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Monthly Archives: December 2014


Orange County, FL has become the second school district I know of that has decide that giving students a zero on a assignment causes the kids to lose hope of passing so they just quit.  To address this problem, the worst grade you can give them is a 50 instead of a zero.  That way they can recover from one missed assignment.  Huh?!?!  No, you read this right.  The school superintendent was quoted in the SunSentinel as saying that only 43 percent of the students who received a 50 actually recovered to pass the class with a D.  I have several questions.  First, how does this policy teach these kids any responsibility?  For the kids that do their work, how is that fair?  What message does this policy send to the kids?  Be a lazy dumbass and do nothing and you can still pass?  That reinforces the concept of entitlement which we all agree is a problem in society that we need to overcome.  Finally, if one missed assignment causes the kids to fail, why are there not more assignments so missing one is not fatal?  That is what happens with my students (who still get a zero for not doing an assignment).

It would seem that such a policy is not based on an educational goal but more like a political one to improve school perception.  That is as bad an idea as having kids beg for money for uniforms and class trips etc.  Kids do not sell anything they just beg for money.  So are we teaching them that begging and panhandling is an acceptable career?  Seriously what impression does that provide to these young minds?  How does either experience prepare kids for the real world where doing nothing gets you fired, not rewarded, and begging for money vs actually work is also not rewarded.

Once upon a time, education was the purview of the wealthy.  American businesses argued that a basic education was needed to train a workforce for industrial jobs.    The American public education system was created with this in mind- to train the next generation of workers.  With education came great social and economic advancement.  We clearly are deviating from that goal.  Students need a good foundation in math, writing and reading (in English!), civics and science so they understand social responsibility, can communicate, understand how things work the world and can solve complex problems.  They do not need pseudo-science or politicized science, but real science.  Business understands this.  But where is the business community on job training in schools?  It would seem the business community has abdicated their responsibility to local districts who are trying to meet political goals, not economic goals.  Why are we not using all the extensive testing to figure out the strengths of students and encourage them to play to those strengths? Not every kid can go to college, or should, but that does not mean they cannot achieve or be successful.  They may need different training to hone their strengths.

Back in the day my Dad told me that as the education system was developed in his hometown of Detroit, students were given aptitude tests.  I was also.  The kids were divided up based on skills and aptitude.  Students were even sent to different schools as they got older that tailored programs to their interests and skills set.  Kids that the schools system felt had the aptitude to succeed in college had different courses than students that were less academically included but perhaps more mechanical, more artisan, more labor, clerical, etc.  Different kids go training to help them succeed with their skills.  Less academic did not mean less inclined to succeed or be successful. just differently.  And they had a better chance to be successful.  We seem to miss that today.

Today we have parents insisting that everyone be treated the same, and that no kid gets left behind.  But putting kids with different aptitudes, maturity, and academic inclinations in one class is destined to either fail for all, or fail for everyone but the average.  Such a protocol begets policies like Orange (and Broward) County that direct teachers to adjust grades so “Little Johnny” doesn’t feel bad.  Extensive college prep testing and disconnected learning discourage the less academic kids, leading to dropping out, or other behaviors.  Such policies and expectations by parent and political leaders are not helpful for building an educated society.  Instead we need to search further into the root causes.  Are there too few assignments?  Are they too disconnected for students to appreciate?  Should we sort out strengths and treat different students differently to discourage disinterest?  How do we assess their strengths and design programs to help students succeed.   And who takes responsibility for these kids?  And perhaps we should revisit some of the lessons learned from the early years of the industrial development (1930s) to figure out what they did well, and see how policies today frustrate those goals.  Maybe the way forward is rooted in the past.


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I hope you and your have a very happy holiday season – whatever holidays you may be celebrating.  And I hope that 2014 has been a good year for you and that 2015 will be happier still.   The end of the year is a good time to reflect on all the positive things in our lives.  For most of us we have food, shelter, a decent job, transportation and friends.  We have clean water, sewer systems to remove waste, trash pickup and decent highways (Thank you civil engineers!).. We are relatively safe and have access to good medical care. And we have friends and family that we care about and want to share with.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly, happy, merry and all those other words.  Happy Holidays to all!


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How did southeast Florida not end up on the list of US cities with the worst drivers?  This seems like an annual rite for us and if you have lived down here you know why.  Things have not improved, so what does that say for Worcester, MA, Boston, Washington DC and Springfield MA that they took the top 4 spots?  Sometimes it is good not to be number 1!  LOL

A group called Idaho for Wildlife requested and got approval for a hunting contest open to children on public lands whereby they will attempt to be the child who kills the most wolves.  What could possibly go wrong here?  First the only ones with guns are children.  Those children are running around public lands trying to shoot the most wolves.  We assume there are people with them, but since they are trying to kill the most wolves, I would expect more shooting than normal.  So what if the critter is a coyote or fox or missing German shepard or guy working on a water system?  And aren’t we trying to bring wolves back because we have figured out that eliminating them vastly impacts the ecosystem negatively.  Maybe if Idaho for Wildlife (interesting misconcepted title) thinks there are too many wolves, wouldn’t trapping a few and releasing them in a place that maybe needs some would be a better idea?


Have we passed peak diamonds? Just as a prior blog outlined the concept of peak oil, gas, metals etc, the recent news not suggests that diamond miners are decreasing their exploration investments because the number of new finds is decreasing each year, and those found are far more expensive to extract than the current values.  Sounds like oil?  We find less each year, it is more expensive and current oilfield yields are on the decrease.  Phosphorous is similarly situated which is why there is much research taking place to find means to recover phosphorous from ag lands and wastewater effluent – recover phosphorous meant to be resold to ag interests as fertilizer as the price of phosphorous continues to increase as a result so increasing demand and decreasing supplies.

We are also being told that while peak diamonds have passed perhaps chocolate will become scarcer and the demand for chocolate is outstripping the supply, and the available land for cropping is being out competed by more lucrative crops in South America.  At some point the available land for many crops will be exhausted.  It is then that we reach peak agriculture?


There is a recent iPos MORI study that evaluated the perception and reality of issues in 14 western, industrialized countries to determine how well the perception of the populace matched reality.  The US was one of those surveyed.  No surprise, most Americans’ perception is very different than reality because the news and politics get in the way of the facts.  The study found for example that Americans perceived that teenage birth rates were 24 % of girls vs the real number of 3%, that 32% of the population is immigrants vs 13% actual, and that the majority of people perceiving welfare were black vs. the reality of 39% (38% are white and 15% Hispanic).  The states with the largest number of welfare recipients are in the northeast, which are also the states that received the smallest amount of federal funding per capita.  Talk about misperceptions.

While other countries have similar misperceptions, perpetuating misconceptions is part of the extreme discourse in Congress and among different constituencies. When we perceive the issues incorrectly and our elected officials do nothing to improve that perception?  What does that say about them?  No wonder we cannot get infrastructure to the top of our funding needs?  They perceive if you get water, can drive on it or flush it away, things must be fine?


2014 is almost over.  Hard to believe.  I have been attending or annual Florida Section AWWA conference, meeting up with old friends, making new ones and learning new things.  Conferences and connections allow us to do our jobs more efficiently because as we learn how to solve problems or where we can find a means to solve whatever problem we encounter.  It is a valuable experience that I encourage everyone to get involved with, especially young people who need to make connections to improve their careers.  The technical sessions seemed to be well received and popular.  That means that there are issues that people want to hear about.  Things we focused on were alternative water supplies, water distribution piping issues, disinfection byproducts, ASR and reuse projects.

The reuse projects focused on Florida efforts to deal with 40 years of reuse practice and a movement toward indirect potable reuse. This is the concept where we treat wastewater to a standard whereby it can be put into a waterway upstream of a water supply intake or into the aquifer upstream of wells.  The discussion was extended to a number of discussions about water shortages and solutions for water limited areas.  Florida averages 50-60 inches of rain per year as opposed to the 6-10 inches in areas of the southwest or even 15-20 inches in the Rockies which makes the concept of water limitations seem a bit ludicrous for many, but we rely on groundwater that is recharged by this rainfall for most of our supplies, a lack of topography for storage and definitive wet and dry seasons that do not coincide with use.

The situation is distinctly different in much of the US that relies on surface waters or is just plain water limited.  We have a severe multi-year drought going on in California and huge amounts of groundwater being used for irrigation in many rain-challenged areas.  That is what all those crop-circles are as you fly over the Plains states and the wet.  Where you see crop circles, think unsustainable water supplies.  They are unsustainable because there is no surface water and the recharge for these aquifers is very limited.  Most leakance factors in aquifers is over estimated and hence water levels decline year after year.   Water limited places need answers because agriculture often out-competes water utilities, so in the worst of those areas, there are discussions about direct potable reuse (which occurs in Texas).

Direct and indirect potable reuse are offered as answers which is why this topic was popular at our conference.  A recent 60 Minutes presentation included a tour and discussion of the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment program, where wastewater is treated and injected into the ground for recovery by wells nearer to the coast.  They discussed the process (reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light and peroxide) and they took a drink.  “Tastes like water” was Leslie Stahl’s comment – not sure what she expected it to taste like, but it provides a glimpse into the challenge faced by water utilities in expanding water supplies.   Orange County has been injecting water for many years into this indirect potable reuse project.  The West Coast Basin Barrier Project and several others in California have similar projects.  South Florida has tested this concept 5 times, including one by my university, but no projects have yet been installed.

But until recently, there were no direct potable reuse projects where wastewater is directly connected to the water plant.  But now we have two – both in Texas with a number of potential new projects in the pipeline.  Drought, growth, water competition have all aligned to verify that there many are areas that really do not have water, and what water they do have is over allocated.  A 50 year plan to manage an aquifer (i.e.. to drain it) is not a sustainable plan because there may not be other options.  But Texas is not alone.  Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, The Dakotas, Kansas Oklahoma and I am sure others have verified water limitations and realize that sustainable economic activity is intrinsically linked to sustainable water supplies.  Conservation only goes so far and in many of these places, conservation may be hitting its limits.  Where your rainfall is limited and/or your aquifer is deep, replenishable resource is not always in the quantities necessary for economic sustainability.  Water supplies and economic activity are clearly linked.

So the unimaginable, has become the imaginable, and we now have direct potable reuse of wastewater.  Fortunately we have the technology – it is not cheap, but we have demonstrated that the reverse osmosis/ultraviolet light/advanced oxidation (RO/UV/AOP) process will resolve the critical contaminant issues (for more information we have a paper we published on this). From an operational perspective, RO membranes, UV and chemical feeds for AOP are easy to operate, but there are questions about how we insure that the quality is maintained.  The technical issues for treatment are well established.  Monitoring is a bit more challenging – the question is what to monitor and how often, but even this can be overcome with redundancy and overdosing UV.

But drinking poop-water? The sell to the public is much more difficult.  It is far easier to sell communities without water on the idea, but the reality we need to plan ahead.  There are no rules.  There are no monitoring requirements, but we MUST insure the public that the DPR water they are drinking is safe.  WE are gaining data in Texas.  California and Texas are talking about regulations.  The University of Miami has been working of a project where they have created a portion of a dorm that makes its own water from wastewater.  Results to come, but the endeavor shows promise.

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