July 2013, Vol. 25, No.7

A greener permit

News art Milwaukee is first U.S. sewer district to add green infrastructure to wastewater discharge permit

Some wastewater utilities invest in rain gardens, landscaped swales, and other green infrastructure to comply with consent decree mandates in the wake of discharge permit violations.  

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) has taken a more progressive approach. MMSD recently became the first sewer district in the nation to ask state regulators to include green infrastructure as a requirement in its pollution discharge permit.  

“We decided it was better build it into the front end of an agreement, rather than in a lawsuit at the back end,” said Kevin Shafer, executive director of MMSD.  

MMSD’s new permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took effect in January and requires the district to construct green infrastructure that provides 3785 m3 (1 million gal) of stormwater collection and storage capacity in 2013. The permit further requires MMSD to build an additional 3785 m3 (1 million gal) in green infrastructure capacity each year during the permit’s 5-year term, according to Theera Ratarasarn, a DNR wastewater engineer. By Dec. 31, 2017, the district is expected to have enough rooftops planted with flowers and grasses, rain barrels, porous pavement, wetlands, and other green infrastructure to store about 19,000 m3 (5 million gal) of stormwater.  

That may seem like just a drop in the bucket, compared to the district’s deep-tunnel storage system, which can accommodate up to 1.97 million m3 (521 million gal) of stormwater, or the 2.6-million-m3/d (690-mgd) wet weather capacity of its two treatment plants. But, according to MMSD’s ambitious new long-term green infrastructure plan, this is only the beginning. 

Measuring stormwater volume  

MMSD began using green infrastructure best management practices (BMPs) to help reduce combined sewer overflows and improve water quality long before negotiating its current permit, Shafer said.  

But the district wasn’t tracking the volume of water its BMPs were collecting — an amount that fluctuates from year to year, depending on rainfall and other factors, Shafer explained. MMSD’s permit, as a result, is written to measure “constructed volume” — that is, the volume of stormwater each type of infrastructure is designed to retain. For example, 

  • each rain barrel is  credited with holding 208 L(55 gal) of stormwater; a residential downspout directed into an 18.6-m2 (200-ft2) rain garden yields up to 2300 L (600 gal) of storage; 
  • a 0.4-ha (1-ac) concrete or asphalt parking lot that is converted to porous pavement captures up to 1650 m3 (435,600 gal) of rainwater; 
  • green roofs take on as much as 122 L/m2 (3 gal/ft2); and 
  • 0.4 ha (1 ac) of open space in a wetland or in a river’s floodplain purchased by the district adds between 246 m3 (65,000 gal) and 2464 m3 (651,000 gal) of storage. 

Shafer believes the actual volume of water diverted from the region’s storm sewers and streams by this infrastructure exceeds these standard amounts. “A rain barrel holds 55 gallons [208 L] of water,” he noted. “But if it’s emptied regularly, it will capture much more than that over the course of a year. After a storm, a green roof also dries out and takes on more water.” 

Thinking bigger  

MMSD’s mixing and matching of these and other green infrastructure projects supports not only its DNR discharge permit but also its soon-to-be final Regional Green Infrastructure Plan, said Karen Sands, MMSD manager of sustainability. This long-term plan calls for the use of green infrastructure to collect the first 13 mm (0.5 in.) of rainfall the district receives during each rain event, or a total of approximately 2.8 million m³ (740 million gal) annually. The district also continues to invest in traditional grey infrastructure. 

“It’s all part of MMSD’s plan to improve water quality while reducing basement backups and overflows to zero by 2035,” Sands said. The district currently averages fewer than 2.5 overflows a year from its combined and sanitary storm sewers — down from 60 before its deep-tunnel system was completed in 1994. Its new permit allows up to six combined sewer overflows a year. 

A sign of what’s to come?  

Should other municipal sewer districts expect to see similar green requirements built into their discharge permits? 

It is too early to say, Ratarasarn said. Cost could be a limiting factor. “It takes money to implement a program like this, and not all communities have the funding to support it,” he said.  

“We’d like to study how the Milwaukee program works first,” Ratarasarn said. “In the meantime, we’d be more than willing to let other communities with combined sewer issues look into it.” 

— Mary Bufe, WE&T   

Asset management growing


Approach helps utilities manage risk, justify budget increases, and make more informed investments  

A recent report by McGraw–Hill Construction (New York), in partnership with CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.), says that aging infrastructure will drive greater adoption of asset management in the water-infrastructure sector during the next 5 years. The report, Water Infrastructure Asset Management: Adopting Best Practices To Enable Better Investments, reveals that utilities implementing asset management approaches are better able to prioritize investments, quantify risks, improve system reliability, and serve customers more effectively.  

