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 2011, Vol. 48, No. 1

Top Story

Meet WEF’s New Executive Director, Jeff Eger
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Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) welcomes Jeff Eger as executive director. Click for larger image.
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) welcomes its new executive director, Jeff Eger. He comes to WEF from Sanitation District 1 (SD1) in Fort Wright, Ky., where he has served as executive director since 1994. Eger assumed his post at WEF in late January.

“We are fortunate that someone with Jeff’s leadership, experience, and creativity is taking up the torch to represent WEF as it faces the next generation of environmental challenges,” said WEF President Jeanette Brown. “The WEF Board was particularly impressed by his credentials in working with water regulations and stormwater issues.”

While at SD1, the second largest public sewer utility in Kentucky, Eger developed and implemented a regional stormwater management program to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations and began taking responsibility for public stormwater collection systems in 2009. He also supervised the regionalization of 30 municipal sanitary sewer systems in response to pending federal environmental regulations and legislative changes.

Eger has vast experience in working with organizations active on the regional and national levels. He is a member and past chairman of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (Cincinnati), the water pollution control agency for the Ohio River and its tributaries. He also chairs the Wet Weather Partnership (Richmond, Va.).

“I look forward to promoting the concepts we pioneered here on a national and international platform,” Eger said. “WEF’s leadership, staff, and Member Associations are committed to promoting the mission of providing bold leadership, championing innovation, connecting water professionals, and leveraging knowledge to support clean and safe water worldwide. I am honored to be part of this important mission.” Read Eger’s full biography and read Eger's responses in a Questions and Answers document.
Water Dorm 2012
Project tests treatment technology and explores barriers to accepting direct potable reuse
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University of Miami's Eaton Hall will be retrofitted to become an autonomous net-zero water residence. Photo courtesy of James Englehardt. Click for larger image.  
Imagine a net-zero residence where wastewater becomes potable water through inexpensive, low-energy means. Through such a water reuse system, futuristic homes could provide water without tapping into public or groundwater supplies.

Potable water “demand would go to somewhere near zero,” said James Englehardt, University of Miami (UM) College of Engineering professor and chief investigator of the project, titled Design for Autonomous Net-Zero Water Buildings.

Englehardt and his team are designing a decentralized, direct potable reuse system based on laboratory-tested technology. During the next 4 years, the project will measure the efficacy of various experimental electrocatalyzers and filters that remove common household wastewater contaminants, investigate the psychological and social barriers to direct potable reuse, and develop real-time processes that detect health risks in reuse water.

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From left, University of Miami professor James D. Englehardt and University of California, Davis, professor emeritus George Tchobanoglous discuss apects of the design of the autonomous net-zero water treatment system. Photo courtesy of Englehardt. Click for larger image.
The team will conduct testing at a 20-student dorm, where the recycled water will be used for all activities except drinking and cooking.

Eager participants
Englehardt has enough data to leap from the lab to real life and a $2 million U.S. National Science Foundation endowment grant to design, build, and start up a demonstration system that could begin operation on the UM Coral Gables campus as early as January 2012.

Englehardt said there is student demand for living in this “special interest housing unit.” He has presented the project before environmental science and policy, as well as engineering, students. “When I ask them at the end of the class if they want to live there, most hands go up,” he said.

Low-energy design
The system will be based on Englehardt’s research on iron-mediated aeration — developed for groundwater remediation and later used for landfill leachate treatment — and research on electrocatalytic processes.

The system will begin with off-the-shelf aerobic–biological technology that will treat the dorm’s wastewater to about 2% of influent chemical oxygen demand (COD). The wastewater then will be aerated in the presence of iron, forming iron floc, and put through parallel cloth and fine-screen filters. 

Next, the “centerpiece” of the project, Englehardt explained, will use electrocatalyzers to remove the remaining organics. The process and data behind this experimental piece have yet to be published, and at press time, Englehardt said he was unable to share certain details.

In the simplest terms, two parallel reactors, one using an antimony-doped tin oxide electrode and the other a boron-doped diamond electrode, will treat wastewater to standards more stringent than those required for drinking water, Englehardt said. The electrodes are designed to mineralize organics, such as those manufactured for pharmaceuticals, using the lowest-energy approach — oxidation to carbon dioxide.

