ASCE came out with more bad news about infrastructure.  60 Minutes did a piece about deterioration of bridges. The magazine American City and County has published a couple articles about the risks of aging infrastructure.  Asset management is practiced by few governments, and even fewer small ones.  The public doesn’t want to foot the bill and lobbyists want taxes cut further.  Where does it end?

The infrastructure crisis is a political and business leadership crisis.  Or vacuum.  The economy of America and much of the developed world was built on advanced (for their time) infrastructure systems constructed by governments with a vision to the future.  Some of this infrastructure was repurposed (federal interstate system for example), but much of it has addressed critical issues that hampered our development.  For example, the lack of water severely inhibits many third world nations.  Even when they have water, it is unsafe to drink or use.  In America, at the turn of the 20th century 1:100,000 people DIED each summer from typhoid.  Just typhoid, not all the other waterborne disease options.  Many more were sick.  And the population was much smaller.  Talk about reduced productivity.  Now we have advanced water systems, disinfection practices that protect people and pipes, and few event get sick from contaminated water.  Those that do, become headlines.  You don’t want to be a headline.  Productivity is up.  But we expect good water and can’t see the pipes.

Sewer is an even better example.  People just don’t want to know.  Flush and it’s gone.  But the equipment, treatment and materials may be even more complex than the water system.  But few people get sick from sewage because of the systems we have built.  Now think about third world examples.  Or conditions you have seen in documentaries, the news or movies.  Being in sewage is not a great place to be.  Even the manhole thriving cockroaches agree..

Stormwater is probably the laggard here, in part because changes in development patterns have overwhelmed the old systems.  Miami Beach experienced this when redevelopment replaced small houses on permeable lots with large housed with mostly impermeable property.  Oops.  Meanwhile road and bridges have received a lot of funding – with much to do (see bridge that collapsed on I-75 in Cincinnati a few weeks back).  Most states fund transportation at a magnitude more than water and sewer.

What is the problem?  Local officials do not convey an understanding of these complex system to the public very well.  In part this may be because understanding the maintenance needs is difficult and highly variable.  And many do not fully comprehend the assets they have, their condition, life expectancy or technological needs.  No one knows when things will fails, so maintenance or replacement of some equipment or pipeline is always the thing cut in the budget, with no real understanding of the consequences.

The public does not see the asset, assumes it will have a long life, so is unconcerned until they are affected.  Then it is personal.  The public does not understood the impact or value that these assets have to society – they tend to be personal focused, not societal.  That is a leadership issue.  That leadership starts with vision and communication from those that understand the issue to the elected officials that need to advocate for their infrastructure.  Elected officials need to take ownership of infrastructure.  It is like your house – you need to upgrade and protect it constantly.  You do not let that roof leak keep leaking!  Elected officials that do not invest in infrastructure, are letting the roof leak.  Making is someone else’s problem for political expediency is not leadership.

Despite the infrastructure crisis, the good news is that construction of piping is increasing – both new and replacement.  Every so many months, the magazine Utility Contractor will note current trends and pipe seems to be going up.  That’s good but there is a long way to go.  Better news – the construction of buildings is increasing.  That could lead to more revenues.  In Florida, all of a sudden finding experienced construction workers is a problem.  Things are definitely better economically, but are we taking advantage to improve the local infrastructure, or is you economy simply an infrastructure disruption away from another fault?


If you are a wastewater utility, and you create a high quality effluent product that can be used for industrial purposes, irrigation or aquifer recharge, who “owns” the water?  If the utility is sending to a golf course pond for discharge, the answer seems obvious – the golf course owns it.  Not so fast.

Now let’s day you are recharging and aquifer.  You pump it into the ground with the intention of recharging the aquifer to benefit your wellfield.   Or you pump it into an aquifer storage and recovery system with the intent of recovering it when you need it.  Quick impression is that you should own it, but what about the people that sink walls along the way?  Or have existing wells in the vicinity that can tap your injected water?  Can you keep people from pumping it out?  Not as clear.

What about discharge to a stream with the idea of capturing it downstream in an intake system for your water system?  Much less clear.  The ecosystem, farmers, irrigation users, etc. along the stream could use the increased flows.  Can you keep them out?  Very unclear.

Now assume you are a water rights state and there are people who have rights to the aquifer or stream that are more senior to yours.  Can you clip their claim to the water by claiming the water is yours?  Really not clear and the subject of ongoing regulatory discussion and legal proceedings.

There are no clear answers to these questions but they have major long-term impacts of water resource planning in much of the US.  The problem is the rules assume facts not in evidence at the time of the permit (or claim).  Conditions can change – permits and rules may not (or have not).  Maybe the water regulations and that the changed condition should perhaps obviate the prior claim?  A very tough legal issue and one bound to make a bunch of people unhappy.  The concept of reclaiming water from waste was not a consideration in the past, so clearly the rules that cover reclaimed water need to be revised.  I can’t wait to see the results.


