August 2006, Vol. 18, No.8

Features - If the Grid Goes Down

Wastewater facilities would be wise to consider auxiliary power supplies to maintain operations during an emergency 

WET_Wheeler_Aug06jpg James F. Wheeler, Kevin DeBell, and Tim Schmitt

For years, the risk of power outages at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and pumping stations was associated with tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, or other natural disasters. Because such events generally are localized, most treatment facilities could rely on two separate independent power sources to ensure sufficient electrical reliability during an emergency. However, this may not be the case today.

Most of the electric distribution and generating equipment in the United States is approaching the end of its useful life and requires repair or replacement. As the nation’s population continues to grow, increasing demand will place ever more stress on the current network of interconnected grids. Therefore, WWTPs may need to consider options for generating their own electricity during service interruptions.  Read full article .



Yes, In My Back Yard

 A Colorado utility finds that public involvement paves the way for construction projects

WET_Conners_Aug06jpg Gail Conners

On any given day, Lisa Mills, Issues Management Department manager at Colorado Springs (Colo.) Utilities, can be overheard saying, “How can I help you?” For those who know her, these five words are almost as frightening as learning that you just had a construction project accident and five news crews are at the scene.

The sincerity of the question belies the real issue. It’s her way of letting you know that either something is amiss and needs to be addressed immediately, or you just messed up — big time.

Mills uses that phrase because it’s at the core of Springs Utilities’ Issues Management philosophy. “We stress that it’s important to seize opportunity or avert risk before business operations or the reputation of Colorado Springs Utilities is affected,” she said. “To do that, we take a proactive, not reactive, approach. Issues management is not crisis management. If we get a call from a project manager after an incident occurs, it’s really too late.”   Read full article .


It Takes More Than a Village

 Collaborative problem solving can help utilities meet water supply and quality needs

WET_Spangler_Aug06jpg Abby Arnold and Bradford Spangler

Water allocation and quality issues have generated controversy from the densely populated East to the arid and fast-growing West. Resolving the conflicts that arise among various stakeholder groups takes dedication and understanding. A key tool for making effective and broadly accepted decisions about water supply and allocation is the use of collaborative processes — a method endorsed by several organizations, including the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Interviews with water utility executives in Arizona, California, Virginia, and Pennsylvania have demonstrated that a variety of utilities can benefit from a taking a consensus-building approach to water supply planning. Collaborative strategies that utilities have used include forums, public involvement efforts, and other innovative approaches. In many cases, collaborative planning extends beyond the utility’s service area, involving utilities and other agencies within the watershed or larger region.  Read full article .


Operations Forum Features

Reducing the Risks

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, wastewater utilities may have to contend with decontamination water containing chemical, biological, or radiological substances

OF_RiskArt_Aug06 Linda P. Warren, Chris Hornback, and Daniel J. Strom

In the event of a terrorist attack involving chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) substances, some amount of those substances could enter a nearby collection system and travel to a treatment facility. Therefore, wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) staff should plan for such a possibility and coordinate in advance with emergency personnel.

CBR substances are most likely to enter a collection system as decontamination wastewater resulting from efforts to decontaminate victims, sites, and equipment following exposure to such substances. The extent to which decontamination wastewater may affect a utility depends on many factors, including the volatility, persistence, solubility, and lethality of the individual substances, as well as the amount of the substances, the location of the release, the dispersal method, and the type of decontamination activities employed.  Read full article .


Are You Happy With Your Long-Distance Plan?

Managing facility managers from afar brings unique operational challenges 

OF_HappyArt_Aug06 William Luksha

Managing a facility is no easy task. Keeping staff motivated and clients happy while complying with environmental regulations and standard business practices is challenging when a facility is nearby, but the job is even more difficult when the facility is more than a quick car ride away.

However, the long-distance experience can be rewarding for everyone involved when the utility or company charged with operating and managing the facility is dedicated to effective hiring practices, developing staff, communication, and teamwork.  Read full article .


Nurturing Future O&M Leaders

A utility’s efforts to groom operations and maintenance staff for leadership positions offers an example for other organizations

OF_FutureArt_Aug06 Richard Sykes

In 2002, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD; Oakland, Calif.) conducted a comprehensive review of its work force. The findings identified several potential staffing challenges, chief among them being the possibility of significant employee turnover within 5 years. Particularly alarming was the potential retirement of 60% to 65% of first- and second-level supervisors in the district’s operations and maintenance (O&M) units.

To improve retention and prepare existing employees to fill the impending leadership void, EBMUD implemented several strategies, including two initiatives — the Lead Academy and the Pathways Program — specifically tailored to grooming future O&M leaders. The district’s efforts can serve as a model for other utilities seeking to address similar staffing concerns.  Read full article .