“My goal in the research ... is to develop a process where we can routinely, continually, and economically destroy these organic pollutants,” Englehardt said.

The efficacy of the process lies in how the electrocatalyzers will be operated, Englehardt said. “We think we can drive COD to below the detection limit,” he said. 

Safety and sampling
Treated water will be fed to the dorm’s holding tank, where hydrogen peroxide residual will maintain disinfection. The team will add redundancy to the system to ensure drinking water safety.

As water is drawn inside the dorm, it will pass through an activated carbon filter. Routine sampling for permit requirements and development of real-time risk-detection methods will occur after passage through activated carbon, Englehardt said. Following startup, the team will collect samples three times per day to measure fluorescence spectra, in vitro toxicity, and basic water parameters, such as turbidity and the potential for oxidation–reduction reactions.
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University of Miami student Aarthi Narayanan tests electrocatalytic oxidation of organic constituents in wastewater, in the development of low-energy treatment systems for autonomous net-zero water buildings. Photo courtesy of Englehardt. Click for larger image.
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Electrocatalytic oxidation testing for the development of systems to turn wastewater into drinking water. Photo courtesy of Englehardt. Click for larger image.

An important component of the project is to develop algorithms based on project data to predict in vitro toxicity risks. The algorithms then will be tested for their predictive capability against subsequent testing data. 

Minimizing capital costs
Perhaps one of the most innovative aspects of the project is that direct potable reuse will be accomplished without membranes. Membranes are highly energy-consumptive, and the purpose of the project is to design a system “suitable for individual building use,” Englehardt said.

The amount of money saved through widespread use of such individual direct potable reuse systems is expected to be “significant,” compared to what the United States currently is spending on energy to convey and treat wastewater, Englehardt added.

Combating public opinion

The team will survey, interview, and perform lab experiments involving physiological measurements to identify factors that “bring on or reduce anxiety [or] disgust associated with water reuse,” said Kenneth Broad, director of the UM Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy and co-director of the Columbia University (New York) Center for Research on Environmental Decisions.

Several factors influence social barriers. Gut reaction is one, but wastewater can evoke rational thought, too, according to Broad and his investigators. The team will attempt to determine which factors lead people to rational understanding of direct potable reuse.

“Terminology — such as ‘wastewater’ and ‘toilet,’ for example — seems to psychologically prime people to be negatively disposed toward the concept,” Broad said. “A central question is how immutable these feelings are. In other words, they may be a remnant of some logical evolutionary adaptation to avoid self-contamination, but this is no longer a valid response in some cases.”

Lizz Plater–Zyberk, dean of the UM School of Architecture and co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism (Chicago), is leading the aspect of the study that will look at how direct potable reuse systems can be incorporated into New Urbanist design, which is sustainable design that considers the “wise use of resources,” she said.
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Getting the public accustomed to new ideas is foremost in New Urbanism, Plater–Zyberk explained. “New Urbanists understand the first thing you have to do is make something appealing,” she said, noting that the project is about presenting the public with a viable example.

“I do envision this dorm as a seed,” Englehardt agreed.

Plater–Zyberk added that there is a measurable acceptance of water recycling. When viewed from an “off-the-grid” lens, “that’s when people can understand it’s not ‘toilet to tap,’” she said.
The middle and southeast wings of Eaton Hall. Photo courtesy of Englehardt. Click for larger image.
Taking the environment out of the equation
Englehardt said he believes that if the U.S. National Research Council panel on potable reuse — which advised avoiding direct potable reuse — were reconvened today, “they would have reached a different conclusion.”

Aquifer recharge results in natural attenuation of organics, Englehardt pointed out. “Maybe it’s better to connect the pipes and take the environment out of the whole loop.”


Andrea Fox, WEF Highlights
USDA Design Could Pave Road to CAFO Compliance for Milk Houses
Effective disposal systems cost about $25,000 to $35,000

Dairy farms produce wastewater that includes washwater from cleaning milking equipment and the milk house. Small farms send this washwater to a septic system, but milk, protein, water, and cleaners contained in the dairy discharge do not percolate effectively. In 2008, use of the ineffective systems became a violation of federal groundwater protection under the revised concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFO) regulations.

