September 2012, Vol. 24, No.9

Funding shortfalls, aging infrastructure pose top challenges for industry, survey says

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A recent report summarizing a survey of U.S. water-sector participants paints a picture of an industry progressing on such issues as sustainability and asset management while having a harder time devising solutions to anticipated funding shortfalls.

Released in mid-June, the report — 2012 Strategic Directions in the U.S. Water Utility Industry — details the results of a survey of water and wastewater utilities conducted by Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.). By documenting the main challenges for water utilities, the report helps define “what we need to do in the industry and what we need support for politically to be able to make the investment to maintain the security of our water system,” said Cindy Wallis-Lage, president of Black & Veatch’s global water business.

The company plans to survey the water industry annually and issue a report summarizing the findings.

Conducted between Feb. 22 and March 13, the survey generated responses from 365 participating agencies in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Of these, 55% of survey participants managed both water and wastewater systems, 33% managed only wastewater systems, and the remaining 12% operated only drinking water facilities. As for regional diversity, 38% of respondents were from the West, 34% were from the South, 22.1% were from the Midwest, and 5.9% were from the Northeast. In terms of system size, 76.9% of participants serve a population exceeding 100,000; 11.7% serve between 50,000 and 100,000; and 11.4% serve fewer than 50,000.

Financial solutions remain unclear 

Among the most important issues facing the water industry are aging water and sewer infrastructure, management of capital costs, funding or availability of capital, and energy costs, according to the report. Not surprisingly, “aging infrastructure and associated replacement and rehabilitation demands have a strong impact on the financial health of water utilities,” the report states. Yet the report raises questions about how utilities will maintain their financial health in the future, especially if customers resist calls for higher rates and bond funding becomes harder to obtain.

More than 85% of respondents indicated that they felt the “average man or woman on the street has little to no understanding of the gap between the cost of producing safe water and the current rates paid by customers,” according to the report. To overcome this apparent misperception, the industry must do more to educate its customers, Wallis-Lage said. “I don’t know that we have provided the information to assist the public with understanding the importance and the need to do things differently now from in the past,” she said. For example, many utilities once relied on connection fees to help cover operation and maintenance expenses, essentially masking the true cost of these expenses. Now that growth has slowed in many areas, connection fees are no longer available for this purpose, yet maintenance still must be performed. Therefore, the water industry must conduct a “pretty strong marketing campaign” to educate customers about the need for and true cost of maintaining existing infrastructure, Wallis-Lage said.

Despite concerns regarding the availability of future funding, more than half of respondents indicated that their agencies have not adopted or considered public–private partnerships, preferring instead such traditional financing approaches as revenue bonds. In some cases, this hesitation to pursue private-sector financing reflects the fact that many water utilities are “only now coming to grips” with their aging infrastructure and the related financial hurdles that they must overcome, said John Chevrette, president of Black & Veatch’s management consulting division. At the same time, public–private partnerships represent a “pretty big change in behavior” for many municipalities, he said.

With so much demand within the water sector for funding, some observers expected by now to see more water agencies engaging in public–private partnerships, said Harris Kenny, policy analyst for the Reason Foundation (Los Angeles), a think tank that advocates privatization efforts. Instead, the opposite has occurred, as contract renewal rates for private entities operating government water systems have experienced a “major slide” in recent years, he said. However, public water agencies likely will collaborate more with the private sector in the future to gain access to its available capital, benefit from its expertise, and reduce risk, he said.

Chevrette agreed. As the water sector and private industry continue to explore how best to structure public–private partnerships, more such arrangements are “inevitable,” he said, as utilities seek to acquire capital at a time when many are concerned about their ability to assume more debt.

How sustainable is sustainability? 

