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.

May 2012, Vol. 49, No. 4

Top Story

Around the World in 6 Days
‘Global Marathon’ connects women engineers on six continents

2012 Global Marathon- Katherine Alfredo Small  

The biggest challenge facing entrepreneurial-minded women engineers in the Middle East isn’t a lack of finances; it’s a lack of confidence. Women who muster the courage to start their own businesses can leapfrog over obstacles that have held others back.

That’s just one of the lessons shared at the recent Global Marathon, held for, by, and about women in engineering and technology. The annual event links women engineers from around the world in a 6-day “virtual” conference with presentations from North and South America, China, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Despite the exclusivity the conference’s description suggests, men are welcome, too, said Leslie Collins, executive director of the National Engineers Week Foundation (Alexandria, Va.), which organizes the event. But make no mistake, Global Marathon’s purpose is to connect women engineers worldwide and to channel their creative thinking on tackling global challenges.

2012 Global Marathon- Jessica Vechakul Small  
These engineering graduate students sat on a panel to share their global engineering experiences during the 2012 Global Marathon. Above, Katherine Alfredo from the University of Texas, Austin, works with students in Ghana while investigating naturally occuring fluoride in groundwater. Left, Jessica Vechakul from University of California, Berkeley, interviews Haitian community members to develop bicycle ambulances. Photos courtesy of National Engineers Week Foundation (Alexandria, Va.). Click for larger images.

“If you’re a woman working at a small engineering firm in Vermont, it’s easy to get disconnected from the opportunities and challenges women engineers face around the world,” Collins said.

“The Global Marathon gives women a lot of things to think about,” Collins said. “It helps to open their minds to issues they might get involved with and ways they might make a difference.”  

Changing the conversation
The Global Marathon began 8 years ago as an extension of the foundation’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.

“We wanted to go beyond introducing precollege girls to careers in engineering,” Collins said. “We felt a need for more topics that affect practicing professionals.”

But do women really need their own conference to discuss professional issues? Barb Pontocello, program manager for this year’s Global Marathon, says yes.

In many countries, only a small percentage of engineers are women, so most of the engineering answers come from men, Pontocello noted. “We are missing a woman engineer’s perspective,” she said. “The real purpose of this conference is to give women a place where they can join the conversation and change the dialogue.”

Of course, it is no small task to engage 2300 women in a conversation when they speak different languages and represent virtually every time zone. The Global Marathon organizers accomplished this by creating an online platform where participants could log in to real-time webcasts, Internet chats, polling questions, teleconferences, and live and recorded events. Events originated each day from a different part of the world. Presenter–audience interaction improved significantly from previous conferences, when presentations were simply viewed on a website, Collins said.

This year’s conference began March 5 in North America, moving the next day to South America, and then on to the Middle East, India, China, and Europe before returning to North America to close. Presentations were made primarily in English, although speakers from Latin America, Brazil, and China spoke in their native languages, with translation services provided occasionally.

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Cindy Kou (third from left), the 2012 Global Marathon chair and program director for IBM China (Beijing), welcomes panelists for the opening session in the China region. Photo courtesy of National Engineers Week Foundation. Click for larger image.

Same questions, different answers
For 4 hours each day, female engineers and executives from around the world discussed everything from pedal-powered washing machines in Guatemala to water sustainability solutions in Singapore to roadblocks in career development. Each presentation related to one of this year's four basic topics: water, food, energy, and entrepreneurship.

These topics are of interest to men and women alike, which raises a question: Is the female perspective on water or energy sustainability any different from that of her male counterparts?

“Yes and no,” Pontocello said. “If you look at things in a broader contact, women tend to have more concern with work–life balance and family, and their solutions can sometimes reflect that.”

One Global Marathon presentation, for example, focused on GreenUp, a Web-based tool designed by CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.) to help District of Columbia property owners become more personally invested in energy conservation.

In this case, users go online to GreenUp.dc.gov, where they enter their address, design green infrastructure and energy efficiency projects for their property, and get estimates of the savings they will generate.

