Even with severe drought throughout the United States hogging all the headlines, it’s not news that utility managers face a flood of issues relating to wet weather management.
Whether it be challenges related to basic sewer system capacity, enhancing current treatment processes, meeting current and future regulatory requirements, or complying with emerging and ever more stringent stormwater regulations, the need for integrated thinking and affordable solutions has never been more urgent.
||To watch a live stream of the opening general session, visit www.weftec.org at 9:30 a.m. EDT Monday and click the link on the home screen.
As thousands of water quality professionals gather at WEFTEC 2012 in New Orleans next week, the latest wet weather technologies and cost-effective solutions for these problems will take the spotlight on this year’s program.
A call for integrated thinking
Recognizing that utilities are faced with overwhelming requirements and capital needs, without the unlimited funds to pay for them, industry leaders will make their case for change on Monday, Oct. 1, in a feature session titled, “Rethinking Water Services: Navigating Our Water's Future.”
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will be the keynote speaker, setting the stage for a panel of renowned water industry leaders to look at the big picture of water and explore a new vision for success. Her talk will focus on the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the critical role of innovation, and the economic importance of clean water.
“Many utility leaders are calling for smarter ways of addressing the multifaceted challenges of providing clean water and drinking water services, especially in urban areas with overlapping regulatory mandates, aging infrastructure, climate variability, and an ever growing list of resource and funding challenges,” said John Salo, Brown and Caldwell Senior Vice President and member of WEF’s Governmental Affairs Committee.
The session, chaired by WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger, will showcase ideas from a panel of thought leaders who envision a reinvention of the water utility and new ways of thinking holistically, creatively and proactively to protect resources, employ technology more effectively, and meet community needs more affordably in spite of the challenges ahead. Featured speakers include:
● George Hawkins, General Manager, DC Water
● Jeff Sterba, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Water Works Company, Inc.
● Gretchen McClain, Chief Executive Officer, Xylem, Inc.
● Kala Vairavamoorthy, Executive Director, University of South Florida’s Patel School of Global Sustainability
Sure to be a big part of this discussion is the EPA’s new Integrated Planning Framework that allows water agencies to set priorities as they relate to the Clean Water Act.
“These two opposing forces – rigid requirements and limited resources – are on a collision course,” Salo said. “All of this is aggravated by the fact that cities have old infrastructure and they have to undertake massive investments to rehabilitate or replace existing infrastructure.”
Utilities that have consent decrees or other enforcement actions seem to be the ones that could benefit the most from integrated planning. For example, the city of Atlanta has recently succeeded in reopening their consent decree and will obtain an additional 13 years in their schedule and will tie the consent decree to IP and also incorporate drinking water.
In 2010, more than 190 million gallons of combined raw sewage and stormwater spilled into the waterways around Seattle and Puget Sound. To remedy this problem, Seattle negotiated a first-of-its-kind proposal to prevent sewage overflows by allowing the city to use the most cost-effective and environmentally beneficial projects to control and treat both stormwater and sewage.
“Seattle has been given the opportunity to have more flexibility from the EPA in the way they prioritize projects,” said Tony Dubin, water resources engineer for Brown and Caldwell. “The agreement will enable the city to focus first on investments that achieve the greatest water quality benefits.”
Seattle Public Utilities is undertaking a variety of activities to meet its regulatory requirements, limit the number of active CSO outfalls, and manage the overall quality of sewage and wastewater overflows. These activities include implementation of EPA’s Nine Minimum Controls for CSOs, management of capital projects and monitoring of precipitation and overflows.
While some are skeptical that integrated planning will produce real results, cities with enforcement actions related to wet weather see it as something that could be beneficial and are willing to invest in developing a plan with the hope that it can put some balance in their stormwater, CSO and wastewater obligations.
Stormwater takes center stage
With 40 papers across seven sessions that are delving specifically into stormwater and green infrastructure topics, WEFTEC is covering this topic like it never has before. Themes include establishing stormwater utilities, sustainable stormwater infrastructure design, managing urban stormwater with trees, and using computer modeling to help manage impact of rain events on watersheds.
In the “Gray, Green and Integrated Stormwater Design” session, six presentations will outline how municipalities were able to successfully combine planning, outreach, engineering and management to create innovative designs that utilized the best of gray and green infrastructure to manage runoff.
According to Salo, green infrastructure has great potential in that it can be a way to do things more economically and create environmental benefit, with the added benefit of being strongly supported by environmental activists “who have the ear of the current administration.”
One of the best examples of green infrastructure is Portland, Ore., which has been implementing things like green streets that are retrofitted to reduce runoff and direct water to planting areas in previously impervious urban settings.
Green roofs and new parks are other ways that municipalities have reduced stormwater runoff.
“In a downtown area that’s 100 percent paved and has no grassy areas whatsoever, that means 100 percent of the rain that falls is going to end up in the combined sewer system,” said Andy Lukas, Brown and Caldwell's national wet weather practice leader. “Green infrastructure offers an opportunity to swap out some of that impervious area.”
For some of the older, more blighted communities this can be good news, because parks are a cost-effective method of beautifying an area while reducing runoff at the same time.
“This is a way to beautify communities by building community assets like parks,” Lukas said. “It’s a win-win across the board.”
Next: Communities showcase their innovative and cost-effective wet weather treatment solutions.