May 2009, Vol. 21, No.5

From the Editors

Operations Forum Editor’s Note

Simply Effective

Steve Spicer

The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson is widely quoted as saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” This quote points out how difficult it can be to improve on a simple and effective idea. The mousetrap is a nearly perfect machine. Using just a spring, it can trap and kill a mouse, literally, in a snap. It’s simple, cheap, and effective.

Adding extra features and options — maybe tiny, shiny foil streamers to attract mice quicker or built-in bait — threatens to drive up the cost. You could compensate by using a lighter, less costly spring, but then you might reduce its trapping and killing ability.

The trick is to get more value or use out of something without sacrificing any of its benefits. I’m not sure how to do that with a mousetrap, but the author of “Raising the Bar,” seems to have figured out how to do it with a trickling filter. By elevating the media about 7.5 ft (2.3 m) from the bottom of the tank, a Pennsylvania utility was able to add a great deal of stormwater storage at a minimum expense. On top of that, the change appears to help maintain nitrification year-round.

Another way to look at building a better mousetrap is to better zero in on the sweet spot where low cost, simplicity of design, and effectiveness meet. That means catering solutions to a particular situation. “Skimming the Surface” does just that by examining the cost, design requirements, effectiveness, and maintenance needs of several devices to keep floating trash and solids out of the sewer system. Depending on the setting, the best solution might be as simple as clamping a net to the end of an outfall or as complicated as excavating, redesigning, and rebuilding several catch basins. In each case, the best solutions still hits the sweet spot.

Steve Spicer, editor
sspicer@wef.org

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