2012 Global Marathon - India Registration Small  

“It’s more important than ever to communicate everything to the public,” said Steph Stoppenhagen, a CH2M Hill sustainability strategist who participated in the presentation. “A lot of what I do is use technology to create ways to reach out to the public in dynamic, innovative ways,” she said.

In another presentation, Kate Peabody, CH2M Hill communications strategist, shared her vision for WaterMatch, a grassroots initiative the company started to promote beneficial use of municipal effluent.

“We wanted to show how individual cities can become involved in water sustainability,” Peabody explained. “There’s a barrier to getting businesses and municipalities connected and getting these projects started. By harnessing the power of social media, we are building a networking database that enables those producing effluent to connect with local sources that need it.”

Students register for the 2012 Global Marathon India region opening event sponsored by Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions at Garden City College in Bangalore. Photo courtesy of National Engineers Week Foundation. Click for larger image.

While there’s nothing essentially “female” about these or most of the other solutions discussed during the conference, many do represent a fresh take on long-standing challenges.

“Women tend to have a different type of dialogue and approach problems in a different way,” Collins said. “I’ve heard women executives say that women think differently. Not better or worse — but differently. By changing the conversation, it sometimes allows for a breakthrough.”

“It’s a good thing for all of us to cross boundaries, disciplines, and countries,” Collins said. “That’s true whether you are a man or a woman, have been in the profession a while, or are just starting out.”

And it’s not too late to join in the conversation. Approximately 20 of the Global Marathon presentations can be viewed at www.globalmarathon.net.  

2012 Global Marathon - Logo Small  
The 2012 Global Marathon was held March 5–10 and many presentations are available on demand. Photo couretesy of National Engineers Week Foundation. Click for larger image. 
— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights
California Wastewater Utility Makes History as Net-Energy Producer
EBMUD Solar Biogas Turbine 1 Small   EBMUD Solar Biogas Turbine 2 Small  

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD; Oakland, Calif.) is making history. The district, which had been working to achieve net-zero energy consumption, has raised the bar. In addition to its program of collecting such organic wastes as restaurant grease, cheese waste, poultry blood, and winery wastewater from the surrounding area and using it to produce clean energy, it unveiled on April 3 a turbine that nearly doubles its capacity to produce energy, according to an EBMUD news release.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD; Oakland, Calif.) installed this 4.6-MW biogas turbine. Added to three existing clean-burn engine-generators, the facility has an 11-MW capacity. Photo courtesy of EBMUD. Click for larger image.

The 4.6-MW turbine increases the district’s energy production; making EBMUD's wastewater treatment plant the first in the North America to be a net-energy producer. The district now can sell excess electricity produced back to the grid, the news release says.

During the past decade, the district began collecting fats, oils, and grease from throughout Central and Northern California for its food and organic waste program. These wastes were held in tanks, where they were transformed to nutrient-rich biosolids and methane gas. The program was so successful that it produced excess gas that had to be flared because the district had no way of converting all of it into energy, the news release says. 

The new turbine supplements three existing engines to run the renewable energy system. The system now produces an average of nearly 7 MW of renewable energy with a peak capacity of approximately 11 MW, which would meet electricity demands of more than 13,000 homes, the news release says.

EBMUD Ribbon Cutting Small Final  
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) officials help EBMUD leaders celebrate becoming a net-energy producer. Photo courtesy of EBMUD. Click for larger image.
EBMUD Speakers Small  

Top from left, EBMUD Energy Program manager and past WEF Trustee Ed McCormick is congratulated by WEF President Matt Bond during the April 3 EBMUD dedication ceremony and Green Factory tour. Below from left, McCormick and Bond stand with other industry leaders including EBMUD board president John Coleman and EPA Region 9 director of Water Alexis Strauss. Photos courtesy of EBMUD. Click for larger images.

Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) President Matt Bond spoke at the unveiling event, calling this energy-generating plant expansion as a model for the industry. “EBMUD’s achievement has implications on a national and global level,” he said. “The wastewater treatment industry worldwide is in the midst of a major paradigm shift; instead of thinking of what we do as waste disposal, we are beginning to understand that wastewater treatment plants can be recyclers and, in fact, generators of valuable commodities like renewable energy, recycled water, compost, nutrient fertilizers, and even biodiesel.”  