Additionally, utilities that have become big practitioners of asset management strategies can more easily justify rate increases because of the ability to demonstrate why those expenditures are needed, said Harvey Bernstein, McGraw–Hill Construction vice president of Industry Insights and Alliances. “A key aspect to asset management involves a better understanding of the condition of a system,” Bernstein said. “Armed with this type of data, utilities can develop stronger longer-term strategies with respect to their infrastructure planning.”  

The study listed 14 different asset management practices and surveyed utilities to identify how many of these practices were in use throughout their organizations. According to findings, 65% of participating utilities were using at least four practices — the threshold used to classify a utility as an asset management practitioner. The use of computerized maintenance management systems was identified as the most widely employed practice, followed by asset-condition assessment for renewal/replacement planning, and business cases for operations and maintenance and capital improvement investments.  

The biggest growth area identified in the report is with respect to the development of an asset management policy, with use expected to grow from 46% to 84% among practitioners and from 5% to 59% among nonpractitioners by 2017.  

“This anticipated growth clearly demonstrates that a shift in the market is occurring toward greater asset management adoption,” said Donna Laquidara-Carr, manager of Industry Insights and Research Communications at McGraw–Hill Construction. “Utilities are really starting to recognize the benefits that can be gained by maximizing the resources they have.”  

Colin Chung, principal management consultant at engineering consulting company GHD (Irvine, Calif.), said asset management can help communities better understand the risk, cost, and future requirements associated with assets. “In many cases, the traditional budgetary process utilizes a backward approach for identifying future needs,” Chung said. “Asset management attempts to change this standard by going from a reactive to a proactive approach, based on the best available information.”  

By proactively managing assets, utilities can gain a better understanding of their assets’ true value, according to Chung. “Asset management plays a significant role in identifying critical components and managing risk more effectively, which helps prevent failure — often the most expensive possible outcome,” he said. 

Asset management as a business practice improvement  

In response to tightening regulations, aging infrastructure, and mounting pressure to control rates, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) — which provides drinking water, wastewater, drainage, and solid waste services — developed a comprehensive asset management program that is akin to a strategic business model, with an emphasis on risk management, improved capital decision-making, and placing higher value on customer service levels.  

At the core of SPU’s asset management program is an informed approach to capital investment decisions that is based on transparency and rigorous economic analyses.  

“Every capital decision over $1 million requires a triple-bottom-line business case examining the financial, social, and environmental costs and benefits,” said Terry Martin, director of strategic asset management and technical services at SPU.  

Asset management has also resulted in more-effective risk assessment practices, including a greater understanding of the balance between the likelihood and consequences of asset failure.  

“In contrast to using asset management as a justification for increased spending, we look at our risk portfolio and apply asset management principles toward reducing asset risk and being more cost-effective,” Martin said.  

Using this approach, SPU applies economic end-of-life models to help better identify asset conditions, only replacing pipes when the history of failure says to do so.  

“Older assets are monitored closely, and if a break occurs, we want to know why it happened,” Martin said. “As a result, we have actually found little correlation between pipe failure and age. Failures have more to do with other factors, such as the pipe material, surrounding soil, and slope. From an asset management perspective, replacing an older pipe that is still performing at a high level is not an effective approach.” 

Asset management for smarter investment decisions  

The Portland (Ore.) Water Bureau (PWB), which provides drinking water services for the city, has built a successful asset management program that incorporates business case evaluations, risk analysis, and the development of asset management plans toward making smarter and more cost-effective asset-based decisions.  

Taking a risk-management approach to asset planning has helped PWB change how it manages its water infrastructure systems, said Jeff Leighton, PWB senior engineer, asset management.  

“We ranked the relative importance of avoiding certain high-consequence events, which helped focus our assessment efforts,” Leighton said. “This methodology led us to evaluate pipes on bridge crossings over high-traffic roads, which resulted in the discovery of a pipe over a major interstate that was close to failing. By finding this, we avoided an interstate shutdown, which would have been a huge cost to society.”  

Asset management has also added a higher level of sophistication to PWB’s business-case approach toward making decisions.  

“In one particular case that would have traditionally involved the replacement of a whole pump station, a business case and risk assessment determined that the main problem was only associated with the electrical system, which ended up costing only 20% [of the cost] of a total replacement,” Leighton said. “This really demonstrates the cost-saving benefits of asset management.” 

Asset management as a communications tool  

In San Diego, the city’s Storm Water Division is using asset management practices as a key resource for justifying budget increases that are needed for deferred maintenance of the storm-drain system and to comply with new and more-stringent stormwater regulations recently adopted by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. 

