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Monthly Archives: March 2013


WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER?

This a question that has puzzled researchers for some time.  Back in the 19th century we looked to enlightenment among people – mostly oriented to new ideas and processes that would move civilization forward.  That helped but did not provide full answers.  Of course we were still in the throes of the start of the industrial revolution.  We looked at psychology to show us how to find leaders at the turn of the 20th century, but that faded in favor of trying to determine traits that made good leaders in the 1920s.  The idea of traits faded as we started looking the style by which people managed (think all those tests out there), but soon found that management style, leadership perception and results were often not correlated.  In the 1990s we started looking at adaptation, but as Jim Collins points out the great companies seem to have leaders that are the opposite of the charismatic leadership many seek or seek to become.  It’s the plodders, who can adapt to changing facts or situations on the front lines, that seem to get results.  And we only tend to notice after the fact, or well into their leadership reign, not at the beginning.  In fact many of the best success stories received much criticism early on.

What this all seems to indicate is that leadership evolves, just as civilization evolves.  Those that can evolve and adapt to changing conditions appear to lead the most successful organizations, but are not often recognized as the best leaders.  No one set of characteristics in a person will fit each situation or challenge, but you need the ability to understand the context of the facts in order to chart a course and engage people in solutions.  Without buy-in, the problem will not be solved and most challenges require thought on the part of others who are committed to the same goals as the leader.  The leadership team concepts allows for the ability to delegate to those closest to the situation, or with the best skill set to resolve it, will achieve the best result and create personal accountability by creating a personal stake in the solution.

Engagement identifies another emerging hallmark of leadership which is that we all want to succeed and leaders tend to nudge their followers toward that success.  Good leaders always backstop their charges, and understand that not all situations will be resolved ideally and that there may be multiple means to resolve the problem.  That gives the followers the ability to “gamble” on innovative solutions without the fear of reprisals.  The fear of reprisals will eliminate innovation.  What you want is to lead your organization to be innovative.  Organizations that foster innovation can become more effective in their industry.  Isn’t that what we want?  Fostering innovation is how Google develops a lot of its applications.  They call it 20% time, where employees get to work on anything they want, with anyone they want, except their own projects.  Think GoogleEarth, gmail, and many others.  Dan Pink did an excellent discussion in his best seller “Drive.”  I recommend you check it out.  But then we need to ask, “When was the last time we tried something like 20% time in the utility industry?”

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Planning is a process utilized by utilities in order to reach a vision of the utility as defined by the customers or the governing board, or to meet certain demands for service projected to be required in the future.  Understanding and managing the utility’s assets provides important information related to the ongoing future direction of the utility system.  However, the only method to develop that future direction is through the planning process.  Planning should be undertaken on a regular basis by all enterprises in an effort to anticipate in to anticipate needs, clarify organizational goals, provide direction for the organization to pursue and to communicate each of these to the public.  With water and wastewater utility systems, it is imperative to have ongoing planning activities, as many necessary improvements and programs take months or years to implement and/or complete.  Without a short and long-term plan to accomplish future needs, the utility will suffer errors in direction, build unnecessary or inadequate infrastructure and pursue programs that later are found to provide the wrong information, level of service or type of treatment.

Planning can provide for a number of long-term benefits – improvements in ISO ratings to lower fire insurance rates, renewal of improvements as monies become available, rate stability and most importantly – a “vision” for the utility.  In creating any plan for a utility system, efforts to understand the operating environment in which the utility operates must be undertaken.  Second, the needs of the utility must be defined – generally from growth projections and analyses of current infrastructure condition from repair records or specific investigations.  By funneling this information into the planning process, the result of the effort should be a set of clear goals and objectives needs to be defined (Figure 8.1).  However, the types of goals and objectives may vary depending on the type of plan developed.  There are 4 types of plans that may result from the planning process.

  • Strategic Plans – action oriented for management level decision-making and direction
  • Integrated Resource Plans – Actions for utility management to tie all parts of the system together
  • Facilities Plans – for SRF loans support
  • Master Plans – to support capital improvement programs

Any utility planning effort should start with a description (and understanding) of the local environment (built and otherwise).  An understanding of the environment from which water is drawn or to be discharged is important.  Both water quality and available quantity, whether surface or ground water, are profoundly affected by demand.  A reduced demand for surface water helps prevent degradation of the quality of the resource in times of low precipitation.  Reduction in the pumping of ground water improves the aquifer’s ability to withstand salt water infiltration, potential surface contamination, upconing of poorer quality water, contamination by septic tank leachate, underground storage tank leakage, and leaching hazardous wastes and other pollutants from the surface.  Over-pumping ground water leads denuding the aquifer or to contamination of large sections of the aquifer.  Planning for is necessary for surface water systems.  Therefore, source water protection must be a part of any water planning efforts, including the appropriate application sites and treatment needs for reuse and residuals.

