December 2011, Vol. 23, No.12

WEFTEC Wrap-Up

WEFTEC 2011 provides water quality education, inspiration

Every year, WEFTEC® brings together operators, utility managers, consultants, academics, manufacturers, and everyone else associated with water quality from all over the world. A total of 16,961 attendees participated in this year’s conference, which was held Oct. 15–19 in Los Angeles and featured 114 technical sessions and 27 workshops, 923 companies showcasing technical solutions in 284,150 ft2 of exhibit space, and the 24th annual Operations Challenge competition.

The Oct. 17 Opening General Session cemented this sense of community and set the tone for the rest of the conference by emphasizing the importance of water quality in all aspects of life. Infectious diseases specialist Rita Colwell and Wine To Water founder Dickson Beattie “Doc” Hendley, the keynote speakers, discussed their efforts to ensure clean water and public health in different parts of the world.

Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Executive Director Jeff Eger announced the pilot launch of the Water’s Worth It™ outreach campaign, which is aimed at elevating the public’s valuation of water and sanitation.

The concept of unity to move forward also was executed at WEFTEC through new activities and products intended to make technical information more accessible. For example, for the first time, some technical sessions were held on the exhibition floor.

“This was done to integrate the program and exhibits,” said Susan Merther, WEF director of technical programs. “In general it went very well. People were very curious about what was going on.” 

Elected officials also had a chance to learn more about wastewater technology and processes through exhibit hall tours. The tours, which were spread out among the three exhibit halls, started with a brief overview of wastewater treatment, followed by a walk to as many as five different exhibitor’s booths, where tour attendees learned more about each company’s products.

“The people that went with me were very enthusiastic about the idea and stayed until almost 5 o’clock,” said Merther, who put together the idea for this year’s conference and led one tour. “They were excited to understand more about the treatment processes and had many questions for the exhibitors.” In addition, the exhibitors “loved it,” she said.

Merther said plans are under way to offer the tours again at next year’s WEFTEC for public officials as well as for a more “traditional” conference tour that will focus more on certain aspects of treatment (such as biosolids).

While walking the exhibit halls, attendees had the chance to “Follow the Water Cycle Through WEFTEC” to win a new 2012 Ford Fusion hybrid. By answering technical questions and navigating the exhibit halls, players could advance through the various steps in the game and eventually discover where to drop off their entry forms.

For those who could not attend WEFTEC, select video and audio recordings of presentations are available online via WEFTEC On Demand at www.weftec.org/OnDemand.

— Cathy Chang, WE&T 


 

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Standing ovation for Opening General Session

The Oct. 17 Opening General Session brought attendees to their feet. Together, keynote speakers Rita Colwell and Doc Hendley offered a balance of technical information and inspirational anecdotes.

Colwell, the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize recipient and distinguished professor at both the University of Maryland (College Park) and Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), described her groundbreaking research on the identification of the copepods as vectors for cholera and the development of a local filtration technique using saris.

Hendley described his emotional journey of learning about the water crisis and building his nonprofit organization Wine To Water (Boone, N.C.).

For more detailed coverage of the Opening General Session, see the December issue of WEF Highlights at www.wef.org/highlights.

— Jennifer Fulcher, WE&T 


 

Scientist calls for looking into the past for solutions in our future 

Perry McCarty, a professor at Stanford University and widely recognized expert in biological processes used to control environmental contaminants, spoke at the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP; Champaign, Ill.) Invited Lecture at WEFTEC 2011 about the need to fully utilize anaerobic digestion as a way to do better in wastewater treatment.

In the Oct. 17 lecture, “Back to the Future: Seeking Sustainability in Water Resources,” McCarty reminded audience members how historically mankind has always viewed wastewater as a resource.

“People around the world practice this,” McCarty said, referring to how until recently it was common practice in South Korea for workers to collect waste from latrines and bring it to farms. Cow manure was being used in digesters in India, he added, and in China, there are 30 million backyard anaerobic digesters.

“These are not new concepts,” McCarty said. “So why did it take so long in this country to embrace anaerobic treatment? I don’t know.”

“Seven percent of the natural gas resources in the world is used to take nitrogen out of atmosphere and turn it into fertilizer,” McCarty said. “In wastewater, eight-tenths of a kilowatt-hour is used to produce that nitrogen, take it out of the air, and it comes through treatment.”