“The Storm Water Division’s asset management program provides a framework for identifying budgets to design, build, and maintain future assets necessary for meeting TMDL [total maximum daily load] targets,” said Drew Kleis, the city’s watershed planning program manager. “In turn, this supports our efforts to communicate funding needs.”  

Asset management has also enabled the Storm Water Division to consolidate the city’s complex array of regulatory compliance costs.  

“We recognized the need to communicate costs by asset rather than individual regulations, because some assets assisted in complying with multiple TMDLs,” Kleis said. “Using this approach, we identified each of the city’s six watersheds as principal assets and then aligned compliance and flood-control costs within each watershed. That way, costs can be rolled up to the citywide level or differentiated down to individual storm-drain outfalls.” 

Additionally, representing a unique approach, the Storm Water Division’s asset management model incorporates an extended focus beyond traditional “hard” assets to include “natural” assets, such as receiving waters, and “soft” assets, such as public behavior. 

“These two additional asset classes are necessary because the Storm Water Division needs to manage relationships, public behaviors, goodwill, and regulatory policies to meet specific water quality goals and objectives,” Kleis said. 

— Jeff Gunderson, WE&T  

All that doesn’t glitter 

Maintenance crew discovers treasure and trouble in found sewer items  

Finders keepers, it seems, if you’re cleaning sewers.  

In March, three collection system workers in Modesto, Calif., were found to have done nothing wrong for pocketing $2500 from selling gold jewelry found while cleaning the collection system. 

The workers, whose identities the city did not disclose, were subjected to a criminal investigation by the Modesto police department in March. The investigation showed no city laws were broken, nor was there any violation of city policy. 

“It’s an unusual story about a very common occurrence,” said wastewater collection systems manager Robert Englent. “Gold and jewelry have been found in sewers since they have been first installed.” 

Englent said he believes that the workers were doing their job, and unless items can be traced to an owner, there is not much he can do. “From a management perspective, it’s very hard to control something like that,” Englent said. 

The gold sale by city workers was discovered during a routine check performed by police of pawn shops and gold-buying businesses. According to the Modesto Bee, Yvonne Brawley, an employee at Modesto Gold, Jewelry, and Coins, bought the gold from the workers. Brawley said the city employees wore their uniforms when they sold the jewelry. 

“Clearly, they weren’t trying to hide anything,” Englent said. However, he said that he believes the investigation was warranted because, “as public servants, we have to be aware of public perception.” 

The jewelry was suited for scrap purposes only, consisting of such items as a single gold hoop with a tarnished appearance due to the corrosive environment in the sewer. 

“They steam-cleaned it, but it still was pretty gross,” Brawley was quoted as saying in a March 19 article in the Bee. “It can’t be resold. No one is going to want to wear it. I can promise you that.” 

Brawley said one of the three city workers had been in the store a few times in the last couple of years, selling jewelry found in the sewer. 

No sign of wrongdoing  

Modesto police detective Eric Beffa said he investigated the case for a month but found no criminal activity or violation of city policy.  

“The angle we were looking for is embezzlement and whether they were doing it on city time,” Beffa said.  

Beffa said he found that there was no intent to defraud the city, the workers sold the jewelry while they were off the clock, there was no misappropriation of found property, and there was no way for the workers to determine where the items came from. 

The workers found pieces of jewelry from a larger sewer pipe being fed by several smaller pipes, so it was impossible to find the owners.  

“It would be different if it were a class ring with the person’s name and a date, and a reasonable person could try to trace the owner,” Beffa said. “But if it’s a broken hoop earring, there’s no way possible [to find the owner].” 

The entire matter got enough attention that the city is considering establishing a policy for lost and found objects. Jim Arnold, acting public information officer for the city, said a proposed policy is on its way for approval by the City Council. 

— Cathy Chang, WE&T   

‘It’s like LEED for civil infrastructure’

 The new ENVISION rating system helps users measure long-term sustainability benefits 


In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (Washington, D.C.) officially unveiled the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-building certification system to a small but passionate group of professionals interested in promoting sustainability in the building industry. More than 52,000 projects and 196,000 certified LEED professionals later, it has become ubiquitous in design and construction circles in the U.S. and, increasingly, throughout the world. 

Bill Bertera wouldn’t mind if history now repeated itself, only this time with pipelines, water resource recovery facilities, and bridges.  

Bertera is executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI; Washington, D.C.), one of the driving forces behind ENVISION, a new sustainability rating system designed specifically for civil infrastructure. 

ENVISION fills a gap in the LEED program, which is designed primarily for building projects and other “vertical” infrastructure, Bertera explained. “We see ourselves as two sides of the same coin,” he said.   

Necessity: The mother of invention  

The need for a universal infrastructure-specific sustainability rating system became apparent in recent years as engineers attempted to apply LEED to their civil projects, said Tom Pedersen, director of sustainability at CDM Smith (Cambridge, Mass.). 