So let’s toss sea level rise into the mix.  What happens when sea level rise inundates coastal areas with saltwater and increase freshwater heads inland?  How do we fix that problem and should be plan for it.  Clearly master planning should include this threat (as applicable), just as any regulatory issue, water limitation, disposal limit or change in business practices should be considered.  One means to reduce the impact of sea level induced groundwater levels is infiltration galleries that may operate 24/7.  These systems are commonly used to dispose of storm water (french drains or exfiltration trenches) but what happens if the flow is reversed?  Water will flow easily into the system, just as it does for riverbank filtration. The water must be disposed of, with limited options, but let’s toss a crazy idea out there – could it be your new water supply?  Just asking, but such a system would not be unprecedented worldwide, only in the coastal communities of the US.


Based on my last blog, his inquiry came to me.  And I think I actually have an answer:  when bakers and insurance companies decide there is real exposure.  Let’s see why it will take these agencies.  There is very little chance, regardless of good faith efforts, significant expertise, or conscientious bureaucrats to stop growth and development.  The lobby is simply too strong and local officials are looking for ways to raise more revenues.  Development is the easiest way to increase your tax base.  As long as there are no limits placed on develop-ability of properties (and I don’t mean like zoning or concurrency), development will continue.  But let’s see how this plays out.  Say you are in an area that is likely to have the street inundated permanently with water as a result of sea level rise (it could be inland groundwater, not just coastal saltwater).  For a time public works infrastructure can deal with the problem, but ultimately the roadways will not be able to be cleared.  Or say you are located on the coast, and repeated storm events have damaged property.  In both cases the insurance companies will do one of three things:  Refuse to insure the property, insure the property (existing) only for replacement value (i.e. you get the value to replace) but no ability to get replacement insurance, or the premiums will be ridiculous.  We partially have this issue in Florida right now.  Citizen’s is the major insurer.  It’s an insurance pool created by the state to deal with the fact that along the coast, you cannot get commercial insurance.  So Citizens steps in.  The state has limited premiums, and while able to meet its obligations, in a catastrophic storm would be underfunded (of course in theory is should have paid out very little since 2006 since no major hurricanes have hit the state, but that’s another story). 

As the risk increases, Citizens and FEMA, the federal insurer, have a decision to make.  Rebuilding where repeated impacts are likely to happen is a poor use of resources and unlikely to continue.  Beaches and barrier islands will be altered as a result.  The need will be to move people out of these areas, so the option above that will be selected will be to pay to replace (move inland or somewhere else).  Then the banks will sit up.  The banks will see that the value of these properties will not increase.  In fact they will decline almost immediately if the insurance agencies say we pay only to relocate.  That means that if the borrowers refuse to pay, the bank may not be able to get its money out of the deal on a resale.  We have seen the impact on banks from the loss of property values as a result of bad loans.  We are unlikely to see banks engage in similar risks in the future and unlikely to see the federal insurers (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) or commercial re-insurers like AIG be willing to underwrite these risks.   So where insurance is restricted, borrowing will be limited and borrowing time reduced.  That will have a drastic impact on development.  The question is what local officials will do about it?

There are options to adapt to sea level rise, and both banking and insurance industries will be paying close attention in future years.  Local agencies will need a sea level rise adaptation plan, including policies restricting development, a plan to adapt to changing sea and ground water levels including pumping systems to create soil storage capacity, moving water and sewer systems, abandoning roadways, and the like, and hardening vulnerable treatment plants.  Few local agencies have these plans in place.  Many local officials along the Gulf states refuse to acknowledge the risk.  What does that say about their prospects?  Those who plan ahead will benefit.  Southeast Florid a is one of those regions that is planning, but it is slow process and we are only in the early stages.