This problem of finding affordable, effective treatment for dairy wastewater is a “historical situation,” according to Darryl Forgione, northeast regional engineer at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

In Massachusetts, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) engineers and scientists with funding and support from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and other state agencies developed and are testing cost-efficient, vegetative treatment designs that may address biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and the pollutants of concern — chlorine byproduct, phosphorus, and nitrogen — generated by small-dairy operators.

In the experimental systems, milk-house wastewater is applied to a vegetated treatment area (VTA) and flows slowly through a plant–soil matrix, according to David Nelson, assistant state conservation engineer at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The system works and the vegetation grows vibrantly, said Forgione, who oversaw installation of a pilot VTA and monitors its performance.

"It seems to be quite effective at treating milk-house wastewater during the growing season,” said Gerard Kennedy, director of MDAR’s Division of Agricultural Technical Assistance.
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A study tests the ability of the vegetated treatment area (VTA) at Great Brook Farm to address biochemical oxygen demand and pollutants of concern generated by dairy farms. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Click for larger image.

Slow-rate design
Milk-house wastewater is pretreated in underground sedimentation tanks to reduce BOD and minimize solids. A pumping tank then doses the stream to the VTA once every 3 days. “BOD and suspended solids are removed by filtration and bacteria action as the applied wastewater percolates through the soil,” Nelson said.

For the VTAs, USDA applied a scaled-down slow-rate process design because it would produce the highest level of treatment and be most effective with the region’s hearty soils and geology, Nelson said. The slow-rate process design “is based on hydraulic loading criteria and nutrient uptake by the vegetation,” he said.

Milkhouse - Appleton 2 SmallSoil, groundwater, and cold season requirements and challenges
In Massachusetts, the federal CAFO program is administered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 1, which writes permits for direct industrial wastewater discharges to surface waters in New England. VTAs must be at least 30 m (100 ft) from a drinking water well, cannot discharge in the direction of a well, and must be at least 15 m (50 ft) from surface waters. The buffer zones at the two VTA test sites “allow separation from more sensitive areas for conservative reasons,” Nelson said.

Implementing VTAs requires satisfying soil and buffer requirements in the design standard and access to electricity, Nelson said. 

Establishing baseline groundwater levels, needed to monitor this type of system and establish buffer zones, can be challenging, Kennedy said, noting that initial testing during startup of the second test site, Appleton Farm in Hamilton, Mass., yielded erratic results.

“At Appleton Farm, clay lenses impede developing a clear baseline of the groundwater movement,” explained John Reinhardt, branch chief for industrial wastewater policy and regulation at the Massachussetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Shallow bedrock depths also complicated the picture of groundwater movement at the primary test site, Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, Mass., he added.

“Each site presents its own challenges in developing a clear model of groundwater movement and contamination,” Reinhardt said.

At the Appleton Farm VTA, milk-house wastewater is applied and flows through a plant-soil matrix for biological oxygen demand and suspended solids removal. Eight monitoring wells were installed to test the efficacy of the system. Photos courtesy of USDA-NRCS. Click for larger images.

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Agency cooperation

In a 2008 assessment of the Great Brook Farm VTA, the milk-house septic system was found not to be compliant with the state’s Groundwater Permit Program — the purview of DEP.

DEP also had concerns about milk-house sanitizer byproducts, Kennedy said.

In an attempt to come up with a solution, DEP facilitated a memorandum of agreement with DCR and MDAR allowing the Great Brook Farm milk house to operate under a 3-year pilot program, Kennedy said. The 1500-L/d (400-gal/d), 18-m-wide by 30-m-long (60-ft-wide by 100-ft-long) VTA has been operating for about 2 years without significant operational problems, Nelson said. 

The current phase of VTA testing analyzes wintertime operation — when vegetation is not actively growing. For this effort, the team installed the 1500-L/d (400-gal/d), 15-m-wide by 37-m-long (50-ft-wide by 120-ft-long) Appleton Farm VTA in late 2010 and a second VTA utilizing a 914-mm (36-in.) bark-bed surface at Great Brook Farm in late 2009. A bark bed aerates and insulates the infiltration area during winter, Kennedy and Nelson explained.