“We were trying to see how to make LEED work for a water reclamation facility,” Pedersen said. “And while some components worked, it became clear that LEED couldn’t address the full spectrum of infrastructure projects that utilities construct.” 

Other engineers, consultants, and professional organizations, meanwhile, were drawing similar conclusions.  

“Our public clients were interested in sustainable projects and would write it into their RFPs [requests for proposals],” Pederson said. “But every engineer or consultant that responded would take a different approach. There was no objective way to evaluate which was most sustainable.”  

The challenge was to develop a rating tool that could achieve widespread adoption and “level the playing field,” Pederson said.  

The task of developing it fell, in part, to ISI, which was founded in December 2010 for that purpose by three of the engineering profession’s professional organizations — the American Society of Civil Engineers (Reston, Va.), American Public Works Association (Denver), and American Council of Engineering Companies (Washington, D.C.). ISI then partnered with the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (Cambridge, Mass.) to create ENVISION, which was officially rolled out a year ago.  

What makes ENVISION unique  

The ENVISION system parallels the LEED system in many ways, including a professional accreditation process and Platinum-, Gold-, Silver-, and Bronze-level recognition for projects that seek certification. Similar to LEED, it considers the “triple bottom line,” taking into account not only a project’s cost but also its environmental impact and the value it offers the community.  

But there also are key differences between the programs, Bertera said. 

For example, there can be an economic incentive to build a green commercial building, given that sustainability increases a project’s market value by 12% to 15%, Bertera explained.  

With civil infrastructure, the payoff is different. “You are not likely to sell a water reclamation plant or a bridge after it’s constructed,” Bertera said. “So you can’t justify sustainability on the basis that it will increase an asset’s value.” 

In fact, adding elements of sustainability can increase procurement costs, Bertera said. “But ENVISION gives users a way to measure the benefit of that up-front investment over a project’s life span,” he said. “ENVISION enables you to quantify how an additional $30,000 spent on a water reclamation plant today may produce a $150,000 benefit over 15 years.”  

The payoff, Bertera said, is also in the community’s confidence in the agency behind the project.  

It’s not only for new projects, either. “Much of what is spent on infrastructure today isn’t new construction but rehabilitation,” Bertera said. “ENVISION is designed so it can be applied at any point in a project’s life cycle.”  

Early lessons learned  

While no project has yet received ENVISION certification, several — ranging from a 226-km-long (140-mi-long) water pipeline to an airport expansion to the dismantling of a Civil War-era dam — are undergoing the verification process. More than 400 people have completed training and received credentials as an ENVISION Sustainability Professional so far, Bertera said, and an additional 350 are in process.  

Early adapters aren’t only in it for the project accolades. Douglas J. Sereno is director of program management for the Port of Long Beach, Calif., which has five LEED-certified projects and its own sustainability guidelines. Sereno said his city is considering taking an already completed project and running it through the ENVISION system, not for certification but to see where its current process falls short and learn how much time and effort it might take to achieve ENVISION certification. 

Derek Gardel, a wastewater engineer at HDR Engineering (Omaha, Neb.), is part of a team that used an early version of ENVISION as a framework for the design of five projects for the City of Omaha’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Control program. Projects ranged from a $12.5 million sewer-separation project, to a $75 million retention-treatment basin.  

“Omaha wanted to do the right projects for the right reasons,” Gardel said. “They chose to let ENVISION guide the design, not for a plaque but because they wanted sustainable projects.”  

Did it make a difference? 

“ENVISION takes things that are already part of the design process, such as public involvement, constructability reviews, and site selection, and then formalizes them in a way that makes you take a holistic look at the project from the onset,” Gardel said. “It forces you to ask the question, ‘Is this the right project?’ at the very beginning.” 

“ENVISION is most effective when it used early — even before anyone has envisioned a solution,” said Michael McMeekin, president of Lamp, Rynearson & Associates (Omaha), which, like HDR, is part of the program management team for Omaha’s CSO program. “It makes you take a comprehensive look at all the ways a project impacts a community, during and after construction.”  

“It also encourages alternative ways of addressing a need,” McMeekin said. “Going in, you may think you need a treatment facility expansion. ENVISION forces you to rethink the basic problem, which may result in a different solution entirely.” 

Bertera is pleased with these early efforts, as they all support ISI’s larger goal. “We suspect ENVISION will be used in many places that never submit their facilities for an award,” he said. “We’re not here just to pass out awards, but to change the way people think about infrastructure design and plan the future of our communities.”  

“ENVISION makes it possible to make whatever you have more sustainable,” Bertera said.  

— Mary Bufe, WE&T