Nearly 60% of respondents indicated that the issue of sustainability is a critical strategic focus of their agency. When asked about the importance of various aspects of sustainability, nearly 48% of respondents said that energy efficiency was of greatest significance for their utility. As for actions related to sustainability and energy use, 77.5% of respondents said that their agencies have undertaken efforts related to energy efficiency, optimization, or management. Meanwhile, nearly 35% of respondents said they have engaged in energy recovery from biosolids, while roughly 33% also reported having conducted sustainable water planning. Approximately 30% of participants indicated they have conducted cogeneration or implemented solar power.

Despite broad support for sustainability initiatives among respondents, such efforts often encounter economic roadblocks. “Justifying financial investment in largely discretionary sustainability programs and projects to utility boards and political bodies while mitigating the risks of those investments, however, appears to be the largest challenge to widespread adoption of sustainable water and energy solutions for the foreseeable future,” according to the report.

To overcome such challenges, water agencies must define and explain the concept of sustainability in a manner that represents their particular circumstances while clearly illustrating the benefits, Wallis-Lage said. For example, an agency seeking to make a capital investment on a sustainability project should highlight such expected benefits as improved system reliability or security. “The message needs to convey the value to the community,” Wallis-Lage said.

Larger agencies lead on asset management 

Asset management programs have long been hailed as a means for cash-strapped utilities to address their infrastructure challenges cost-effectively, in part by assessing the age of assets, analyzing whether future funding levels will be sufficient to improve the assets, and initiating a formal asset improvement program. According to the survey, 35% of respondents said their utilities have programs in place for assessing and improving assets, while 32% of respondents indicated their agencies have no such programs. Another 16% said their utilities had assessed asset age but did not have an improvement program in place, while the remaining 17% indicated their agencies were implementing an asset improvement program despite not having conducted an initial assessment of assets. Among utilities with no asset management assessment or improvement programs, 63% serve populations of fewer than 50,000.

These results did not surprise Steve Allbee, project director for gap analysis at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although asset management has become a “driving aspect” of the water industry, implementing a “full-bore asset management program” takes approximately a decade, he said. Therefore, larger utilities with more available resources have taken the lead in developing asset management programs, though their smaller counterparts can be expected to catch up over time, he said.

— Jay Landers, WE&T 


 

Drilling at the bottom line

A weaker gas market, regulatory shifts, and bad publicity are influencing the destinies of shale-gas drillers and companies that treat hydraulic fracturing wastewater

In addition to facing pressures on the regulatory front, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and treatment of fracking wastewater (or flowback) also are facing a multitude of economic pressures. The industry had experienced a drilling boom, thanks to the discovery of large natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale, a low-density, organic-rich sedimentary rock formation that extends through much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and small areas of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. But declining natural gas prices have led to a reduction in drilling and subsequently have upped the stakes for companies that specialize in fracking wastewater treatment technologies. The multitude of new opportunities that were available for these companies previously could start to drop off drastically after 2020, according to a recent report by Lux Research Inc. (Boston). In addition, “the field is rapidly growing overcrowded, creating significant risk for new entrants,” according to a Lux press release.

Meanwhile, some investors are starting to voice their concerns about the problems drillers have been facing as a result of growing regulatory uncertainty and public pushback regarding hydraulic fracturing. Some are even calling for implementation of new best practices for the industry.

“Assuming that hydraulic fracturing is going to continue to be used in some form, investors need to have greater certainty in the marketplace toward industry practices and regulation,” said Steven Heim, managing director and director of ESG Research and Shareholder Engagement at Boston Common Asset Management (Boston), during a May 16 press conference. “Currently, there is no certainty, and that is really why investors are speaking up. The marketplace has spoken. The best course here for investors, the market, and human health is that if all shale-gas extractors wake up and use these tools, to do it right.”

 

Gazing into the crystal ball 

According to the Lux press release, the growth in fracking has energized the water industry, “inspiring a bumper crop” of new water treatment startup companies that are vying to treat the flowback water, which can contain hydrocarbons, heavy metals, scalants, microbes, and salts. But “while the opportunity is large, only a few companies are really positioned to profit,” said Brent Giles, a Lux analyst, in the release.

