WEF's membership newsletter covers current Federation activities, Member Association news, and items of concern to the water quality field. WEF Highlights is your source for the most up-to-the-minute WEF news and member information.

February 2010, Vol. 47, No. 1

Top Story

Student Makes a Difference in Guatemala
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WEF student member Mark Luckhardt spent summer 2009 helping bring water to Guatemalan residents. Photo courtesy of Mark Luckhardt. Click for larger image.
Once he graduated from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis), Mark Luckhardt knew only that he wanted to travel. But he ended up making a real difference for residents in and around San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala, when the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) student member found out about an Engineers Without Borders (EWB; Boulder) rainwater harvesting project and decided to help out.

Luckhardt first became an EWB student member in January 2009 and signed on for a project to install a rainwater harvesting tank at a school in Simajuleu, a suburb of Comalapa. To do this, the EWB group worked with the nonprofit Long Way Home, which is based in Comalapa, to determine logistics of the project and have a local liaison between the group and the local community, Luckhardt said.

Luckhardt spent time during the school year helping the EWB group with research for the project. The EWB student group was scheduled to arrive in Simajuleu at the end of summer 2009 to install the rainwater harvesting tank. But the hands-on volunteer work could not start soon enough for Luckhardt. So, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a minor in construction management, he decided to apply for an internship with Long Way Home. He was accepted and arrived to begin work in May. “I worked for Long Way Home the whole summer,” he said. “They’re really big on ‘green’ building and appropriate technologies.”  
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Long Way Home (San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala) uses bottles filled with dirt (left) and trash (top right) to build structures. The group also collects tires, fills them with dirt, and uses them to build structures (bottom right). Photos courtesy of Luckhardt. Click for larger images.

Long Way Home is building a vocational school in Comalapa to provide area youth with workplace skills. The school is being built with a combination of alternative construction techniques, including tires packed with dirt, stacked to form walls; polyethylene bags filled with dirt, stacked like bricks; and trash-filled plastic bottles used to build low-impact walls.   

As an intern, Luckhardt started working on a rainwater harvesting project for which Long Way Home volunteers built thin-shelled concrete water tanks called tinacos. Over the summer, he helped build two tinacos for local homes and since then has taken the lead on continuing and expanding the project for summer 2010.   

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Luckhardt built water tanks called tinacos, pictured above. Photo courtesy of Luckhardt. Click for larger image. 
To build the tanks, volunteers fill large sacks with organic materials, such as corn husks, sawdust, and grass cuttings; cover them with concrete paste, which is then wrapped with small-gauge rebar; and cover them again with the concrete paste, Luckhardt explained. Once the concrete is dry, stuffing is removed, and the tank is checked for leaks and filled with water to cure. When ready, the tank is placed under a roof where polyvinyl chloride pipes transport water from gutters to the system. An outlet spigot is installed during construction, and the open top is fitted with a hatch for cleaning.

Outfitting a house with the tinaco system costs approximately $120 to $130, Luckhardt said. Tinacos store about 2952 L (780 gal), and this water can be used for watering animals and washing. Luckhardt is considering incorporating a Potters for Peace (Managua, Nicaragua) clay filtration system in the system’s design to provide residents with drinking water as well, he said. Long Way Home plans to include information on tinaco building in the vocational school’s curriculum so “this new technology will not only provide much needed water to homes in the area but also create jobs in the local economy,” Luckhardt said.
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Luckhardt also helped an Engineers Without Borders (Boulder) group build a rainwater harvesting tank at a school in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Luckhardt. Click for larger image. 

Even though Luckhardt was working as an intern for Long Way Home, he did not forget about the upcoming EWB project. He spent free time doing preliminary work for the project, gathering construction materials and working with locals to set up the project, he said. He also helped take preliminary pressure readings and gather data from the Simajuleu area. “With Engineers Without Borders, I was the front man for the project,” Luckhardt explained. “I got to know the community leaders of Simajuleu really well.