 

Saving groundwater resources

One way that wastewater is not being used to its full potential, McCarty said, is for what he believed was its best use: irrigation of crops.

With groundwater resources increasingly scarce, McCarty pointed out the need to use it wisely. “The United States uses more water than any other country — 4 tons every day per person — to grow food,” he said. This is mostly because Americans eat more meat, he said, with Germany and South Korea as the runners-up in water used in this way.

One of the hindrances to using wastewater effectively is location, McCarty said. Reclaimed water facilities should be placed closer to where they are needed. He pointed to the example of a wastewater treatment facility that was built on farmland in Monterey, Calif., where 73,000 m3/d of reclaimed water is put to use.

That’s the way we need to think about the future,” McCarty said. “Place treatment wherever the need is.”

 

Energy source

While incorporating anaerobic digestion as a way to reduce wastewater treatment energy requirements is nothing new in the industry, McCarty stressed that “we have a long way to go.”

Do we have to put so much energy into our treatment plants? I think we’re getting there,” he said. Anaerobic treatment has many other benefits, he said, such as greater waste stabilization and low solids production. And it also holds promise in its production of methane, which is “a good fuel, but it’s a terrible greenhouse gas,” McCarty said.

McCarty cited data showing that more than half of U.S. wastewater treatment plants use anaerobic treatment, but the percentage of plants that use it increases with plant size. “Hardly any small plants use biogas,” he said.

“We could by a factor of 10 increase bioenergy use from anaerobic treatment systems,” McCarty said. “Can we treat municipal wastewater 100% anaerobically to achieve net energy production?”

 

Solids reduction

Not only does anaerobic digestion lead to less energy consumption, McCarty said, it also leads to other benefits such as reduced sludge processing, digesting, and concentration.

“Anerobically, the biosolids produced is much, much, much less,” he said. “This is where the big cost savings is.”

McCarty gave a few examples of newer technologies, such as an anaerobic fluidized-bed reactor that eliminates biosolids altogether. This is the next step in sustainability that McCarty is advocating.

Currently McCarty said he is looking at anaerobic, fluidized-bed membrane bioreactors in his lab that use granulated activated carbon. He and his research team have found that the slow rubbing of the activated carbon on the membrane surface has prevented fouling.

“This is the kind of unit we are putting forward,” he said.

— Cathy Chang, WE&T 


Facing new challenges

EPA officials discuss evolving priorities for the water and wastewater profession

At WEFTEC 2011, which overlapped with the 39th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, several U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) officials discussed the pressing issues the water profession faces today.

 “Water quality managers across the country have done an extraordinary job in reducing pollution and introducing pollution controls in the last 30 years,” said Ephraim King, director of the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology, “… but the challenges we face moving forward are equally if not more challenging than the ones we met in the last four decades.”

“We’ve had a really good run, but I think we’re starting to plateau and lose ground,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Water. “Now more than ever, those of us who work in this field together need to find a common ground. We can work together.”

 

Daunting figures

During the Oct. 17 session “National Environmental Priorities,” Stoner shared a familiar industry statistic: By 2028, $300 billion will be needed for wastewater infrastructure improvements in the United States and $335 million for drinking water infrastructure improvements. This funding would be long overdue, since existing water and wastewater infrastructure is not in the best state.

“[The American Society of Civil Engineers] gave water and wastewater infrastructure a D-minus score in a recent report,” Stoner said.

Climate change also is expected to have a long-term impact on the profession.

“Our current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is 390 ppm, which is about a 40% increase over preindustrial concentrations,” said Chris Kloss, director of EPA’s Green Infrastructure Program, during the same session. “It is estimated that we’d have to reduce our emissions by 80% nationally and 50% globally over the next 40 years to just prevent the atmospheric concentrations from going up to 450 ppm, which if we were to do that, would raise the global temperatures 4.5 to 5 degrees [Fahrenheit] globally, which would have a very significant impact.”

Kloss said New York City expects precipitation to increase by 10% in the next 40 years because of climate change, and in the Southwest there will be a decrease in precipitation. But the Southwest also is projected to experience a third of the national population growth in the next 20 years. “So if you decrease the water supply, you’re going to have an increasing demand to the tune of 3 billion gal/d [11.4 billion L/d],” he said.

The predictions are much different for regions such as the Rust Belt that have experienced population decreases in the past several decades. “Detroit is an example of this,” Kloss said. “They have the service providers but they don’t have the populations anymore to fund these services.”