In the report, “Risk and Reward in the Frack Water Market,” Giles identifies which of 20 companies Lux believes are in the best position right now to excel and which are not. The companies were evaluated in four areas:

  • Technical value score — The strength and value of a company’s technology. Lux believes that companies “with useful products and services that lower cost, boost performance, or increase revenue are valuable to customers, partners, and investors,” according to the report.
  • B usiness execution score — A company’s ability to perform and achieve. Lux evaluated each company’s ability to run a viable organization, grow sales, manage costs, and make customers and investors happy.
  • Maturity — The completeness of a company’s development. These companies have secured a place and built a presence in the market. Lux scored each company’s maturity by evaluating its size, state of development, annual revenues, and age.
  • The “Lux Take” — A holistic measure of a company’s success. The Lux Take is “an overall ranking mechanism based on the considerations taken in the above areas, placing companies into five categories: Strong Caution, Caution, Wait and See, Positive, and Strong Positive.”

Among the strongest players in the field are companies such as Gasfrac (Calgary, Alberta), Veolia (Paris), Layne Christensen (Mission Woods, Kan.), and WaterTectonics (Everett, Wash.). Giles said that although WaterTectonics is one of the dominant companies in this market, few have heard of its name. “That’s because they have an exclusive contract with Halliburton [Houston],” he explained. “If you see their equipment, it would be in Halliburton boxes.”

Another company, Saltworks Technologies Inc. (Vancouver, British Columbia), was listed as a “long-shot” but rated as “positive.” “We liked the technology, but they aren’t using the technology currently in the fracking water treatment space,” Giles said.

Though some companies and technologies have stronger potential than others, the hydrofracking water treatment industry faces several challenges as a whole. According to the report, not only does shale-gas fracking represent a significant water treatment challenge because of the complex makeup of this industrial wastewater, there is also a “regulatory bipolarism” that threatens the global market.

“France has already banned hydraulic fracturing, and a few [U.S.] states also have banned it,” Giles said. “But you’ll never see bans in China, and Argentina will likely not ban it.”

These companies also face a potential threat from technologies that could replace fracking water use entirely, such as the gelled propane that is being used at some sites for fracking.

Giles said the technology was initially founded at Chevron (San Ramon, Calif.). “But that person jumped ship and went to Gasfrac,” he said. “Their first job was in 2008, and they’ve done hundreds of jobs since then. They’re already at $150 million in business. The other companies are happy if they get $20 million.”

Giles said this gelled propane also has lower transportation costs. “Transporting their fluid requires a third as many trucks as the amount used to transport [hydrofracking water],” he said. “They can drill [the gelled propane], and it comes back as a gas.”

Overall, Lux predicts worldwide growth in demand for these technologies through 2020 “despite short-term disruption.”

“By the time we hit 2020, we think this will be a declining market, but there could be a couple of things that change that,” Giles explained. Natural gas prices are low now, so this means demand is low, but that demand could increase in the future, he said. Also, some of the wells don’t last very long. To see more growth, drilling would have to expand in the east and the west globally.

“Russia, the Middle East, and Africa haven’t been surveyed yet,” Giles said.

 

Some investors rebel 

On the other side of the coin, investors are asking shale-gas companies for more corporate responsibility and openness about their business practices.

In May, Boston Common Asset Management, the Investor Environmental Health Network (Falls Church, Va.), and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (New York) announced that 55 investment organizations and institutional investors with nearly $1 trillion in assets under management united to push forward 12 best practices they argued should be adopted by the shale-gas industry.

“In view of all the controversy swirling around this issue, extracting the facts identifies what’s important to measure and report,” said Richard Liroff, executive director of Investor Environmental Health Network, in a May 16 press conference. “Energy companies need to do a better job of determining environmental and social risks associated with extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations, and their policies and procedures for reducing and eliminating these risks.”