Regardless of the causes, southeast Florida, with a population of 5.6 million (one-third of the State’s population), is among the most vulnerable areas in the world for climate change due its coastal proximity and low elevation (OECD, 2008; Murley et al. 2008), so assessing sea level rise (SLR) scenarios is needed to accurately project vulnerable infrastructure (Heimlich and Bloetscher, 2011). We know that sea level has been rising for over 100 years in Florida (Bloetscher, 2010, 2011; IPCC, 2007). Various studies (Bindoff et al., 2007; Domingues et al., 2008; Edwards, 2007; Gregory, 2008; Vermeer and Rahmstorf, 2009; Jevrejeva, Moore and Grinsted, 2010; Heimlich, et al. 2009) indicate large uncertainty in projections of sea level rise by 2100. Gregory et al. (2012) note the last two decades, the global rate of SLR has been larger than the 20th-century time-mean, and Church et al. (2011) suggested further that the cause was increased rates of thermal expansion, glacier mass loss, and ice discharge from both ice-sheets. Gregory et al. (2012) suggested that there may also be increasing contributions to global SLR from the effects of groundwater depletion, reservoir impoundment and loss of storage capacity in surface waters due to siltation. The loss of groundwater, mainly from confined aquifers, is troubling, and currently completely unknown. The contribution of carbon dioxide, commonly occurring in deep groundwater is also unknown. To gauge the risk to property in southeast Florida, Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact and Florida Atlantic University reviewed twelve different projections of SLR and its timing. The consensus was 3” to 7” by 2030 and 9” to 24” by 2060. From the literature review and analysis, it was concluded that approximately 3 ft. of sea level rise by 2100 would a suitable scenario and time frame to illustrate the methodology presented in this article. To allow flexibility in the analysis due to the range of increases within the different time periods, an approach that uses incremental increases of 1, 2, and 3 feet of SLR was considered for risk scenarios. An issue normally ignored in sea level rise projections is groundwater. The importance of the groundwater table in the model is that it is responsible for determining the soil storage capacity. Soil is composed of solids, water, and air (voids). Soil storage capacity depends on physical and chemical properties, water content of the soil, and depth to the water table or confining unit (Gregory et al 1999). As the rain infiltrates the soil, unsaturated pores quickly fill up, effectively raising the water table (Gregory et al 1999). For example efforts, a groundwater surface elevation map was derived based well site information available from the USGS (http://groundwaterwatch.usgs.gov) that had a minimum of 35 years of continuous data. Using GIS, an inundation model was created in GIS by subtracting the groundwater surface model from the digital elevation model with the difference in elevation being the soil storage capacity. The photo shows the evolution of these features as applied to a section of northwestern Miami-Dade County. What this indicates it that the impact of sea level rise on low-lying inland areas may be far different that the projections using the bathtub models. It also means that wellfields, sewer mains, roadways and storm water systems will be affected far more quickly than projected from bathtub models. The method used here suggested that the estimated may be off by a factor of two of three.


Municipal drinking water is strictly regulated by the USEPA.  We spend a lot of time testing our water, producing reports, and providing our customers with information on our results.  The results show it works, because the number of incidents of contaminated water are few, and rarely affect larger utility systems.  We are so good at providing water that the public expects their water to be safe, yet the buy bottled water?  Wait, huh?  Bottled water? Bottled water is not regulated by the USEPA and is not subject to the same requirements as potable water.  There are less than three full time people at FDA inspecting bottled water facilities, versus thousands reviewing public water supplies.  Water utilities run millions of analyses per year and must publish the results.  So why do they buy bottled water when our water is safe?

Keep in mind that in many areas of the world, the bottled water industries move in and compete for the same supplies as we currently use.  North Florida is rife with arguments over flows to springs as are other areas.  Some of the water is simply repackaged tap water.  So in addition to competing for our customers, they are competing with the sustainability of our drinking water supplies.  Then there are the hundreds of thousands of bottles that end up in landfills.  More impact on sustainability.  At the same time, bottled water is more costly that gasoline, which everyone complains about, but that does not stop the purchases?  So what’s up?

Marketing that’s what.  We don’t market water.  I noted in an earlier blog that we simply don’t market our product, which has allowed others to compete for the same dollars.  Customers complain about rate hikes, (averaging about 5% per year for the past 10 years according to the new AWWA study), yet they happily pay over $4/gallons for many of the popular bottled waters, more and more cable channels, fancy phones, etc.  Not that any of these commercial products are per se bad, but none are required for survival like water.

Interestingly when we do market, it reaps positive results.  New York and San Francisco have seen the wisdom of marketing for year.  They ship New York tap water to Florida to make Brooklyn style bagel because Florida Water doesn’t taste the same.  DC Water changed its name, and began a marketing campaign that changed public perception of the utility and has allowed it to start dealing with its infrastructure backlog.  Some of their ideas include branding the water, and having restaurants serve it in marked glasses, paid for by the utility.  Signs on drinking fountains, in schools and even sales of tap water in stores are options some utilities have started.  But the key is started.  Marketing takes dollars, to reap benefits.  Who knows, maybe tap water is the next bottled water….


