December 2006, Vol. 18, No.12

From the Editors

From the Editors WE&T Prelude

Ongoing Recovery

It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Katrina swept through the U.S. Gulf Coast and devastated many of its homes, businesses, and utilities. While the flood waters have long since receded, the total impact of the hurricane — particularly in New Orleans, where it hit hardest — has yet to be understood fully. That’s because the long-term consequences for the city’s critical infrastructure are becoming evident only with time. High pump and motor failure rates, rusted fire hydrants, and low water pressure are some of the challenges facing an area that has already fought so hard to repair and rebuild.

In addition to the unassessed damage, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans is left with many lingering questions. How much equipment will it need to replace in the next 2 years? What restoration projects will FEMA fund? And how can it prepare for future storms? While there aren’t any definite answers at the moment, the utility has learned volumes from its experience. Click here to read about the gains SWBNO has made and the issues it still faces.

Melissa Jackson, editor


Operations Forum Editor's Note

Crowding Crowded Crowds

 On Oct. 17, the United States hit the 300 million population mark. Due to immigration and longer life expectancies, we’re a fast-growing nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we’ve added 100 million people during the past 39 years.

That means that this holiday season, shopping malls will be more crowded than ever; shopping mall parking lots will gridlock even faster; and the lines to sit on Santa’s lap will be longer. In the end, all of that bustling commerce might annoy us, but it probably won’t hurt us.

But those shoppers also flush toilets, take showers, and wash clothes. The average person gives far more thought to deciding whether to give Aunt Bessie a nut log or a fruitcake than about what goes down the drain.

As detection techniques improve, analysts are able to find smaller and smaller traces of the things that we think disappear when we’re done with them. We contribute many tiny amounts of pollutants to our waters each day: we flush leftover prescriptions down the toilet, we excrete tiny amounts of the pills that we actually take, our washing machines dump the leftover detergent and fabric softeners down the drain, and so on.

The effects of these trace chemicals are largely unknown at this point. Excess hormones in the water from medications have been blamed for fish changing sex, but on a human scale no effects have been recorded. But with more people on more prescription drugs, these trace concentrations will grow.

Conventional wastewater treatment removes some of these chemicals very well, but others pass through the system unhindered. One strategy to remove more of these chemicals is to increase solids retention time at the wastewater treatment plant. The article on p. 77 details the effectiveness of a full-scale study at several treatment plants on removing pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

The Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) has created a cross-cutting group to address these issues. The Compounds of Emerging Concern Community of Practice is intended to bring together any and all interested parties to work together to find solutions to this growing concern. More information on the group can be obtained by contacting Rob Schweinfurth at

Steve Spicer, editor