The groups listed several events that caused their call to action, including moratoria on hydraulic fracturing by New York State, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and Quebec, as well as outright bans in France and Bulgaria.

The organizations also said that inconsistent drilling and business practices make it hard for investors to make informed decisions.

“While some companies have voluntarily increased disclosures, particularly around chemicals used in fracking, there is no systematic reporting on risk management and reduction steps, which means investors may lack information critical to fully evaluating energy companies engaged in shale gas extraction,” according to the joint May press release.

In the report, “Extracting the Facts: An Investor Guide to Disclosing Risks from Hydraulic Fracturing Operations,” the organizations made recommendations that included the following:

  • Manage risks transparently and at board level — Ensure that environmental, health, safety, and social risks are core elements of corporate risk management strategy.
  • Reduce surface footprint — Minimize surface disruption from natural gas exploration and production activities.
  • Ensure well integrity — Have zero incidence of accidental leaks of hazardous gases and fluids from well sites.
  • Reduce and disclose all toxic chemicals — Eliminate toxic chemicals used in fracturing operations.
  • Protect water quality through rigorous monitoring — Identify baseline conditions in neighboring waterbodies and drinking water sources, and routinely monitor water quality during natural gas operations.
  • Secure community consent — During the site selection process, identify all communities affected, address major concerns central to community acceptance of company operations, and establish community engagement process and third-party conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • Disclose fines, penalties, and litigation Acknowledge performance issues by disclosing infractions, legal controversies, and lessons learned.

“We’re encouraging a corporate race to the top in adopting best practices,” said Liroff in the press release. “Many companies will save money and lower risks, providing business, environmental, and community benefits,” he added.

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 


 

Smart water-meter adoption on the rise

Increasingly, more utilities are recognizing the benefits of upgrading to smart water-meter systems

In recent months, several market research firms have released reports forecasting significant future growth in the global “smart” water market, fueled by drivers related to the need for water utilities to conserve water, streamline operations, and increase the overall efficiency of their networks.

In May, a report from Pike Research (Boulder, Colo.) found that in response to rising water demand and increasing pressure for more-efficient water management, smart water meters “will be relied on as a key element of future water systems, providing intelligence that helps system managers hold down costs and maintain affordable rates for customers.”

Pike forecasts robust global growth in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), driven by higher demand for more-accurate water-meter reading. In addition, the firm cited data from the World Bank which estimates that losses from nonrevenue water represent $14 billion in missed revenue opportunity each year.

In another report, TechNavio (London) projects a compound annual growth rate of 15% for the global smart water-meter market from 2011 to 2015, pointing to government plans to control water use as a key factor contributing to this growth.

“Until recently, only utilities on the cutting edge of technology were interested in AMI systems, but now interest in AMI has become very widespread,” said Craig Hannah, development manager for the national municipal utility solutions team at Johnson Controls (Milwaukee). “AMI systems significantly reduce operations and maintenance expenses while also allowing meter-reading labor to be reassigned to other tasks,” he said.

 Another key attribute includes the ability for utilities to reduce apparent water loss and increase billable usage and revenue, Hannah said. “If a customer disputes a bill, some utilities will normally write off the loss, but an AMI system allows the utility to show a customer how water was used every hour of the billing cycle, which is a powerful tool for countering disputes,” he explained. “This same ability to continually monitor usage also allows a utility to better maintain its water distribution system, since any anomalies will be promptly detected.”

AMI systems also enable utilities to minimize water losses — a key feature, considering the rising importance of municipal water conservation, Hannah added. Indeed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of water lost through distribution systems is on the order of 6.4 billion m3/yr (1.7 trillion gal/yr), at a national cost of $2.6 billion. 

“Most AMI system providers have either developed or partnered with other firms to provide distribution-side leak detection,” Hannah said. “Additionally, AMI technology also facilitates the detection of customer-side leaks by allowing the utility to promptly inform a customer of a leak on their property.”

