resources, and climate change adaptation. Dr. Tonn’s research incorporates the application of systems analysis methods with water resources and environmental engineering methods to optimize the understanding of associated risks of natural hazards in a climatically changing world. Dr. Tonn’s research is currently being applied in identifying structural fixes via barriers for vulnerable cities.                          

Ellen Neises  Adjunct Associate Professor; Executive Director, PennPraxis

Ellen Neises’s research incudes large-scale design and policy issues addressing land, water, and development. Neises was one of six winners of the 2014 Rebuild by Design international competition to develop solutions to rebuild cities and towns negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Neises’s work empowers the promise of design in preventative solutions to ensure the resiliency of cities.

Matthijs Bouw Lecturer and Rockerfeller Urban Resilience Fellow

Founder of One Architecture

Matthijis Bouw’s interdisciplinary work at Penn addresses programmatic, financial, technical, and organizational issues to be resolved through design. Bouw transforms the concept of ‘resiliency’ into a measurable outcome for complex implementation projects. Bouw is a co-lead for the BIG Team, winning the Rebuild Design competition for the flood protection of Manhattan.

The University will continue to work with our friends at the ACE, EPA, CSO, and elsewhere to further our research towards finding implementable solutions.

 

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