When it comes to the existing water supply, an examination of the state of U.S. waters shows that more than 80,000 waters nationally are impaired, King said, during the Oct. 18 sessionClean Water Policy Update.” “Pathogens are the top stressor,” he said. “Nutrients are second.”

“The science is increasingly strong and increasingly compelling, proving the causal link between the introduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution into water and the resulting aquatic impacts and public health impacts,” King said.

 

Changing priorities

Faced with all these challenges, EPA has a varied list of priorities.

Kloss said EPA is grappling with how to create a green infrastructure program that addresses the whole suite of problems the water and wastewater industry will face in the future, including increased precipitation, water scarcity, and decreases and increases in populations. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance also is doing its part to promote green infrastructure.

Loren Denton, chief of EPA’s Municipal Enforcement branch, said one of his office’s priorities is “keeping [wastewater] and contaminated stormwater out of our nation’s waterbodies,” and to do this, his office is starting to incorporate green infrastructure in settlements with treatment plants that violate their permits.

EPA also is responding to calls from various groups to better prioritize regulatory requirements. “There has been a fair amount of conversation over the last year or so with the United States Conference of Mayors, [the National Association of Clean Water Agencies], and other organizations, with the slow economy and the demands of the regulatory process, if there are opportunities to be more strategic about responding to regulations,” said James Hanlon, director of the EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. He said EPA will outline a plan that will require it to evaluate what upgrades or changes at a plant should be done first and how to approach multiple projects more strategically.

“How can a utility sequence its investments so that the more environmentally important projects come first?” Hanlon said. “These aren’t plans to lower the bar. The CWA [Clean Water Act] environmental objectives are still there. We don’t want to stop progress as we retrench and replan.”

In the Office of Science and Technology, officials understand the gap between science and existing technology, specifically in the area of nutrient loading, and are trying to find the best compromise between the two. The “science-driven numbers” for nutrients set total maximum daily loads between 0.4 and 0.7 mg/L for nitrogen and for phosphorus between 0.01 and 0.09 mg/L, King said. But biological nutrient removal on average reduces levels of nitrogen to only 8 mg/L and 1 mg/L of phosphorus, he said. “If you go to enhanced nitrogen removal, it’s 3 [mg/L for nitrogen] and a little below 1 [mg/L for phosphorus], and if you go to the limits of technology, it’s still 3 [for nitrogen] and then 0.1 [for phosphorus],” he said. 

EPA acknowledges that “we have a real challenge here,” King said. “… We continue to believe at the EPA that science is absolutely fundamental. Without it, you have no baseline or reference point of what you need to get to. Having said that, science can only take you so far. … We need to ask what policy changes could correct and create the necessary space and availability [for treatment facilities] to do the very best they can.”

— LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 


Driving away a winner

This year, in addition to hundreds of exhibitors, networking opportunities, and the latest in water quality information, WEFTEC 2011 offered a brand new car. Anna Yeutter, a formerly car-less student from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, was the lucky recipient of a 2012 Ford Fusion hybrid.

“I like the car,” Yeutter said. “It’s a hybrid and looks cool, and I get to pick out a color for it.” She said she’s planning to choose blue.

To earn her way into the drawing, Yeutter had to follow a trail of clues and technical questions through all three exhibit halls to learn where to drop off her entry form. If players answered a single question wrong, they veered off the trail. She described the difficulty of the questions as “about medium.”

Yeutter and seven fellow classmates traveled down the coast from San Luis Obispo to take in the exhibition and technical sessions at WEFTEC. They spent 2 days exploring the exhibit halls and followed up on game clues as they came near the exhibit hall aisles that were indicated.

“We were already going through all of the booths anyway, so it was extra incentive to walk around,” she said.

Players could choose from three different “tributaries”: collection systems, treatment, and solids.

“We followed the treatment track because we’re all environmental engineers,” Yeutter said. “That was the closest related to what we knew.”

In addition to the car, one 32-GB Apple® iPad 2 with Wi-Fi and 3G was given away each day. The daily prize winners were Amanda Siebels, Tim Madhanagopal, and Heather Faragher. 

— Steve Spicer, WE&T 


 

Driving innovation 

Water leaders ponder challenges, opportunities for the next decade

On Oct. 18, the Water Environment Federation hosted a conversation of water leaders who discussed what the next decade holds for the water profession. The session was facilitated by G. Tracy Mehan, principal of the Cadmus Group and former assistant administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The session began with a discussion about moving the water profession into the future.

“I think too often where we have been is we’re finding solutions for tomorrow,” said Jeff Eger, executive director of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.). “We need to find the solutions that are the right solutions for 50 years from now, 100 years for now.”

Two needs will drive the water industry forward, according to Laurent Auguste, president and CEO of Veolia Water North Americas, the need for better performance — “getting more drop for your buck,” he said — and the need to increase awareness of water issues.

Increasing awareness will require creativity and partnerships between private and public entities, he said. Shanghai successfully has attracted private money and the best know-how to boost its water services and develop into the major city it is today, he said. New York is beginning a performance-based consulting arrangement in which the consultants would be rewarded based on the success of the programs and changes they recommend and implement. This program could save the city as much as $152 million a year, he said.

“When we talk about sustainable development and sustainable growth, everybody thinks about ‘green growth,’ I think we need to think more about ‘blue growth,’” Auguste said.

“We’re on the cusp of transforming our water industry,” Eger said. Wastewater treatment plants are becoming energy-neutral and beginning to recover nutrients for reuse. “If we can continue in that direction … we will be viewed totally differently — as an energy producer or a producer of products.”

 

The full cost of water

Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of Black & Veatch Water, said his eyes were opened during Singapore Water Week this year about how developing countries view water: The product is neither water itself nor convenience; it is reliability. “Sell reliability, and you’ll get your value of water promoted to where it needs to be,” he said.

When regulations began requiring full-cost pricing of water in some European countries, rates increased, Auguste said. “Then people started to pay to attention and then came to us for more performance and more efficiency. … [It] really pushed us to be better,” he said.

But David Gray, managing director of global industrial services for Credit Suisse, described these changes as “more evolutionary than revolutionary.” He explained that any rate increases, however needed, must be phased in over time to prevent customers from balking at both the increases and any messages about why the increases are needed.

 “I think it’s very difficult for local politicians to sit there and say, ‘I’m going to raise rates on my voters,’” Gray said. “That’s normally been a recipe for disaster.”  However, from the investment side, a political willingness that shows people willing to pay for quality and reliability opens up financial opportunities for new infrastructure, he said.

 

Better communication

Sharing the true value of water is essential for the future, the leaders said.

“The silent service of the water industry is way out of sync with what the industry needs right now,” said McCarthy.

Gretchen McClain, president of ITT Fluid and Motion Control, explained that an ITT study of 1000 voters on the full value of water showed the power of education. After being educated on the issues, a majority of the 1000 responded that they would be willing to pay more to ensure delivery of safe water, she said.

“We all turn off the lights when we walk out of a room because we know we’re going to get charged for it,” she said. “Do we do the same type of action and behavior when we think about water? I would argue we don’t because it’s one of our very lowest bills that we all pay. … The more you understand what it costs to bring water services to you and then take that wastewater away, the better off we all are in the terms of addressing the issues.”

It would be nice for people to understand the complexity and accomplishments of the water sector. But, to a point, the public should not care about how the ends are reached, Auguste said. Instead, he explained, the industry needs to communicate how reliable water supply and sanitation benefit the local economy.

“One of the things we have not done well is that we have not linked [water supply and quality] to the economy and to jobs,” Eger said.

McCarthy shared how one utility calculated that the effect of one particular water project would directly and indirectly create 180,000 jobs. Regardless of whether it is a huge combined sewer overflow project or regular sewer rehabilitation, using this type of messaging shows how investing in water infrastructure creates jobs, he said.

Despite all of the discussions about messaging and business practices, the panelists agreed that protecting the environment and public health comes first. Creating a value-added business out of wastewater operations is an extra step and “absolutely the right thing to do,” McCarthy said. That extra step enables utilities and businesses to tackle the question “how do you do a better job for the customers?”

— Steve Spicer, WE&T 


 

Breaking down the barriers to reuse 

What is the biggest challenge in implementing water reclamation and reuse projects? “It is always public acceptance and permitting,” said Michael K. Stenstrom, keynote speaker at the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP; Champlain, Ill.) Scientists Luncheon.  “Technology has never been the limiting step.”