 

A tool for advancing water conservation 

In California, Glendale Water & Power (GWP) is one of several private and publicly owned utilities that have implemented smart water-meter programs. Recently, GWP completed an AMI upgrade that included installation of 33,400 smart water meters as part of the city’s projected $70 million Smart Grid program. 

The utility’s previous water-meter network was aging and in need of replacement, providing an initial driver for the project, said Patrick Hayes, principal civil engineer at GWP. “Upgrading to a new AMI system would also allow us to reduce the number of meter readers, minimize labor and costs, and greatly increase the amount of water use data available to us,” he said.

As a strong undercurrent to the project, the new AMI system would be able to lend support to GWP’s water conservation efforts, Hayes noted. “In the 2007–2008 timeframe, Southern California entered into a drought phase, and our wholesalewater supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, began issuing water restrictions and other conservation requirements on its retailers, which included Glendale,” he said.

The restrictions called for a 10% reduction in water use, which GWP, in turn, implemented in the form of watering restrictions limited to 3 days per week. “Enforcing the restrictions with very limited data provedvery difficult,” Hayes said. “But with AMI technology, we now have clear and implicit data to do just that. Additionally, in terms of working with customers to implement conservation, we have an extraordinary tool. We can help customers understand exactly how they are using water, because the irrigation cycles are clear and readily available in the AMI data.”

 

Water use and water loss management  

The City of Olathe, Kan., recently installed 34,000 smart water meters as part of an upgrade to a more accurate, data-comprehensive AMI system, replacing 35- to 40-year-old water meters with diminishing accuracy.

David Bries, Olathe’s utilities maintenance superintendent, said the new AMI system provides the tools to better manage water use and identify issues related to water loss. “Last summer, during peak demands, we were able to download and examine our water use on a daily basis, which helped us better identify actual consumption rates,” Bries said. “In the past, we never had consistent consumption records, because our data was staggered throughout the month. Without consistent water use records, it always created a real challenge during high demands, because the lag of billing data caused a large increase in the apparent water loss.”

According to Bries, the city also is hoping to utilize the smart-metering technology to monitor system water loss on a more frequent basis. “When breaks or other events occur, we will have quicker notification and more-accurate information in terms of how much water was lost,” he said.

 

Growing pains 

Despite upward-trending interest and program adoption, the smart water-meter market is experiencing consumer resistance, albeit from smaller, but vocal, opposition groups. Protests to smart water-meter programs have been attributed to potential privacy, health, and higher-cost concerns. In response to these issues, several utilities have developed optional opt-out programs that can involve monthly and one-time charges.

In Minnesota, Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) is implementing an $18 million meter replacement program that involves installing 94,000 new digital water meters and a radio meter-reading system. Although not technically classified as smart water meters, the one-way, drive-by system is similar to smart-metering technology in that low-frequency radio transmission is used to transfer water use data.

Some of the major expected benefits of the program include enhanced meter-reading capability, increased billing operation efficiency, and elimination of estimated bills due to inaccessibility, said Steve Gleason, business division manager at SPRWS.

“In the winter months, historically heavy snow often made it difficult for readers to capture readings from home exteriors, resulting in estimated readings and billing adjustments,” he said. “In our service area, winter water use establishes base sewer billing charges for the year. As such, the reduction of adjustments in those areas will be very beneficial.”

However, soon after SPRWS began installation work, customers residing within the planned meter installation areas started calling with concerns about the meter project, requesting to be excused from the mandate and describing a widely distributed document that cited various health effects of radio-frequency exposure.

Managing this opposition involved “researching and populating the SPRWS website with information about radio-read technology,” Gleason said. “We also determined that offering alternatives to customers was desirable.”

After observing alternate metering programs that took into account health effect concerns, SPRWS developed two additional alternatives for its customers, including a nonradio water-meter option.