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EBMUD Board President John A. Coleman said he hopes the district will provide an example that other wastewater treatment plants across the country can follow to benefit both the environment and ratepayers, according to the news release.  

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
Thousands Celebrate Girl Scouts’ Anniversary by Improving the Environment
Building rain gardens is one core aspect of Forever Green Take Action Project

Girl Scouts around the country are rolling up their sleeves and working to improve the environment. To celebrate the organization’s 100-year anniversary this year, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA; New York) launched the Girl Scouts Forever Green Take Action Project in July 2011.

Making a difference through local environmental projects and outreach
Through December, Girl Scouts will take action in three main project areas: reducing waste, conserving energy, and building rain gardens, according to a GSUSA news release. 

Starting in 2009, the organization worked with 39 of its U.S. offices, known as councils, to develop the project, identifying the project areas as “relevant and of most interest to girls … at various grade levels,” said Jodi Stewart Schwarzer, GSUSA implementation consultant and membership and volunteerism project manager. “They were also replicable, scalable, and would raise visibility for Girl Scouts.”

Girl Scouts 1 Small  
Girl Scouts of San Jacinto plant a native shrub as they build a rain garden at the Houston Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Jodi Stewart Schwarzer, Girl Scouts of the USA project manager. Click for larger image.

For many of the projects, girls encourage friends, families, and community members to make lifestyle changes that benefit the environment. Girl Scouts encouraged installing energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances and turning off lights for 1 hour in observance of Earth Hour on March 31 to conserve energy. They also encourage using reusable bottles and bags and recycling to reduce waste, according to the GSUSA website.
Girl Scouts 2 Small  

To increase green space and wildlife habitats while reducing stormwater runoff and improving water quality, Girl Scouts are planting and maintaining rain gardens at schools, homes, and other sites, the website says. Incorporating rain gardens as a major focus of the anniversary Take Action project came from the long history of the girls building gardens and their desire to create green spaces, Schwarzer said.

“Girl Scouts believed focusing on rain gardens would help educate others,” Schwarzer said. “[The gardens] are unique and help not only provide green space and native plants, they help absorb water, reducing runoff pollution, erosion, and filtering the stormwater.”

Girls can find guides, tips, and more information on each project area on the Girl Scouts Forever Green website.  

Members of the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto prepare soil for rain garden plantings at the Houston Arboretum. Photo courtesy of Schwarzer. Click for larger image.

Numerous girls pitch in, and the results add up
Since the project launched last summer, a total of 44,000 people have engaged in projects. About 106,000 new native plants and trees have been placed in 941 rain gardens. This amounts to nearly 2833 m2 (30,493 ft2) of green space, accounting for nearly 13.6 million L (3.6 million gal) of stormwater saved from runoff.

Other project area results are substantial, too. About 14 million kg (31 million lb) of waste has been eliminated, 128 million kWh of energy saved, and 89 million kg (197 million lb) of carbon dioxide reduced — and these numbers will continue to grow throughout the year. 

“Environmental conservation is core to the Girl Scout program and is a topic girls care about,” Schwarzer said. 

Expanding the project internationally 
In addition to many ongoing projects in the United States, the project is being expanded to 20 other countries. A 2-year, $1.5-million grant provided by the Alcoa Foundation (New York) will pair 20 U.S. councils with 20 international councils. A 15-year-old girl from each of the council locations will be selected to lead these projects, inspiring and engaging as many as 400 youths in their communities to participate, Schwarzer said.  

“The projects will be completely girl-focused and girl-led,” Schwarzer said. The young leaders will be chosen by June, and then the girls will choose what projects to implement, she added.  

“In 2013, we plan to celebrate the impact that took place during our 100th year,” Schwarzer said. “Projects will continue through 2013 as girls and volunteers take this project where they want it to go.” 