The Union of Concerned Scientists reviewed recent wildfires in the west. One of the concerns they raised was that increased forest fires are both a climate change and a man-induced issue.  Wildfires on federal land has increased 75% on federally owned land.  Fire impacted areas are larger and impact more development which encroaches on those federal holdings.  We spend over $1 billion in fire fighting on federal lands each year.  But why?

Because many of the forest are in mountainous areas, fire season starts earlier in year with less mountain snowfall.  And that is  most years as snowfall accumulation decrease.  Temperatures are warmer, earlier with shortens the snow season.   Water runs off faster.  Of course the fact that we altered management philosophies to prevent all forest fires didn’t help because some burning is natural each year. As a result there is a huge reserve of unburned land out west.  The beetles did not help either as they left millions of acres of dead trees on mountain sides from Canada to New Mexico. Beetle infestation is clearly climate change driven.

The solutions are more difficult.  Building up next to federal land needs to be restricted.  Regulations in dealing with trees, bushes and underbrush in fire prone areas need to be enacted and enforced. Early spring fires set as control burns need to happen more frequently. But these are all local responses to a global climate problem.  That response is currently lacking.  These are leadership issues.

From a utility perspective, this issue may be significant.  We like those high, clean mountain streams.  But after a forest fire, those streams are often warmer and less clean.  The soot, ash and runoff from now barren land can create significant impacts on water plant, create major treatment alterations, increase costs, and risk contamination.  A friend some years ago suggested that utilities were instruments of social change.  The fact that we have treated water and sewer creates social change.  We need to protect water supplies and therefore we should be a part of the conversation on land use.  That requires some leadership.

 


Every winter, the Collings Foundation flies into southeast Florida with a restored B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-24 Liberator. These vintage airplanes are a major part of why the Allies won World War 2 and it is fantastic that people have an opportunity to see a flying 70 year old airplane.  I took a ride on this B17 several years back.  My Dad was on one for 25 missions in 1943.  I couldn’t get him on with me.  He figured that was enough even when I offered to pay the $350 for the 45 minute ride (well worth it!!).  Even reminding him that there would be no flak and no bullets streaming through the plane was not enough. But when I got on, there were 11 more guys my Dad’s age taking yet another ride in the B17.  Interesting if you flew in a B17, that’s what you wanted to ride – and I am sure vice versa with the B24.  The stories were great.  My Dad’s tour of the plane (on the ground) was enlightening.  Too bad these guys are leaving us.  I encouraged my students to take a look when the planes were next to campus.  I took a few hours before class to wander about.  Another year I will jump back on the B17.  If you get the opportunity, I encourage you all to do the same.

In the meantime, the question that we need to think about as we remember these men and women is where are these folks today?  Millions of men and women worked hard, fought and many died trying to benefit society, not themselves.  They were looking out for the world, their friends and families.  They were looking out for a way of life for the future.  Leadership requires a prospective view, a vision for tomorrow and a willingness to sacrifice and do what is needed to achieve that vision with the intent of providing betterment for all.  So as we look forward in 2015, this seems to be an obvious issue to explore.  I look forward to your views.

IMG_6285

B17 Flying Fortress

IMG_6305

B24 LIberator

IMG_6308

Mustang Fighter – this plane flies as well.  very cool to see.


It’s February already!  Where has the year gone?  My apologies for a January without posts.  Things have been busy here and well, blogging got put on the back burner for me with the new semester starting and a new class to design.  But interesting kernels from January:

The World is Trying to Kill You – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

If you have a 20% failure rate, does that make a speculative technology a waste of time?  Conversely if your success is 20% is it successful?   I think no and no.

Have you noticed that February is the month we have been getting the worst winter weather in the Midwest and northeast? Not December or January?  I used to shovel snow all January and wait for the February respite.

Killer whales are now a protected species.  What does that say about the killer whales as SeaWorld?

There is a honeybee crisis.  No really, a real one.  Not the Jerry Seinfeld movie.  But the lesson is the same.  No bees, no food.  We need to figure out how we are killing them.  No doubt when we find out it will come back on pesticides, herbicides, monocultures, some combination of the above.  Not a good thing for farming.

The bison are under attack again in Montana.  Maybe Mother Nature is trying to tell us something – buffalo want to roam to their winter grazing fields.   And no brucelliosis, the issue rancher bring up as to why the bison are bad, has still NEVER been transmitted from bison to cattle.  Bison are way better on the land since there hooves are much large and they do not compact the ground as much.  But they are not as stupid as cattle.  They know they can walk thought a barbed wire fence.  They are bison afterall!

A Utah rancher shot and killed Echo, the female wolf that made it to the Grand Canyon last summer and became a national story.  He thought she was a coyote.  Um, I think wolves are a little bit bigger than coyotes.  We have a man with a gun who can’t tell what he’s shooting.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Then there is the bear hunt in Florida because people move closer to the woods and cannot figure out how to secure their garbage of close their garage doors.  Bears get killed.  People…..

IMG_6442

Miami Beach installed $40 million dollars in pumps last summer, with an expected $300 million for.  The nearshore nutrient concentrations increased dramatically (a factor of six), which could adversely impact beach quality, fishing and reefs.  Unintended consequences, but an issue was brought up as a potential concern.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 424 other followers