At the end of the summer, the EWB group arrived, and Luckhardt spent 2 weeks after the end of his internship helping build a 130-m3 poured-concrete rainwater harvesting tank at a local school. “I really acquired a lot of techniques for analyzing the water systems there,” he said. The most fulfilling part of the summer was seeing the appreciation in the faces of those he helped, he said.

Luckhardt was so inspired by his work that it didn’t stop there. After his summer in Guatemala, he was hired as Long Way Home staff and currently is working in the United States to raise money to fund an expansion of the tinaco project. From his home in Minneapolis, Luckhardt consults with Long Way Home employees and volunteers on their projects, sits in on board meetings when he has the chance to travel to them, conducts fundraisers, and plans the next phase of the project.

Luckhardt was recently hired as project estimator by Ceres Environmental (Brooklyn Park, Minn.). He plans to use any free time to help deliver water to Guatemalan residents. When he has the chance, Luckhardt plans to use his vacation to travel to Guatemala and work on the tinaco project, determining how many should be built and scouting locations for installation, he said. He will then put together a tinaco implementation plan that includes cost details, building instructions, and recommended installation locations so a Long Way Home intern can continue the project. Luckhardt also plans future trips to help Long Way Home with their other projects in Guatemala and plans to continue providing consultant support to the nonprofit’s employees. 

“Water’s a very important part of life,” Luckhardt said. “Being able to actually help people with knowledge I’ve gained from school and see a direct impact on people’s lives has really been the most rewarding experience and the reason I want to keep doing it and will keep doing it in the future.” To contribute to Luckhardt’s project he asks that donations be made to Long Way Home.
— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

Share Your Volunteer Experience

Do you have a water-related volunteer experience? Do you know someone who is making a difference in improving water quality or sanitation? Let us know, and your story might be featured in an upcoming issue. Contact Highlights Editor Jennifer Fulcher at jfulcher@wef.org or (703) 684-2400, ext. 7480.


From the President: Engaging the Public in Our Mission

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Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President. Click for larger image. 

As members of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), we are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water environment. To this end, WEF not only needs to help educate and train members but also needs to engage the public in WEF’s mission, relating how individuals can contribute. I’d like to outline a few ways to accomplish the latter.

First, our overall messaging is important. Water is unique because of its properties and, more importantly, because it is essential for life: There is no substitute. Yet the availability of clean water continually is being challenged worldwide. More than 2.6 billion people do not have safe water to drink and adequate sanitation, and as a result, millions die every year. Even in the United States, we have severe water shortages coast to coast, more than 40% of U.S. waters do not have quality that meets their intended uses, and challenging questions continue to arise about the safety of our waters.

Polluted waterbodies capture headlines daily, and some say the 21st century will be defined more by a water crisis than by an energy crisis. This kind of message may sound alarming but often is necessary to gain public attention. Hopefully, such a message will prompt your public to be concerned, want to learn more, and want to help make a difference. WEF members can give the public information and activities to meet that need. I encourage you to step forward and offer.

Where our water supply comes from and where our wastewater goes are mysteries to many people. These people take getting clean water from the tap and dumping waste down the drain for granted. Local utilities have many informational products that can help the public better understand these important activities.

WEF has helped produce a series of informational brochures under the program title Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It Happen ™. This is an educational program about the importance and value of water and wastewater infrastructure. If your utilities do not have these materials, ask — they are available either free or at a very low cost. Another vehicle for learning about utilities and the challenges they face is the excellent WEF-supported educational documentary Liquid Assets: The Story of Our Water Infrastructure. Encourage members of the public to check with their local station to find out when it might be viewed next, or even better, get a copy and showcase it for them.

These educational pieces provide good general information, but if the public wants to learn more, we can encourage them to visit Access to Water Knowledge, where they will find the latest information on water topics of interest. Also, encourage them to consult the Web site of the Water Environment Research Foundation (Alexandria, Va.), which has supported research on some of the most challenging water issues we face today.

