August 2006, Vol. 18, No.8

WEFTEC.06 Preview

WEFTEC.06 Preview - Straight From the Experts’ Mouths

WEFTEC.06 offers information on opportunities and career enhancement for wastewater professionals

At WEFTEC®.06 in Dallas, it’s all about getting the inside scoop — straight from the experts’ mouths. As usual, attendees will learn about the latest water and wastewater news and developments in technical sessions and workshops, as well as see the newest products in the industry on the exhibition floor. But the 2006 annual conference of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) will take attendees further by offering programs and discussions that provide information and firsthand accounts of the opportunities available to those in the water and wastewater field.

A Chance To Give Back
One opportunity could have attendees packing their bags for an exotic locale, volunteering to give people around the world regular access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

On Oct. 24, Sharon Sugarek, manager of the Peace Corps’ Dallas Regional Recruiting Office, along with several returned volunteers, will be at WEFTEC.06 to present a special program, “Peace Corps — A Legacy of Service.” The former volunteers will give presentations about their experiences working on various water and wastewater projects in developing countries. The Peace Corps, which offers 2-year stints to qualified volunteers, has two types of jobs related to the water field, according to Sugarek.

“One is an environmental education job, and these [volunteers] need a 4-year degree and some volunteer experience or maybe a little bit of professional work experience,” Sugarek explained. “This job is working with people in villages to educate them about environmental issues. It’s more of an educational job at the grassroots level.”

The second type of water-related job — environmental and water resource engineering — is more specialized, Sugarek said. “People in those kinds of jobs would be doing more technical work, [and] would typically be working with local governments and communities specifically on improving water quality and helping train people to operate and maintain facilities,” she said.

Peace Corps positions in the environmental and water resource engineering field require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in an appropriate field, certification in water treatment plant operations or hazardous materials management, or a similar certification. Qualified applicants also have practical work experience in their field, Sugarek said.

While the work differs based on a country’s needs, Sugarek said the Peace Corps “can find a place for people with a wide range of experience and skills in this area,” and is “always looking for people who are interested in, and have some background in, environmental education and water treatment and management.”

Jet-setting to such remote countries is not just for the 20-something crowd — older volunteers are most welcome. The Peace Corps currently has a volunteer who is 79 years old, Sugarek said.

“In most cultures in the world, older people are very respected, and so older volunteers tend to have kind of an automatic status when they come into a new village or town,” Sugarek said. “In some cases, that makes it a little bit easier for them to really do their job.”

The Peace Corps also offers volunteers a gift in return by making them more marketable to employers upon returning to the United States, Sugarek said. Besides learning to work in a “multicultural and cross-cultural environment,” she explained that such an opportunity affords younger participants great advances in their careers in less time.

“It gives [young people] an opportunity very early in their careers to apply things that they’ve studied in a real practical situation,” Sugarek said. “You get a whole lot of responsibility very quickly — the kind of responsibility you would not get at a job in the states at that point. You get to exercise your project management skills, your negotiation skills, your team-building skills.

“So when you come back and talk to an employer ... you can demonstrate that you’re self-motivated, that you can do projects, that you can work with a diverse group of people, [and] that you can make something happen — which are a lot of the kinds of skills that organizations are looking for, whether they have a domestic focus or an international focus.”

To hear returned volunteers speak about their experiences in the Peace Corps and to ask them questions, attend the informal session “Peace Corps — A Legacy of Service, Opportunities Discussion and Reception,” scheduled for Oct. 24 at WEFTEC.06 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It HappenTM
Introduced to the WEF community at WEFTEC.05 in Washington, D.C., the public outreach program Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It HappenTM has taken great strides in the past year.

Designed to educate the public, government officials, and the media about the importance of maintaining the water and wastewater infrastructure, a growing number of pilot utilities and WEF Member Associations (MAs) have implemented the grassroots program in their own communities. WEFTEC.06 presents an opportunity for conference attendees to learn how they also can use this program to educate others about the importance of their work.

