July 26, 2010

10 minutes with Alan Oyler

ALAN OYLER is the Public Works director for the City of Orlando. He graciously answers a few questions from the BC Water News team about his sustainability plans and the challenges his agency faces in implementing new rules about nutrient levels in Florida waterways.

Name: Alan Oyler

Title: Director of Public Works, City of Orlando, Fla.

Duties: Oversees the Parking, Streets and Stormwater, Solid Waste Management, Capital Improvement and Infrastructure Development, Transportation Engineering, and Wastewater divisions.

Background: Prior to assuming the role of Public Works Director, he served as the City of Orlando's Bureau Chief of Wastewater Engineering and Support, where he was involved in long range facility planning and implementation.

Education: Bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from the University of Central Florida.

Other: Since 1984, he has taught in state and local short schools for voluntary licensing of water and wastewater field technicians.

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What drew you to a career in Public Works?
Alan Oyler: I’ve always enjoyed working on programs that protect the environment. I spent my first year out of college working on development projects and didn’t find it very satisfying. A college friend advised me of an opening with the City of Orlando for an in-house design engineer and I was fortunate enough to be selected for the position. That was in 1982 and I’ve been with the city ever since. The work is interesting, has a lot of variety and you get the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives every day. It’s a great job!

How has the wastewater industry changed since you started?
Oyler: There’s been a tremendous change in the perception of wastewater effluent. It used to be considered a waste product and everyone talked about effluent “disposal.” You couldn’t give it away. Now, reclaimed water is taking on greater importance as a key component of our state water supply strategy and people are waiting in line to pay for it. We’re no longer the dirty water guys; we’re part of the water supply solution.

Sustainability is important to you. How are sustainability initiatives evolving in your organization?
Oyler: I’m blessed with a great management team in our organization, so I can focus my attention on sustainability initiatives. We’ve added two positions in recent years that are dedicated solely to sustainable programs and energy conservation. Our plan is to turn the Water Conserv II treatment plant into the McLeod Road Sustainable Resource Center. It already produces high quality reclaimed water used for irrigation, but we want to do more. We’re investigating siting two major waste-to-energy projects at the plant, one involving solid waste and the other involving wastewater sludge. We’re also issuing an RFP to locate a brown grease to biofuels conversion facility on the plant site and we’re looking for ways to maximize methane production in our anaerobic digesters for power generation. I was recently introduced to a technology that, if it is real, has the opportunity to revolutionize how we treat wastewater and generate electricity, but it is too premature to talk any further on that.

How do you see the proposed new Numeric Nutrient Criteria affecting the city? How do you see the City dealing with the new criteria?
Oyler: That depends on how the criteria are ultimately applied. Our only surface water discharge occurs at our Iron Bridge treatment plant. We have a phenomenal wetlands treatment process that currently delivers a reclaimed water product that is very close to the proposed standards. That will become a secondary use, however, when we complete the Eastern Regional Reclaimed Water Distribution System (ERRWDS)

in December of this year. Built-in partnership with Seminole County, Orange County, OUC and the St. Johns River Water Management District, the ERRWDS will allow us to utilize almost all the flow produced at Iron Bridge for irrigation. If the NNC are applied to reclaimed water used for recharge or irrigation, we’ll face a huge expense in bringing our treatment facilities up to that level of treatment. Frankly, in the current economic climate, I’m not sure how we could afford it.

How has the recession affected the Public Works Department?
Oyler: It’s been a double edged sword for us. On the one hand, we’re getting fantastic bids and great competition for our construction contracts, probably the best pricing I’ve seen in over 10 years. That’s the positive side of the recession. Because property values have fallen so dramatically, the city’s revenues are down and we’ve had to trim staff and focus on delivering only our core mission services. It’s sad to think that I only have three people to pick up litter in a city as beautiful as Orlando, but, fortunately, some of our residents and businesses are stepping in to help.

What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced in the past 10 years?
Oyler: Continuing to provide a high level of service to our customers in spite of cutting our budget several years in a row. We have to improve the accountability of our employees and be smarter in how we manage our assets. I think we’re on the right track, but it would be nice if the Legislature would stop making our lives more difficult.

Are your customers concerned about renewable energy, climate change and/or energy efficiency?
Oyler: I think most of my customers are more concerned about keeping rates down, paying their bills and staying employed. Funny enough, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have the potential to do all of the above. If we can develop cost-effective, alternative sources of energy, we can stabilize our rates. By being more energy conscious and efficient at home, our customers can reduce their costs. We’re doing our best to heighten public awareness through our Green Works program and are using some of our Energy Efficiency Block Grant money, in partnership with OUC, to weatherize some of the highest energy consuming homes in the city and educate those customers on ways to reduce their energy demand.

What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Oyler: I’m an amateur power lifter and hold a world record for the bench press in my age and weight class.

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