In a bark bed, wastewater is dosed on the surface and infiltrates downward. The VTA surface alternative could offer a long-term cost savings, Forgione said. VTAs work well when the ground temperature is more than 4°C (40ºF), he said, but in winter, the sedimentation tanks have to be pumped every 10 days — at a cost of about $1500 every time the tanks are pumped. 
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This illustration shows the construction of bark beds. Figure courtesy of USDA-NRCS. Click for larger image.

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Great Brook Farm’s pilot bark bed aerates and insulated the infiltration area during winter. Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS. Click for larger image.
The bark bed presented issues with dosing and some elevated levels of nitrates, Nelson said. According to Forgione, the team thinks the increased nitrates may be from the farm’s fertilizer. “Previous use of the site can definitely impact the groundwater,” he said. However, “results are too preliminary to make any conclusions,” Nelson added.

The team plans to introduce a bark-mound modification in order to “allow the wastewater to percolate through the bark before reaching the ground surface to better treat the nitrogen,” Nelson said. The mound will be installed this spring, Reinhardt said.

Results could change state groundwater rules

Groundwater monitoring at the first Great Brook VTA has proven successful at eliminating BOD and suspended solids, as well as reducing nitrogen during the growing season. “The nitrate level in the wastewater itself is quite low, and the groundwater nitrate levels have thus far been well below the limit for drinking water standards during operation,” Nelson said.

DEP has been analyzing the data, and NRCS is assessing the VTA’s effect on groundwater. According to Kennedy, the goal is “to find a mechanism for farms to manage milk-house wastewater and not have an environmental impact.”

In the future, DEP may consider adjusting groundwater permit rules to allow for VTAs — if results prove positive and consistent, Reinhardt said.

“Insofar as the CAFO rules require best management practices, this work would provide verification data for the efficacy of vegetative strips,” Reinhardt said. DEP “hopes to collect enough data to establish that using vegetative treatment strips, as well as other approaches, to manage milk-house wastewater will not degrade groundwater quality,” he added.

Overall, VTAs have proven effective during the growing season, “are fairly low-cost,” and “will be a huge benefit for smaller farms,” Kennedy concluded. “It’s a definite plus,” Forgione echoed.
Andrea Fox, WEF Highlights
From the President: Recognizing Operators as Guardians of Public Health
Not only water professionals believe the advent of basic wastewater collection and treatment in the 20th century resulted in direct benefits to public health in the United States and other developed countries. In 2007, thousands of readers of the prestigious British Medical Journal picked sanitation, or wastewater collection and treatment, as “the most important medical advance since 1840.”

That’s right; sanitation was chosen by medical professionals as the most important medical advancement during the past 160 years instead of anesthetics, antibiotics, and countless other Nobel Prize-winning advances.  

Taking this vital public health service for granted is easy, especially when all you have to do is turn on the tap to get clean, safe water or flush a toilet to safely dispose of your wastes. Yet 2.5 billion people — nearly 40% of the world’s population — still lack access to clean, safe water and basic sanitation, resulting in thousands of children’s deaths every day. And the recent outbreak of cholera in Haiti that caused more than 1000 deaths provides another reminder of the dangers of poor sanitation.
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Jeanette Brown, 2010–2011 WEF President.

Wastewater collection and treatment systems can be one of a community’s most valuable publicly owned assets, but often they are its most underappreciated assets, with out-of-sight, out-of-mind buried infrastructure. Personnel operating and maintaining these valuable and vital public assets should be recognized as custodians of public health.

The importance of infrastructure and operators

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) has programs, such as Water is Life and Infrastructure Makes it Happen™, that are designed to help improve public understanding of the vital role played by well-functioning water infrastructure in maintaining public and economic health, as well as quality of life. And Work for Water, a joint program with the American Water Works Association (AWWA; Denver), emphasizes individual careers and functions vital to ensuring the availability of this essential public service.

WEF provides training materials, including books, study guides, trainers’ kits, and online courses, for operators to use to prepare for certification or to meet continuing education requirements. WEF also provides operators with access to educational workshops at WEFTEC®. WEF Member Associations (MAs) step in to provide more face-to-face training for operators, and many are involved in certification, especially for voluntary certification programs, such as those for collection systems or laboratory personnel.