Learning more about our water challenges hopefully will inspire more active involvement in protecting our waters. Whether it’s keeping fats, oils, and grease out of drains, supporting upgrades to local wastewater facilities, or properly disposing of unused pharmaceuticals, everyone can help.

WEF is primarily in the business of providing technical education and training for water quality experts, but we also offer and support a variety of other activities for more general audiences. We have programs that can engage youth to adults in everything from learning to research to projects providing clean safe water. Encourage the public to participate in these programs:
  • World Water Monitoring Day™ is an international outreach program that builds public awareness and involvement in protecting water resources. The public can conduct basic water quality monitoring and record the results online to monitor, compare, and learn.
  • The Stockholm Junior Water Prize is the world’s most prestigious youth award for water-related science projects. High school students compete at local, national, and international levels with support from WEF Member Associations. Encouraging the public to be involved can inspire the next generations of experts.
  • WEFTeach is a hands-on workshop that helps teachers learn how to better educate our youth on water issues. This program, designed to help teachers get students educated and excited about water, is now a featured session at the National Science Teachers Association (Arlington, Va.) annual meeting. Encourage the public to get their teachers involved. Teachers also can find supplemental material about water online at www.wef.org.
  • Engineers Without Borders is a program in which young engineers, scientists, and dedicated volunteers work directly to restore safe water for impoverished people. WEF partners with the program, and discounted memberships are available for WEF’s young professionals. Encourage the public to support this important WEF program, and encourage college students to volunteer.
  • Water for People is a charity organization heavily supported by WEF and its Member Associations. Anyone can support this worthwhile cause, which aims to provide clean and safe water worldwide, though donations or direct involvement.

Our role as water stewards is critical to the public. Invite them to visit the Water Quality People online at www.wef.org and get involved today! And remember, if they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the pollution.

— Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President
Task Force To Focus on WEF’s Stormwater Resources

As a growing number of wastewater professionals are being tasked with managing stormwater, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) has responded by producing a variety of stormwater resources for its members and introducing a new task force to prioritize these resources.

“A lot of stormwater issues touch many of the [WEF] committees, and so it really does tell us how important stormwater is in terms of what WEF’s trying to accomplish,” said Tyler Richards, deputy director of Operations and Environmental Services at Gwinnett County (Ga.) Water Resources and chair of WEF’s new Stormwater Task Force.

In the United States, the number of stormwater utilities has grown, and wastewater professionals are being asked either to manage these utilities or to work with them, because the issue is “all encompassing,” Richards said. Since the problems that stormwater utilities handle, such as limited funding and meeting total maximum daily loads, are similar to those facing water quality professionals, “there’s a lot of overlap,” she said.

Current Activities
The task force holds conference calls every 2 weeks to coordinate and prioritize the stormwater-related work of WEF’s committees and communities of practice, Richards said. “We need to make sure we deliver the best products that are the most useful for them in the right way,” she said.

The task force is reviewing the inventory of WEF’s stormwater activities, outlining opportunities for collaboration with other organizations, identifying areas to expand WEF’s efforts and offerings, and determining a mechanism for coordination and guidance of WEF’s stormwater activities after the sunset of the task force.

In addition, the task force is coordinating with WEF’s Collection Systems Committee, Watershed Management Committee, and Sustainability Community of Practice, all of which signed a memorandum of understanding on the importance of promoting stormwater education and coordinating product development among the groups.

The task force is scheduled to wrap up its work in April, when it will submit a final report and recommendations to WEF.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
New Prospects for the National Biosolids Partnership

NBP SealThe National Biosolids Partnership (NBP; Alexandria, Va.) starts off 2010 equipped with funding for new initiatives that will support municipal biosolids programs and contribute to its sustainability.

NBP is a not-for-profit alliance formed in 1997 by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is “widely recognized for its commitment to advancing sound biosolids management practices and for its groundbreaking EMS [environmental management system] certification program,” said Richard Lanyon, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and chairman of the NBP steering committee.