Since Richard Nixon was President, the federal government has been talking about reducing our reliance of foreign oil.  Since 2008, our dependence has dropped from 57 to 42 percent.  The foreign oil has been replaced by domestic oil and gas, conversion of power plants to natural gas, and investments in renewable power like wind (4% US production and) and solar power.  Coal has remained a constant, although future regulations of coal plant emission may alter this.  Federal loans from DOE have included $13 billion for solar energy, 1.7 billion for wind and 10 billion for nuclear power.  All other renewables account for 1.2 billion.  Power companies have invested in the renewable technologies in part because of low loan rates from the federal government, and partly due to tax credits (2.2 cents/kW-hr), but power entities like NextEra Energy have made cleaner power a basis of their future.  So what does this have to do with water utilities?  First, water and wastewater plant are often the largest users on the power grind in communities.  This is why they are able to get load control agreements.  The peak demands are the load control agreements, which means power providers can construct fewer plants, and keep rates down.  At the same time water and wastewater utilities benefit fro reduced rates, but have construct backup systems (which are needed if the power grid fails anyway.  Benefit to both parties.  But as the demands for power on the grid increase, and as regional demands in areas that are substantially constructed already, locating new power is difficult.  Transmission losses are 6 or more percent, and involve complicated federal FERC regulations.  So the SMART grid issue is distributed power, and finding sites for distributed power might be tough.  Or maybe not.  Water and wastewater plants have land, so there is an obvious fit.  But the rub is that if the water and wastewater people own the facilities, it decreases the peak capacity, meaning the power entities must build more capacity.  So perhaps there is a means to get revenues (leases) to water folks, while helping the smart grid.  I am thinking about developing a project proposal for this.  Let me know if you are interested.  Meanwhile if you have a success story, I’d love to hear it.


Many of you will remember in the 1980s there was a book called Megatrends by John Naisbett, and a later update called Megatrends 2000 and a host of other megatrend documents.  The concept was to look for global or national trends that might impact out future.  I recalled this while I was reading an article from Forbes and Public Works magazines recently talking about the future, and development of megaregions.  They project 11 megaregions in the US that will develop by 2050.  Most are in process already and are familiar:  1) Pacific Northwest (Vancouver to Portland), 2) Bay Delta, 3) Southern California, 4) Front range (Cheyenne to Albuquerque, 5) Phoenix/Tucson, 6) Texas Triangle (Houston-Dallas-San Antonio, 7)  Gulf Coast (Houston to Mobile), 8)  Florida (I-4/I95), 9)  Piedmont (Atlanta to Raleigh), 10)  Northeast (Washington DC to Boston), and 11) southern Great Lakes (the old “Rust Belt”).  If you are looking for economic growth, all signs point to these 11 region.  Most are located along interstates which makes transportation by truck easier.  Several have port access and most rail.  The projection is for more people to move from the rural areas to these regions, and for the influx of immigrants to likewise migrate here.  But an issue not noted as a part of these projection is that only three of them are not water limited, and those three include the two oldest regions:  Rust Belt stats and the northeast where there is water.  In addition, three of these areas are characterized by potential adverse climate impacts (Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Front Range) that will adversely impact their future water availability.  In all but the historical cases, embedded power availability is lacking, creating competing interests with the water industry.  So where is the planning and forecasting models for 2050 and beyond for these regions?  Some jurisdictions have seen attacks on traditional planning activities as unduly limiting development, implement specific agendas, and other nefarious reasons.  Florida scrapped most of its growth management/concurrency requirements in this vein.  After all, why should you insure there is water in order to issue development permits right?  That might limit development! Why not manage an aquifer for 100 years, to insure a 100 year supply, not to insure the supply remains available indefinitely.  Both short term goals conflict with the theory of constraints which says that any system is limited in achieving its goals by a very small number of constraints; kinda the old idiom “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.”  The concept requires the application and investigation of the situation in enough detail to gain an understanding of the constraints and to construct an optimized solution.  Keep in mind that often maximizing certain goals, will cause others to suffer.  A familiar example, you can have construction occur fast and with high value, but not at a low price.  You can achieve certain reliability of water supplies, and improve economics, but you need to understand other impacts.  Too often planners focus on meeting the goals of the client, while ignoring competing goals, which ultimately leads to greater costs down the line.  As these megaregions are well on their way to development, we need to begin the process (a bit late, but better late than never) to understand the limitations each region will face with respect to water supplies and how those water supplies impact competing economies.  Failure to do so could create constraints within the regions that restrict their growth and economic potential.

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