Linda Kelly, managing director of public communications at WEF, said this new campaign has a far-reaching impact and distinct traits that make it amenable to utilities and MAs of all sizes in any location.

“What is unique about Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It Happen is the scope,” Kelly said. “It’s designed and implemented by 17 national organizations [that] will be presenting the same message. This approach extends the reach and frequency of any single program, and, of course, having this many partners will help in supporting a national campaign in the future.

“Also unique is that the pilot utilities are helping develop materials that are absolutely applicable to their situations,” Kelly continued. “The ability to localize the materials means that they can target different public audiences with very specific messages.”

There are 14 pilot utilities that localize the national materials in a concerted effort to implement the program, Kelly explained. Each has specific “issues they are grappling with as they reinvest in their failing infrastructure,” she said.

To structure the program accordingly for each pilot utility, Kelly said each group’s individual needs must be taken into consideration.

“For example, while Tucson [Pima County Wastewater Management Department; Tucson, Ariz.] needs a campaign that begins with the basics and utilizes about every tool, San Francisco [Public Utilities Commission], who has undertaken a major initiative for several years, will need our leaders to accompany them to an editorial board or participate in a video,” Kelly said.

The “pacesetter” MAs, currently consisting of seven member associations ranging from the Ohio Water Environment Association to The Pacific Northwest Water Environment Association, will be assisting the pilot utilities in numerous ways.

“They might, for example, offer third-party testimonials to their city councils, or help fund their bill-stuffers, or hold a workshop or luncheon for elected officials in the city, region, or state,” Kelly explained.
At WEFTEC.06, attendees can learn not only about implementation of the program but how to spread the message in their hometowns, even if they do not have ample resources.

“There are many smaller and midsized utilities that do not have public affairs staff to develop materials for educating the public about infrastructure issues, rate increases, or other means of reinvesting,” Kelly said. “WEF can provide consulting services to assist member utilities in developing materials and methods of dissemination. The utilities can choose from a variety of campaign themes, and WEF will help them customize the materials to target audiences with direct messages about how water issues [and] costs affect them.”

The session on Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It Happen is scheduled for Oct. 24 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at WEFTEC.06.

An Emerging Concern Addressed
Numerous studies and reports released by the U.S. Geological Survey and various media outlets focus on contaminants and pharmaceuticals found in treated wastewater, as well as in lakes and streams. WEFTEC.06 will devote a special session to the subject, “Compounds of Emerging Concern: Endocrine Disrupting Compounds,” which is scheduled for presentation Oct. 24 from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

This session will examine the issues surrounding compounds of emerging concern, with a special focus on endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs).

Due to advances in laboratory detection, many compounds that previously were undetectable due to their low concentrations now are being found in the environment and in products used in people’s everyday lives, explained Rob Schweinfurth, staff liaison to WEF’s Compounds of Emerging Concern Community of Practice.

Schweinfurth said approximately 100,000 compounds currently are used in commerce, with nearly 1000 new compounds being introduced every year. While few have been found to cause endocrine system disruption in living organisms, extensive research is being conducted on many of the suspected compounds of concern, he noted.

At the WEFTEC.06 special session, leaders in the water environment field will discuss current research on these compounds and available conclusions about their impact. Also, the future of EDCs will be addressed, including what these compounds mean for water and wastewater utilities, agribusiness, feedlot operations, municipalities, and citizens.

The speakers will end the program with a panel discussion on EDCs and allow time for audience questions.

Meghan Oliver, WE&T

Related Session
For more information on compounds of emerging concern, see the Leading Edge Research track at WEFTEC®.06 in Dallas:

  • “Session 20: Constituents of Emerging Concern”


Managing Disasters

Effective disaster response planning takes the worst out of worst-case scenario

Providers of essential utilities have been put to the test by worldwide onslaught of natural disasters. Add to that burden the potential for terrorist attacks, epidemic illnesses, and vandalism, and ensuring clean water and sanitation becomes a much more complex task. From hurricanes Katrina and Rita bearing down on the U.S. Gulf Coast to a tsunami and an earthquake battering Indonesia, the tasks of restoring, repairing, and in some cases, rebuilding basic water and sanitation have taken center stage.

Additionally, other utilities throughout the United States and the world have recognized the need for more and better disaster response planning.

“I think the No. 1 failure in disaster planning is the general failure to do enough of it,” said Jack Moyer, emergency management director in the Morrisville, N.C., office of URS Corp. (San Francisco). Moyer will give a presentation Oct. 25 at WEFTEC®.06 in Dallas outlining 10 relatively easy and inexpensive steps utilities can take to improve disaster response plans.

Another common pitfall, Moyer added, is underestimating how bad the worst-case scenario can be. “Just because the floodwaters have never gotten higher than X in the past does not mean that they will never get higher than that in the future,” he said.

In fact, Frank Soloducha, project manager at Greeley and Hansen (Chicago), said that wastewater treatment plants are probably most subject to floods because the facilities typically are located in low-lying areas. Greeley and Hansen provides engineering and related services for assessing, rehabilitating, upgrading, and otherwise improving the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) sewer conveyance systems. “There is only so much that you can do to hold back Mother Nature,” Soloducha said. At WEFTEC.06, he will present information on risk assessments for catastrophic events.

The fact that utilities can’t prevent all problems emphasizes the need for effective response planning. WASA runs scenarios of various events — for example, a widespread power outage in a nonemergency setting — and investigates their effects using hydraulic models, geographic information system maps, and face-to-face interactions. The scenarios enable managers and technical staff to review unanticipated effects and improve their understanding of the interrelationship of various actions, Soloducha said.

It is much more effective to have a ready plan, even a checklist, than to try thinking through everything that needs to be done in the “heat of the moment,” Soloducha noted. Many utilities in areas prone to hurricanes follow checklists of tasks to perform when a hurricane is approaching, such as testing and fueling all generators, he said.

Although the likely types of natural disasters vary by geographic region, the basics of preparedness and response planning are the same, Moyer said.

One common shortfall, regardless of region, is inadequately addressing the needs and concerns of employees in a disaster. Employees’ families will be their foremost concern. Unless this concern has been addressed in advance, it will impair employees’ attendance and attentiveness, Moyer said.

The four key principles to keep in mind for disaster preparedness are plan, partner, communicate, and practice, Moyer said.

Having reliable and accurate contact information on hand can help with each of these tenets. Not knowing whom to call or where to reach them can be the weak link in the disaster response chain, Moyer noted. He said the contact list should include employees, local fire and police departments, and potential mutual aid providers. The list must be current, accessible, and durable in a hard-copy form, as a list stored on a computer is useless during a power outage. He added that the recent increased reliance on cellular telephones for critical communications is a disaster planning misstep. Cell phones depend on others’ resources and are subject to excessive communications traffic from the general public. Two-way radios, on the other hand, can operate with just an emergency power source.

Reliable communications are essential when calling for help from mutual aid networks (established agreements between utilities regarding liability, legal, and financial responsibility issues) so workers can cross county and state lines immediately to render help restoring service and repairing damage.

In the April 25 report Assessment of Reconstruction Costs and Debt Management for Wastewater Utilities Affected by Hurricane Katrina, the Water Environment Federation (WEF: Alexandria, Va.) and Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.) examined the effects of Hurricane Katrina on wastewater assets and suggested steps to minimize damage in future events. Developing mutual aid networks among U.S. cities, counties, states, and regions is one of the report’s main recommendations.

After Katrina, “agencies and individual members who wanted to go down and help [in Louisiana] were somewhat stymied by the lack of preplanning for that and the lack of agreement and protocols to address issues such as liability and worker’s compensation,” said Eileen O’Neill, WEF chief technical officer, at a congressional briefing about the report.

Mutual aid compacts between Florida and Mississippi enabled Florida wastewater utilities to send volunteers, equipment, and other forms of relief to Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the WEF report states.

WEF is working with other organizations to share information and form interstate mutual aid networks, O’Neill said.