Funding and Focus for 2010
In September, NBP was awarded new federal funding of $750,000. “A substantial portion of the NBP’s new funding will be used for projects or initiatives, such as those related to bioenergy, that will support municipal biosolids programs and at the same time contribute to the sustainability of the NBP,” said Eileen O’Neill, WEF chief technical officer.

“Many utilities and biosolids professionals are sensing a new era for biosolids management that focuses on our recognition that biosolids are an important resource, not just for nutrient and organic matter recycling but for energy recovery,” O’Neill said. Biosolids management is being recognized as an important element of a utility’s sustainability and carbon footprint management approaches, she added.

As agencies look to broaden their portfolio of biosolids management options, NBP also is broadening its focus. “It is becoming clear that biosolids management is a key element of a utility’s sustainability and greenhouse gas–carbon footprint management approaches,” Lanyon said.  

Success and Future of EMS Program
NBP’s third-party audit program — the EMS — continues to grow, O’Neill said. The EMS, a cornerstone of NBP, is a management framework tailored for wastewater utilities and biosolids programs to reduce environment impacts and improve organizational performance over time. Implementing an NBP EMS is voluntary and requires an audit before certification.

In 2009, six agencies were newly certified, and in 2010, the first Canadian agency, the Greater Moncton Sewerage Commission (Riverview, New Brunswick) is expected to be certified, O’Neill said. NBP EMS certified agencies manage about 12% of biosolids produced in the United States.

NBP is working with NBP EMS-certified agencies to re-engineer the audit program for greater accessibility and efficiency. This process is scheduled to be completed by April 1. The work plan for the new funding includes providing continued support for agencies that are actively working toward or have achieved their EMS certification.

WEF’s Commitment to the NBP
Because science, technology, and policy of biosolids management are core issues for WEF and an important area of practice for WEF members, the Federation provided sole financial support for the 18 months prior to the issue of federal funding, O’Neill said. WEF’s commitment to the program will continue to grow as functions of NBP are integrated into the Federation. Also through WEF, NBP will host a series of free webcasts covering general biosolids management topics, as well as training webinars devoted to specific EMS issues.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
WEF Member Committed to Water for People’s Mission

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From right, Robert E. Adamski recieves the 2009 Robert W. Hite Outstanding Leadership Award from Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) Past President Adam Zabinski at WEFTEC®.09. Photo by Oscar Einzig Photography. Click for larger image.
Robert E. Adamski, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) member since 1981, received the Water for People (Denver) 2009 Robert W. Hite Outstanding Leadership Award during an Oct. 13 awards ceremony at WEFTEC®.09 in Orlando, Fla.

Adamski, vice president of municipal infrastructure programs for Gannett Fleming (Camp Hill, Pa.), served two terms on the Water for People board and has been active in its volunteer program, World Water Corps®.

“His contributions to Water for People are truly immense,” said Ned Breslin, chief executive officer of Water for People. “His service and support, not only to us as an organization, but more importantly to people throughout the world, have enabled many to fetch water from clean sources.”

While serving as a WEF board member, Adamski chaired the International Program Committee and served on the Local Relations Committee. Recently, he served on the World Water Corps Management Committee, and in 2007, he led a scoping study for 1 week in the Dominican Republic. After completion of the study, Adamski’s World Water Corps team recommended adding the Dominican Republic to the list of countries where the World Water Corps works.

“We are investing in the Dominican Republic because of Bob’s leadership and tenacity, and the people of the Dominican Republic are better off for it,” Breslin said. In addition to Adamski’s work in the Dominican Republic, he has visited Water for People programs in Guatemala, Malawi, and Nicaragua. Adamski, a registered professional engineer in New York and New Jersey and a board-certified environmental engineer, also is a fellow in the American Society of Civil Engineers (Reston, Va.) and the Society of American Military Engineers (Alexandria, Va.).

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights