January 2012, Vol. 24, No.1

Perspectives

What do you believe will be the most pressing water quality issue of 2012?

The number of water quality topics grows each year; 2012 is no different. Water flows into every corner of life, sometimes presenting opportunities, sometimes challenges.

With so many options, where to focus first becomes a challenge in itself. To help cut through the noise, WE&T decided to ask water quality professionals for their opinions on what’s the top concern for this year. (Download the PDF)

Neglected infrastructure 

Operating and capital budgets have been static or shrinking the last few years — casualties of the economic downturn that has no clear endpoint. Deferred maintenance allows us to limp along for 2 to 3 years, but neglected infrastructure will fail sooner or later. Failure may come at great cost — be it fiscal, environmental, regulatory, or political. Our challenge as public managers is to educate our elected officials and city leaders about the dangers of inadequate maintenance funding and demand resources to maintain and sustain vital public assets. 

Charles McDowell
Public works director
City of Goodyear, Ariz.

Resource recovery  

Converting waste into beneficial resources is the paradigm of the future, and technologies moving in that direction are emerging rapidly. Recovery of water to address scarcity of potable sources is paramount. Recovery of energy embedded in organic material through anaerobic and fuel-cell technologies reduces dependency on imported energy and greenhouse gases (GHGs). Recovery of nutrients for fertilizers through intentional precipitation and source separation technologies benefits agriculture and reduces GHGs. Finally, products extracted from wastestreams, including biofuels and bioplastics, close the gap between wastes and resources. Wastewater treatment plants are factories of benefits that societies are only coming to recognize. 

Art K. Umble
Americas wastewater practice leader
MWH Americas Inc. (Denver)

Municipal wet weather and nutrients 

Each of these issues alone is enough to send many municipalities scrambling and feverishly looking at their long-term budgets. We will begin to see these two topics [increasingly] come together, placing tremendous burdens on many municipalities for the next 20-plus years. From the issuing of the Phase 2 Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load watershed implementation plans to the expected finalization of the stormwater/sanitary sewer overflow/peak wet weather regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), [as well as] the draft Construction Stormwater Permit, and, perhaps most importantly, EPA’s proposed Integrated Planning NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] Permitting Flexibility for Municipalities policy, all will set municipalities on a course of minimizing nutrients entering stormwater.

 Libby Ford
Senior environmental health engineer
Nixon Peabody (Rochester, N.Y.)

Water’s economic value

In these challenging economic times, maintaining a high level of reliability in our water services and infrastructure depends on the water sector’s ability to move water up [on] the general [public’s] and decision-makers’ agenda, and on reestablishing water as the essential fuel of local economies, social development, and the environment.

Laurent Auguste
President and CEO
Veolia Water Americas (Chicago)

Regulatory engagement 

Yesterday’s Clean Water Act (CWA) framed municipal publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) as polluters but gave them money to help correct the problem. Today’s CWA still frames POTWs as polluters, adds the burden of stormwater treatment, but provides no money. Utilities and cities need strong regulatory affairs programs to educate regulators, ratepayers, and the general public that POTWs are providing maximum environmental benefit with the available resources and that costs really do matter.

Mike Apgar
Regulatory affairs director
Sanitation District No. 1 (Covington, Ky.)

and 

Adrienne Nemura
Vice president
LimnoTech (Ann Arbor, Mich.) 

Loss of talented staff 

Utilities across the country have experienced the loss of senior personnel who have or will be retiring in record numbers, the so-called baby boomers. Now, with the private sector recovering before local governments, we also are experiencing the loss of highly skilled technical personnel to better paying jobs. These personnel maintain our SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] and electronic instrument monitoring systems; they program our PLCs [programmable logic controllers]; and they keep our servers running. They perform a variety of sensitive and much needed technical services without which we cannot operate. 

Kendall M. Jacob
Operations manager
Cobb County (Ga.) Water System

The will to innovate 

We’re on the cusp of transforming our water industry. Wastewater treatment plants are becoming energy-neutral and beginning to recover nutrients for reuse. If we can continue in that direction, this industry will be viewed as a producer of energy, resources, and the water needed to make the economy grow. The technologies to accomplish these goals exist today.

Now is the time for bold leadership. The talent is here. The technology is here. We need to work together to make innovation and progress synonymous with our industry. 

Jeff Eger
Executive director
Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.)

Asking, ‘Is this really necessary?’ 

Global economic conditions will continue to put pressure on operating budgets in local communities. This will drive the public, as never before, to demand clear and tangible benefits for any monies spent beyond what is required to maintain existing facilities. While cleaner may be “better,” how much better will be weighed by the cost. It will be our duty to communicate the value of doing more and to demonstrate that water’s worth it.

Joseph A. Husband
Senior vice president, wastewater treatment technology leader
Malcolm Pirnie, the Water Division of ARCADIS (White Plains, N.Y.)

Sustainability 

A key driver in the coming years will be how to make a treatment plant more sustainable. This will not only be good for the environment (reduced greenhouse gases, reduced fossil fuel usage, etc.) but good for the sewer users, since reducing the dependency on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources will help to reduce operating costs, subject the facility to less price volatility, and keep sewer rates stable. 

Jim Newton
Environmental program manager
Kent County (Del.) Department of Public Works

Grit 

An ineffective grit removal system can exacerbate operations for downstream unit processes in a wastewater treatment plant. Operators need a standard and credible method for testing the efficiency of grit removal equipment. 

Brian McNamara
Plant manager
Army Base Wastewater Treatment Plant (Norfolk, Va.)

©2012 Water Environment Federation. All rights reserved.