Exciting developments

During the many years that I have been involved in WEF, there have been discussions suggesting that the organization should do more to support and develop the capabilities of operators and to increase visibility of operators as frontline public health professionals. But these discussions have not resulted in a clear indication of what WEF can do to make a more effective contribution in this area.

Recently, WEF has taken steps to increase understanding of the needs of operational professionals now and into the future and how WEF can better meet those needs, moving from understanding to action. This multilevel effort involves the WEF Board of Trustees, House of Delegates, committees, and MAs. Any action will be in close collaboration with the MAs and other key players, including utilities and other water-sector organizations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and certification stakeholders, such as the Association of Boards of Certification (ABC; Ankeny, Iowa). It has been exciting to be a part of this WEFwide initiative.

WEF increases understanding of operators’ needs

WEF conducted a survey that has generated feedback from more than 900 respondents who work at utilities, including plant operators (43%), administrative and management staff (20%), laboratory analysts (8%), collection systems operators (more than 10%), and other professionals, including maintenance, biosolids, pretreatment, and compliance specialist professionals (19%). The survey provided information on requirements for certification, continuing education, training preferences (with face-to-face training still preferred over self-study via manuals or the Web), and participation in WEF, as well as other associations.

Also, WEF is working with its MAs to build a matrix of information on state certification and training requirements, trends, and challenges. MAs face increasing needs for operator training, in some cases because state budget cuts are reducing support for training institutions and personnel. Some of the indications from discussions between WEF and MA leaders at WEFTEC provided the following feedback:
  • Reviewing fact-based information on the differences in certification and training requirements in each state and province is important.
  • A consensus seems to be emerging that reciprocity is a problem and that developing a “national” agreement on certification and training standards might be helpful in addressing this issue.
  • There is broad agreement that there is a need to elevate the professional image of operators.
  • The goal should be that every operator in every plant should be certified.

What WEF is doing
Through a pilot program, WEF is working with MAs to collaborate on the development and sharing of content for operator training materials. In response to a request from an MA, WEF is developing and launching an online Operations Resource Center.

WEF is seeking broad input to a major revamp and update of its Wastewater Operations Certification and Training Position Statement. This statement will address such issues as certification, training, and reciprocity. The position statement will form the basis of WEF and MA outreach and input to policy-makers, regulators, utility managers, and other key stakeholders on this important issue. We hope and expect it will catalyze action.

WEF is beginning to plan for a Certification Summit to be held in spring. The summit will include representatives of WEF, its MAs, EPA, AWWA, and ABC.  

Jeanette Brown, 2010–2011 WEF President
Operations Resource Center Offers Resources and Networking Tools to Wastewater Treatment Personnel

Operations Resource Center
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) launched a new addition to its Web site to provide wastewater treatment personnel, such as plant operators, laboratory analysts, and collection systems employees, access to valuable online resources. The Operations Resource Center is located within WEF’s Access Water Knowledge, a section that provides technical resources on 15 topics of interest to the water quality community.  

The center features four key areas: 
  • Certification, where visitors will find state and provincial certifying agency contacts, guides and study materials to prepare for different types of certifications, WEF’s position statement on wastewater operations certification and training, and a link to the certification quizzes published in WE&T magazine.  
  • Continuing education and training, where visitors will find local and online training opportunities, technical resources, networking opportunities, continuing education credit information, and resources and information provided by WEF.
  • Technical resources, where visitors will find listings for math, safety, and laboratory resources; educational resources provided by WEF, including plant profiles from WE&T, listings of WEF Manuals of Practice, study guides, and special publications, and a set of quizzes provided by WEF; glossaries of wastewater terms, symbols, and acronyms; and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheets and other resources, including links to the agency’s wastewater treatment plant operator training program and National Small Flows Clearinghouse program.
  • Connections, where visitors will find networking opportunities through discussion forums, information on joining WEF, and other WEF resources, including information on the Operations Challenge held at WEFTEC®, the Work for Water Web site, and the WEFTEC exhibitor directory.