“From our experience, we believe it’s important for utilities to anticipate resistance and have a structured alternate offering or plan in place prior to implementation,” according to Gleason. “We found that we could not influence some customers’ convictions about the potential health effects of the radio meters, so providing a choice was necessary for a successful installation.”

Jeff Gunderson, WE&T 


 

 

A cleaning of nuclear proportions

Technology discovered at Sandia Labs is used to treat contaminated wastewater at nuclear power plant in Japan after historic earthquake

A two-decade-old technology created at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., was used to remove radioactive material from more than 163,000 m3 (43 million gal) of contaminated wastewater at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that endured damage during Japan’s historic 2011 earthquake, according to a Sandia news release.

“It’s the kind of thing that sends a chill,” said Mark Rigali, manager of geochemistry at Sandia Labs, in the news release. “We’ve helped really make a difference in the world.”

The technology, crystalline silico-titanate (CST), is a molecular sieve that can separate highly volatile elements from radioactive wastewater, according to the release.

Sandia researchers “had worked around the clock following the March 2011 disaster” to show the technology worked in seawater, which was what the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was pumping to cool the plant’s towers, the release says.

The late Sandia chemist Bob Dosch and Ray Anthony, a Texas A&M University (College Station) chemical engineering professor, led the team that developed CSTs in the early 1990s in response to a need for materials that removed radioactive contaminants from wastewater. The team found that a certain class of synthetic zeolite is more effective in capturing some radioactive elements, such as cesium, than other technologies, according to the release.

The technology is now being licensed exclusively by UOP LLC (Des Plaines, Ill.).

Even though scientists at Sandia had been contacted by the U.S. Department of Energy to help the Japanese and provide a material that could remove contaminants from the water used to cool the power plant towers, the scientists were not sure whether the CSTs would work in seawater, according to the release.

The Energy Department contacted Sandia chemist Tina Nenoff at the end of March 2011 based on her extensive experience in developing and working with CSTs in the 1990s. Nenoff and Sandia colleague Jim Krumhansl, now retired, worked around the clock for 10 days to conduct testing.

“There was a sense of urgency,” Nenoff said in the release. “We compared CSTs against commercially available zeolites, mineral zeolites, and some clays. We found that the CSTs outperformed the other materials for cesium removal from seawater under these conditions.”

Rigali said in the release that other materials can capture cesium, “but there’s nothing out there that works as well as a CST. It’s tough to beat.”

Now, because of the potential CSTs have shown at the Fukushima Daiichi site, there are endless commercial opportunities for this technology, according to the release.

“CSTs are a material whose time has come,” Rigali said.

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 


 

Integration is key

The collaborative approach for managing water resources takes hold in the face of diminishing supplies

The practice of integrated water management (IWM) is rooted in the approach of managing regional water resources from a more holistic standpoint, balancing water supply, water quality, and ecosystem processes with scientific and socioeconomic elements, stakeholder interests, and the water needs of humans, fish, and wildlife. Although IWM principles have traditionally been used to help inform watershed management and municipal decisions, the significance of IWM has recently been propelled into the forefront because of rising concerns associated with water security.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a higher number of examples of communities dealing with water crises, which has elevated IWM to an entire new level of importance,” said Greg Chung, San Francisco regional office manager of GHD (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), an international engineering, architecture, and environmental consulting company. “Longer term, with respect to surging population growth, water will become more of a scarce resource and could be the focus of a lot of conflict.”

For this reason, municipalities are becoming more interested in approaching water management from the perspective of diversifying water use, Chung added. “IWM embraces the concept of ‘one water,’ where communities should take into account all the different sources and potential sources of water and match up the right supply and quality with the most appropriate demand,” he said. “In this way, a more economical, efficient, and integrated solution for water usage can be reached.”