Best-Laid Plans
The cruel twist is that after all of the planning and preparing, when a disaster does strike, a utility’s reward is more work.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state databases revealed that Hurricane Katrina affected 118 wastewater treatment plants serving 1.8 million people throughout Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, according to the WEF report.

By far the most damage occurred in the surge zones, the report says. In these areas, most administration buildings, maintenance buildings, and chemical storage facilities were destroyed. Electrical and control equipment experienced extensive damage. After being immersed in salt water, mechanical equipment required cleaning, lubrication, and corrosion protection; despite these efforts, much of it will need to be replaced. However, reinforced concrete structures such as aeration basins, clarifiers, and trickling filters suffered only minimal damage.

“As a public entity, our mission has been to restore the city,” said Reid Dennis, program manager for the sewer system evaluation and rehabilitation program at the Sewer and Water Board of New Orleans (SWB). “Our focus is, at this point, restoring everything as quickly as we can.”

Rebuilding New Orleans
Almost a year after the storm, water and wastewater systems are functioning but still suffering. The collection and distribution systems need the most work, Dennis said. About 322,000 m3/d (85 mgd) of water is leaking into the ground from New Orleans’ drinking water distribution system, he said.
Before the storm, the drinking water system produced about 454,000 m3/d (120 mgd) to serve 455,000 residents; now, the system must produce 511,000 m3/d (135 mgd) to serve about 221,000 residents. This is a twofold increase in production per person to make up for the leakage. “We’re in the process of finding the leaks and making the appropriate repairs,” Dennis said.

As trees fell in the storm they ripped up water lines, and large debris, such as cars and pieces of buildings, would hit hydrants. After the storm, cleanup crews often would damage the lines accidentally as well, Dennis said.

On the wastewater side, falling trees and debris clearing did some damage, but the unconsolidated soils that supported the lines were the real culprits. Force mains and gravity lines were flooded with saltwater for more than 3 weeks, and the saltwater corroded the old steel lines and damaged electrical and mechanical equipment. The quick flooding of the lines created substantial water pressure load on the pipes compacting the bedding soils underneath. When the city was dewatered relatively quickly, the flow washed away the bedding under the pipes, which fell into the holes and created offsets and blockages, Dennis said.

“SWB’s mission is to try to determine where we’ve got problems and fix them before the populace comes back in,” Dennis said. But about 50% of the city’s pump stations are inoperable, and flow is inconstant, which makes it difficult to keep the lines clean.

“We’re struggling with trying to balance the need of restoring the pump stations with the requirement of doing the cleaning and taking care of the repairs,” Dennis said.

The biggest hurdle to rebuilding New Orleans is finding the money to do it, according to Dennis. “SWB’s revenue base was seriously eroded,” he said. “We lost roughly 70% of our revenue base.”

Even using money from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is proving difficult, Dennis said. Under the Stafford Act, which empowers FEMA, only directly attributable storm damage can receive federal money, he said.

FEMA has only paid for damages that are unequivocally due to the storm. That means that to date, FEMA has rejected more than 80% of the gravity sewer collection system repair claims submitted, he said.

SWB has extensive maintenance records on damaged sections of its collection system and additional information related to a prestorm consent decree that detail the condition of individual pipes. SWB’s stance is that if a line segment was not listed in either of those places, the damage is storm related. However, FEMA needs more direct proof such as a downed tree that broke the pipe.

“We are still in direct discussions with FEMA to convince them to accept the SWB’s position,” Dennis said.

Dennis will provide an update on New Orleans recovery efforts at WEFTEC.06.

— SteveSpicer, WE&T

More on Disaster Planning and Recovery
 WEFTEC®.06, to be held Oct. 21 to 25 in Dallas, offers opportunities to learn about disaster planning and recovery.

  • Session 83: “Recovery of Water and Wastewater Systems from Natural Disasters — Lessons Learned”
  • Session 90: “Disasters Happen — Be Prepared!”