In his Oct. 17 presentation, Stenstrom, a distinguished professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of California—Los Angeles, used several examples to illustrate why water reuse and reclamation projects have failed or succeeded.

California offers few opportunities for new water development, Stenstrom said. Any new water sources need to come from conservation, reclamation, and reuse. But water rights laws and institutional barriers can hinder new projects. For instance, “farmers are close to the source and traditionally have received water at a low price, reducing the incentive to conserve,” he said.

Although the number of reuse sites in California has grown considerably — and projects such as the Donald C. Tillman Reclamation Plant in Los Angeles provide successful models to follow — direct potable reuse is not being considered yet. But the technology is there, Stenstrom said.

“We have a well-developed and mostly paid-for infrastructure for delivering potable water, and the water it produces is not as good as what we make from reclaimed drinking water plants,” he said.

Ultimately, it may be that demand must increase before there is support for growing the supply of reused water.

“Our droughts have not lasted long enough,” Stenstrom concluded. “There have been a lot of good projects that were ended because the rains came.”

— Melissa H. Jackson, WE&T 


An ‘interesting time’ to be a leader

At this year’s Utility Executives Forum, speakers discuss innovation and the risks that come with it

Building on the theme, “Leadership in Interesting Times: Opportunities To Innovate,” speakers and audience participants at the Oct. 18 Utility Executives Forum discussed change, risk-taking, and emerging challenges.

Forum attendees acknowledged that water professionals are facing onslaughts on multiple fronts with reduced federal funding, a shaky economy, growing concerns about water scarcity, and new regulatory requirements. But these storm clouds should not be seen as a bad thing, at least according to one speaker.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but dancing in the rain,” said Richard Fox, chairman and chief executive officer of Camp Dresser & McKee (Cambridge, Mass.). “We as an industry are going to have to learn to dance in the rain because we don’t know when the storm will pass.”

Risk is “the gorilla in the room” for the water and wastewater industry, Fox said. “For a decade now, a lot of us have understood that if an innovation fails, that means job insecurity,” he said.

But innovation is necessary and so is productivity, Fox said. “We have to change our basic processes in construction,” he said. “We need to change how we look at the way projects are delivered.”

Fellow speaker Bill Gaffi, general manager of Clean Water Services (Hillsboro, Ore.) gave several examples of how his utility is trying to innovate. Gaffi said most recently, Clean Water Services repositioned itself as a global resource and created the Clean Water Institute.

According to the Institute’s website, the nonprofit organization offers services to public utilities, environmental nonprofits, and communities interested in healthy watersheds. The utility uses the Institute to help license intellectual property, specifically a proprietary nutrient technology that was developed with Ostara (Vancouver, British Columbia).

“The economic returns go back to our customers,” Gaffi said.

Although DC Water (Washington, D.C.) also is pursuing new technological projects, including $1.4 billion in thermal hydrolysis technology and anaerobic digesters at its Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, some of its biggest innovations are in the area of marketing and public relations, said George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water. In an industry that routinely shies away from news cameras, DC Water has invested heavily in its public face, hiring 11 full-time employees in its communications department.

“We’re out in front of the customers all the time,” Hawkins said. He personally promotes his agency by wearing — instead of a suit and tie — a DC Water uniform, which he wore at the forum.

Hawkins noted that within the past few years, DC Water has rebranded itself by changing its name from the District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority and changing its logo.

“We’re advertising tap water,” Hawkins said. “We’re fighting for every single customer we lost to the bottling companies.”

Making sure DC Water has a positive and prominent public face is important, Hawkins said. “The need we have for financing means we’re doomed if we can’t get the customers on our side,” he said.

David Henderson, managing director of XPV Capital Corp. (Toronto), noted that water and wastewater utilities are now where telecommunications companies were more than a decade ago when their long-term survival was staked on their ability to innovate.

“I think the water industry is hitting a huge period of transition,” Henderson said, “but industries don’t change from the inside out, but from the outside in.”

Forward-looking utilities should keep an eye on emerging technologies, such as real-time water monitoring; have a greater focus on renewing existing infrastructure and extending the lives of their treatment plants; and embrace more packaged systems that expand plant capacity but don’t expand footprints.

“You will no longer need big settling ponds and clarifiers,” Henderson said.

Converting wastewater to energy also will become more important over time, Henderson said. “Singapore just announced a zero energy goal,” he said.

LaShell Stratton-Childers, WE&T 

©2011 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.