 

California’s major IWM initiative  

In California, an extensive IWM-based plan is being developed for the state’s Bay Delta region in an effort to protect water supplies and help reverse the decline of the delta’s native fish, plant, and wildlife species. The 50-year Bay Delta Conservation Plan takes a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to integrating water flows, quality, and habitat restoration, including identifying such projects as floodplain reconnections, water recycling, groundwater storage, flood protection, and construction of major water conveyance facilities to help secure water supplies for 25 million people and businesses in California.

A collaborative effort between the State of California and multiple local and federal agencies, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is “one of the largest examples of IWM, illustrating the large-scale benefits of such an approach, as well as the challenges in addressing so many different goals under one umbrella,” said Michael Mierzwa, a civil engineer and assistant to the deputy director of integrated water management at the California Department of Water Resources.

“A successful IWM plan combines public safety, environmental stewardship, and economic stability, integrating and using the same sources of water and land to meet multiple goals,” Mierzwa said. “But beyond these objectives, IWM is also about recognizing the multiple roles and responsibilities of agencies [in] the local, state, federal, and private sectors.”

Throughout the state, IWM grant programs will provide seed money to counties, cities, utilities, and other agencies to form strategic coalitions to develop integrated regional water management plans, Mierzwa explained. “Regional plans work collaboratively to identify multibeneficial projects,” he said. “Project designs that demonstrate more beneficial objectives in the same physical space with the same water resources are more likely to receive financing.”

Following completion of state and federal permitting, the first projects could start in 2014.

 

A vision in Milwaukee  

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has adopted an IWM framework as a key element of its 2035 Vision and Strategic Objectives. MMSD’s programs include integrating “gray” and “green” infrastructure strategies, working with partnering agencies toward zero sanitary and combined sewer overflows, and implementing an innovative pilot watershed-based permitting program.

Kevin Shafer, MMSD executive director, said the district’s regional water quality initiatives, which include ecosystem restoration, ultimately build toward the goal of enhanced water security. “We are focused on developing sustainable, integrated approaches toward protecting our water resources and using water in the most efficient manner,” he said. “The success of a watershedwide effort is dependent on multiple partners working together, forming strategic alliances in program planning and implementation.”

MMSD’s pilot watershed-based permitting program includes developing a single watershed permit for the Menomonee River covering 21 political bodies. “The single permit both simplifies and unifies our approach and is based on the natural geography of the watershed as opposed to political or jurisdictional boundaries,” Shafer said. “This allows different communities to collaborate together toward better managing stormwater, wastewater discharge, and all other water flowing through our system, leading to improved water quality.”

The permit is anticipated to be finalized by the end of the year.

 

A model approach in California 

Similar in scope and structure to IWM, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have developed a new integrated modeling approach that is anticipated to help resource managers plan for possible changes in water supplies due to climate change. The new approach — a suite of integrated models — has been applied to California’s Central Valley as a tool for simulating future possible water supply scenarios.

By linking a regional integrated hydrologic model to global climate models scaled down to the local level that simulate precipitation, temperature changes, and snowmelt runoff, the new method is able to “simulate the use and movement of water in aquifers, rivers, and across the landscape for natural vegetation and irrigation,” said USGS hydrologist and developer Randall Hanson.

Although it is difficult to predict exact future conditions, the Central Valley system, under a changing climate scenario, is forecasted to experience precipitation declines, temperature increases, more-frequent and longer droughts, increased urban water demand, and a fundamental shift from a predominantly surface-water-dominated delivery system to a groundwater-dominated system for irrigation of agriculture.

“Some of the secondary effects and limiting factors of this transition may include reductions in streamflows for habitat, decreased surface water deliveries for irrigation, larger pumping requirements that could lead to poorer water quality, as well as increased land subsidence, which could impact canal systems, agriculture, and urban infrastructure,” Hanson said. “But hopefully, this physically based approach can also be utilized as a tool for analyzing potential impacts and as a resource for making decisions for adaptation.”  

Jeff Gunderson, WE&T 

©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.