Roll Up Your Sleeves and Take Part in 25 Workshops

At WEFTEC®.06 in Dallas, wastewater professionals from all over the world will convene to share insights on the latest advances in water quality technology. Participants looking for interactive, hands-on examination of issues will be interested in the wide variety of workshops offered Oct. 21 and 22. This year, attendees have 25 workshops from which to choose, covering topics ranging from biosolids management, to odors and volatile organic compounds, to activated sludge design and process control. Workshops will be taught by instructors with varied backgrounds.

“With representation from academia, consulting, manufacturers, and regulators, this is the simply the best opportunity to learn from and interact with the leaders of our industry on a variety of cutting-edge and important issues,” said Matthew Ries, managing director of technical and educational services at WEF.

Workshops provide the opportunity for participants to roll up their sleeves and learn new skills and the most up-to-date information. Listed below are only a few of the workshops that will be at WEFTEC.06.

W101 — Wastewater Microbiology
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
This workshop will cover the types of microorganisms involved, environmental factors affecting them, metabolism, and growth characteristics in wastewater biology. Workshop participants will take part in a hands-on lab in which they will perform Gram and Neisser stains and then use phase-contrast microscopes to analyze floc and effluent characteristics, count protozoa and metazoa, and identify protozoa and filamentous microorganisms.

W102 — Activated Sludge Design and Process Control ... in a BNR World
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
This workshop is tailored for design and operating personnel involved in activated sludge treatment and biological nutrient removal. Speakers will focus on the operation and control of the activated sludge process, paying special attention to the features that facilitate the microbial process. Following the presentations, speakers will address particular issues experienced by workshop participants.

W103 — WEF/WERF Biosolids Management Options: Understanding the Benefits and Costs
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Participants in this 1-day workshop will develop and expand the traditional list of costs and benefits associated with various biosolids management alternatives. Speakers will describe the concepts, and panelists will elaborate with firsthand, day-to-day experience. Participants will gain the information needed to enhance the decision-making process. The workshop is designed to share case-study experiences of highly evolved plans and programs, engage wastewater professionals, compile results of questions and comments generated during the session, and provide networking opportunities.

W104 — Membranes in Municipal Wastewater Treatment: Technology, Applications, Challenges, and Future
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
This workshop has been developed primarily for the beginner, with aspects suitable for advanced students of membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology. Consulting engineers, manufacturers, and users of the technology will provide a complete review of MBR technology and its application. This workshop will provide the fundamentals necessary for the design, selection, and procurement of MBRs, along with insight into the most current developments in membrane technology relevant to managers, engineers, and operation staff.

W105 — Getting Your Arms Around Underground Menaces: Addressing Sewer Odor and Corrosion
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Buried infrastructure and sewers have been the subject of odor complaints, and microbiological activity within the sewers creates new compounds that add to the overall odor strength of the raw wastewater. Treating these odor problems is a major difficulty, because sewers have limited access points, are firmly entrenched in the community, and can run anywhere from hundreds to thousands of miles. This workshop covers ways to detect and address such odors. Odor-monitoring equipment will be available for hands-on demonstrations.

W106 — UV Disinfection: Cost, Performance, and Emerging Issues
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
This workshop will provide participants with the most up-to-date technical knowledge on ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection and UV disinfection systems. Speakers will discuss real-world technical problems related to operation, cost, precision, reliability, troubleshooting, and selection of technologies. The workshop also will include a detailed set of benchtop water-testing data as related to the impact of water quality on UV disinfection performance and cost.

W107 — Operations and Maintenance: The Quarterbacks of Asset Management
Oct. 21, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Operations and maintenance staff have significant custody of assets during the asset life cycle. Care of assets is one critical element in any asset management program. Many practitioners and management staff responsible for operations and maintenance are frustrated by their inability to take control of assets and obtain the necessary resources to protect them. This workshop will focus on the asset “caregivers” and provide suggestions about how to manage assets better and report successes more effectively.

These are only some of many topics participants will encounter at WEFTEC.06. For more information on the rest of the workshops, check out the Water Environment Federation’s WEFTEC.06 Web site at

Brent Byers, WE&T