Girl Scouts features environmental education at its core  
To help girls develop as leaders, GSUSA’s National Leadership Program Portfolio includes three National Leadership Journeys book series and The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting. One Leadership Journey series, It’s Your Planet — Love It!, is a collection of six books that cover issues of conservation, pollution, and renewable and reusable resources. The books challenge girls to take the lead in protecting the planet, the news release says.

In one of these books, water conservation and protection take a prominent role. WOW! Wonders of Water targets Girl Scouts in second and third grades. The book teaches about the water cycle, introduces women working in water-related careers, and encourages girls to reach out to their community and advocate for others to become involved in protecting water. A Girl Scout troop in Massachusetts decided to urge people to stop wasting water by creating the public service announcement video The Wonders of Water.

The organization also provides girls with online environmental education and activities on its For Girls website.

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Above, members of the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto carry plants to the garden at the Houston Arboretum. Below, the arboretum features a new rain garden planted by the Girl Scout troop. Photos courtesy of Schwarzer. Click for larger images.
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— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
Kartik Chandran, WEF and Water Sector Leader, Appointed to Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee
Kartik Chandran 

Kartik Chandran, a member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Board of Trustees and a leader in the water sector, has been appointed to the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee for a 3-year term. The prize is a prestigious international award for extraordinary achievements in saving the world’s water resources.

“Dr. Chandran is a respected scientist, researcher, and academician and will be an excellent addition to the committee,” said WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger.

Chandran will work with fellow committee members to review award nominees and choose the top three candidates for the award. The Stockholm Water Foundation board then appoints the laureate for the year.

Chandran’s appointment to the committee was recommended by the Stockholm International Water Institute board and approved by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Stockholm).

A WEF member since 1999, Chandran has held many WEF leadership and committee roles, including vice chairman of the Program Committee’s research subcommittee, chairman of Leading Edge Research Symposium sessions for several WEFTEC® events, and a member of the Research and Technical Practice Committee.  

Kartik Chandran is a member of the Water Environment Federation Board of Trustees and new member of the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig Photography.
Chandran, an associate professor at Columbia University (New York) and director of the university’s Biomolecular Environmental Sciences program, actively leads others and conducts cutting-edge research. In addition to receiving a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Connecticut (Storrs), holding various research positions, and being an active member of other associations, he is a published author, reviewer, research supervisor, presenter, lecturer, and inventor.
— Nancy Shark, WEF Highlights
WEFTEC Service Project Leaves Green Footprint That Continues To Grow

During each of the past four WEFTEC® events, volunteers have worked together to leave a green footprint on conference host cities. Take a look at the results.

After 18 months, the Bioswales in the Bayou project constructed during WEFTEC 2010 has transformed the New Orleans site. The plants now are in full bloom, making the site nearly unrecognizable from how it appeared immediately after planting. Find more details about this project in the WEF Highlights article “Volunteers Dig In at WEFTEC 2010 To Build Bioswales.” 

2010 Bioswales in the Bayou Before Small   2010 Bioswales in the Bayou Now Small  
2010 Bioswales in the Bayou After Small  
WEFTEC service projects, such as the 2010 Bioswales in the Bayou project, benefit host cities. See the project site before (left above), immediately after construction (left below), and as it was earlier in 2012 (above). Photos courtesy of Haley Falconer, Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) Students and Young Professionals Committee Service Project chair. Click for larger images.

The annual WEFTEC service project is organized by the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Students and Young Professionals Committee. Other previous projects include the 2011 Walkway to Wetlands project in Los Angeles; the 2009 Wading for Wetlands project in Orlando, Fla.; and the 2008 Getting Out of the Gutter project in Chicago. 

2008 Getting Out of the Gutter After Small Final  
Other WEFTEC service projects are shown during construction (above) and after growing in (below). Left is the 2008 Getting Out of the Gutter project and right is the 2011 Walkway to Wetlands project. Photos courtesy of Falconer. Click for larger images.
2009 Wading for Wetlands Before Small Final  
2008 Getting Out of the Gutter Before Small Final   2009 Wading for Wetlands After Small Final  
— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights