WIFIA was approved:
Good news for water funding, but still a drop in the bucket of what is needed
Power utilities are not really interested in coal regardless what Congress and the President do to encourage it.
Are we surprised? Coal is dirty and creates obvious problems. Coal emissions caused English kings to ban coal in London 400+ years ago. Coal jobs are not coming back. Nor are manufacturing jobs. It has nothing to do with China – everything to do with technology (robots).
Broward College is seeking $29 million for classroom upgrades because there are not enough seats in the classrooms. The rooms are cramped and the “old seal with a wooden table on top isn’t big enough to accommodate students today.” It doesn’t take much to read between those lines. About like Texas making manholes 28 inches in diameter because the guys cant fit into the smaller ones anymore….
But Beijing is sinking:
Not sure how that correlates, but interesting….
The most important parameters regulating algal growth are nutrient quantity and quality, light, pH, turbulence, salinity and temperature. Light is the most limiting factor for algal growth, followed by nitrogen and phosphorus limitations, but other nutrients are required including carbon. Biomass is usually measured by the amount of chlorophyll a in the water column. Water temperature influences the metabolic and reproductive rates of algae. Most species grow best at a salinity that is slightly lower than that of their native habitat, The pH range for most cultured algal species is between 7 and 9, with the optimum range being 8.2-8.7. Through photosynthesis, algae produce oxygen in excess of respiratory requirements during daylight hours. Conversely, during low light or nighttime periods algae respire (consume) dissolved oxygen, sometimes depleting water column concentrations. Thus, high algae concentrations may lead to low dissolved oxygen concentrations.
A common solution for algae is copper sulfate. Copper Sulfate works to kill the algae, but when it dies, it settles to the bottom of the water body where it becomes a carbon source for bacteria and future algae. One will often see shallow ponds with rising algae. But there is significant concern about copper in coastal water bodies. Copper is toxic to marine organisms so USEPA and other regulatory bodies are considering the limits on copper use. Such a limitation would severely limit options in dealing with algal blooms near coastal waters.
Mixing is necessary to prevent sedimentation of the algae, to ensure that all cells of the population are equally exposed to the light and nutrients. So oxygenation can help (it also mixes the water. The depth of south Florida water bodies is problematic (shallow and therefore warmer than normal). But oxygen will help microorganisms on the bottom consume the carbon source on the bottom, which might slow algal growth. Analysis is ongoing.
Two other conditions work against controlling blue-green algae outbreaks: climate change and political/regulatory decision-making. Lake Okeechobee has routine algal blooms from the nutrients introduced from agriculture and runoff around the lake, which encouraged an artificial eutrophication of the lake years ago. It continues today. Warmer weather will encourage the algal blooms in the future. The decisions to discharge the water without treatment is a political one. From a regulatory perspective, algae is seen as a nuisance issue, not a public health or environmental issue. But algal blooms consume oxygen and kill fish, so the ecosystem impact is considerable – it is not a nuisance .
My grandmother lost here summer cabin outside of Grayling, Michigan in the Great Crawford County fire on 1990. My grandfather had hauled the cabin and out buildings up to Grayling by rail from Detroit in the 1920s (some old houses my Great Grandmother had owned). It was one of many fires that year, but an early one caused by significantly less snow over the prior winter, high winds, and carelessness. The cabin was gone before anyone could react as it appears to have been in the dead center of the moving flames. I recall the story on CNN, but no one realized exactly where it was. My grandmother never recovered. She wasn’t the only one. 20 year later there are trees.
Forest fires happen with increasing frequency. Today in Southern California, the Sand Fire has set more than 35,000 acres of the Santa Clarita Valley ablaze. Difficulties fighting it are not limited to temperatures hitting 101 degrees in the area and dried brush from 5 years of drought conditions. The Soberanes Fire in Monterey County has burned 16,100 acres along the California coast between Carmel and Big Sur. The fire is bigger than the size of Manhattan. The 778 acre McHugh Fire located on the steep terrain south of Anchorage, Alaska. Looking at the map, it seems the west is on fire. A larger and larger portion of the US Forest Services’ budget gets spent on fire-fighting each year – 67% in 2016. Yet fires on Forest Service property account for only 20% of the total fire nationally (1.9 million acres or a total of over 10 million acres in 2015), but this total amount is increasing. Warmer weather in the west has increased the length of fire season, drought has increased the risk, budgets are stagnant so means to prevent fire intensity have been reduced, The only good news is that a University of Vermont study suggests that areas where pine beetle has killed trees is actually thinner and less at risk that heathier forests, if that is a “good” thing.
My friend Dr. Chi Ho Sham did some work on forest fires on watersheds a few year back. He found that forest fires have obvious impacts on people and our customers, but also our water supplies and our water supplies. The ash runs off into streams and is difficult to remove at water plants because it is so fine. Areas burned are far more subject to erosion after rain of snow melt thereby creating a need for more treatment at water plants. This will go on for some time after the rain until groundcover can re-establish itself. Fire retardant and water drops combat some fires although the retardant shows up in streams and water supplies with adverse impacts. Dams and reservoirs will need more frequent dredging due to buildup, and wildlife equilibrium will be disrupted. Forest fires make for interesting news, when they are far away, but few utilities think too much about what would happen if their watershed were impacts. No groundwater utility has thought about impacts on surficial groundwater although that might be an interesting study. But we should all have plans, should watch our watershed, and be cognizant that far away fires might give us the opportunity to study what could possibly go wrong at our utilities. Meanwhile, our thoughts are with those in the realm of the conflagrations. Be Safe!!
Current Fire map – July 2016 Sources; http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/
Satellite photo of fire outside San Francisco Source NASA Earth
FIre outside Santa Clarita CA July 2016Source CNN
Florida Atlantic University is hosting the first Arctic-Florida Symposium next week (May 3-5). This is a big event and should prove interesting I will be speaking. The idea is to evaluate the arctic and Florida and open some dialogue. Florida and Alaska would seem to be opposites when it comes to many things. Alaska is cold; Florida is the land of eternal summer. Alaska has snow and blizzards; Florida has tropical storms with pounding rain. Sea Level rise is a critical concern to much of Florida’s coast, but much of Alaska’s coast is mountains. Temperatures affect the permafrost in Alaska, but heat is not new in Florida, where permafrost has not existed in millions of years, if ever. So how are these two states, located over 5000 miles apart, similar? That was the question posed before the Arctic-Florida conference in 2016. The result was that Alaska and Florida share many commonalities, and there is much to learn from each other. For example, population migration is at hand in Alaska. It is in Florida’s future. Likewise diseases have impacted at risk areas in Alaska, portending a potential future condition for southeast Florida. Adaptation strategies are underway in Florida, which can help in Alaska. Roads, water supplies, water storage, wastewater and storm water are all issues that pose challenges to both states, so there are answers in infrastructure adaptation strategies. Many common problems can be solved by sharing information. The Florida–Alaska connection is an example of looking outside the box to find ideas that can be useful to those deemed to be far different. More to come on this….
Water and wastewater utilities spend a lot of time dealing with current issues =- putting out “fires.” But there are larger trends that will affect the industry. Here are a couple recent topics that we should consider in our industry:
Will robots be doing all our repetitive jobs? If so what does that mean for all the people doing those jobs now. Most do not require a lot of skills, and many of those in the jobs that will be lost, do not have the skills for other jobs? Does the $15 per hour minimum wage accelerate this transition? How does this affect the water industry? Meter readers might be replaced with AMR systems. Customer service is already migrating to direct banking. There is a change coming.
What does the driverless car mean for us? I am thinking about an old Arnold Schwartzenegger movie. For utilities the issue may be how we interact with unmanned vehicles, especially when what we do can be disruptive to traffic. What happens if those cars get into an accident? And Warren Buffett is thinking about the impact of this on the insurance industry. He owns a lot of GEICO stock. It is doubtful many utility vehicles will be unmanned, in the near-term, but do our manned vehicles and the potential disruption leave us open to greater risk of loss?
Speaking of Warren Buffett says the economy is far better than certain candidates suggest. I tend to trust Mr. Buffett. He’s been doing this a long time and has been fabulously successful. But he notes structural changes to the economy like those noted above, are ongoing. That will create conflict for certain professions that migrate to automation, much as manufacturing did in the 1970s. He raises concern about what happens to those workers and suggests that we have not planned enough for those workers who get displaced as the economy undergoes continuing transitions. In the late 1970s we had CETA and other jobs training programs as we moved from manufacturing to other jobs. He does not see that in place now. The at-risk – the poor, minorities, the less educated, rural citizens…. in other words, the usual groups will be hit harder than the rest of the population. I don’t hear that discussion on the campaign trail but utilities may want to follow these trends is the hope that we can acquire some of the skillsets that we need. Or provide that training.
Florida’s flood protection plan received a C- from a study called States at Risk. It said Florida lacks a long term plan for rising seas, despite being vulnerable. On an unrelated note, the state is expecting insurance premiums to increase 25% or more for flood insurance for homeowners. And local officials are working busily on FEMA maps to exclude as many properties as possible from flood insurance requirements. Maybe those things are all related, just at opposite purposes, but who is going to get the calls when flooding occurs? Storm water utilities, and sewer systems where the manholes are opened to “facilitate drainage.” The question is what the ratings are for other states as Florida was not the least prepared nor is it the only state with exposure.
A final current trend to think about is this: Current sea level rise projections have increase the high end, but remained steady for the 50 percentile case. By 2200 we may see seas at 10 ft higher. That would be a major problem for south Florida. But the world population will be over 15 billion, which exceeds the carrying capacity of agriculture (at present projections and techniques). It also places over half the world in water limited areas. So sea level rise is going to be huge in south Florida, but will concern be localized because of more pressing issues? Is the number of people going to be our biggest issue in 2200? Note both will be critical for a large portion of those 15 billion people, but the solution to either is…..?
So everyone is doing their Top 10 questions for 2016 (although with David Letterman off the air, perhaps less so), I figured why not? So it the vein of looking forward to 2016, let’s ponder these issues that could affect utilities and local governments:
- How wild, or weird will the Presidential election get? And part b, what will that do to America’s status in the world? Thinking it won’t help us. Probably won’t help local governments either.
- Will the economic recovery keep chugging along? Last time we had an election the economy tanked. Thinking a major change in direction might create economic uncertainty. Uncertainty (or panic) would trickle down. Status quo, probably keeps things moving along. .
- What will the “big” issue be in the election cycle and who will it trickle down to local governments and utilities? In 2008 it was the lack of health care for millions of Americans and the need for a solution. Right after the election we got the Great Recession so most people forgot about the health care crisis until the Affordable are Act was signed into law. And then ISIS arose from a broken Iraq and Arab summer. None helped local governments.
- What are we going to hear about the 20 richest Americans having more assets than the bottom 150 million residents? 20 vs 150,000,000. And while we are at it, the top 0.1% have more assets than the bottom 90%, the biggest disparity since the 1920s. While we will decide that that while hard work should be rewarded, the disparity is in part helped by tax laws, tax shelters, lobbying of politicians, etc. as Warren Buffett points out, indicate a discussion about tax laws will be heard. Part b – if we do adjust the tax laws, how will we measure how much this helps the bottom 99.9%?
- What will be the new technology that changes the way we live? Computers will get faster and smaller. Phones are getting larger. Great, but what is the next “Facebook”? By the way the insurance folks are wondering how the self driving car will affect the insurance industry. So reportedly is Warren Buffett. Watch Mr. Buffett’s moves.
- Along a similar vein, will the insurance industry start rethinking their current risk policies to look at longer term as opposed to annual risk? If so what does that mean for areas where sea levels are rising? The North Carolina coast, where sea level rise acceleration is not permitted as a discussion item could get tricky.
- Will unemployment (now 5%) continue to fall with associated increases in wages? Will that help our constituents/customers? Will people use more water as a result?
- Where is the next drought? Or flood? And will the extremes keep on coming? Already we have record flooding in the Mississippi River in December – not March/April? Expect February to be a cold, snowy month. IT is upper 80s here. Snowing in the Colorado Rockies.
- Will we continue to break down the silos between water “types” for a more holistic view of water resources? We have heard a bunch on potable reuse systems. More to come there, especially with sensors and regulations. But in the same vein, will we develop a better understanding of the link between ecosystems and good water supplies, and encourage lawmakers to protect the wild areas that will keep drinking water cleaner?
- Will we get water, sewer, storm water, etc. customers to better understand the true value of water, and therefore get their elected official on board with funding infrastructure neglect? And will that come as a result of better education, a better economy, breaking down those silos, drought (or floods), more extreme event, more breaks or something else?
Happy New Year everyone. Best to all my friends and followers in 2016!
My apologies for being offline for a month. It has been very busy. I got back from Utah, and it was tests, reports, etc. Then Thanksgiving – we went to Disney for my stepdaughter. Then the Florida Section AWWA conference, then student final design presentations with President Kelly present for some of it, then finals, then a trip to the west coast, then posting grades, then it’s now. Crazy. And my kitchen is being worked on -see the photos of what is left of it. Not much, and Christmas is how far away. Yikes. At least the wrapping and chopping are 99% done!
In the meantime a lot has happened. Congress cut SRF funding, but passed the transportation bill. They passed WITAF, but provided minimal funding. The debates roll on. A recent South Park episode is all about illegal immigrants from Canada escaping, then there is a wall built, by the Canadian so t hose who left don’t come back, and then we find out who the new president in Canada looks like… well you just have to watch and be scared. Very scared. If you do not follow South Park, well you are just missing it.
Russia had a plane brought down by an apparent ISIS bomb. The Egyptians deny it. Too much arguing about was it or wasn’t it to garner much of an outcry. Best wishes to the friends and families of the victims. Then France had their 911 event sponsored by ISIS, and most of the world is sending their best wishes to the victims, the victims families and the French population. In such events, most of the world comes together. Everybody was French for a day. Best wishes to the friends and families of the victims. Then the couple in California. Best wishes to the friends and families of the victims. But it raises a very disconcerting question, and one fraught with far too many xenophobic concerns as ISIS and their allies like the Taliban, Boko Hiram and others continue to reign terror and violence on the rest of the world. The xenophobic response will be – whom do we trust in the Muslim world? If you don’t believe in blowback, listen to the debates. One commentator points out the xenophobia may actually help ISIS (Donald are you listening?). LOL – of course not. But utilities should expect another round of security costs and analyses in the future.
The Florida Section conference was great. The venue was great (Renaissance at Sea World). The program garnered a lot of buzz and comments. Who knew at a water conference that potable reuse would be the big topic? I also won two awards at the Florida Section conference – a best paper award and the Alan B. Roberts award for Outstanding Service by a member. Wow!! I am humbled. A lot of great utility folks were present at the FSAWW conference. It is a great event for the water industry (that includes wastewater, storm water etc.). The technical program is designed to be good, timely and useful to those that attend. While all utilities struggle with costs, please make time to send your folks if possible. The training cost is reasonable for what you get and who you meet.
My students did well on tests and presentations. President Kelly was impressed with their presentations and projects at the Dean’s Design Showcase. We have never had the Dean at student presentations, let alone the President of the University. My sincere appreciation to him, his staff and those that made it happen. The students were pleased and impressed. And they are getting jobs easily. You can tell people are building and working on infrastructure as most of the graduates get jobs right away, if they don’t have them already.
Grading and the west coast went well. The Fort Myers News Press-Sunday Headline was “Where has all the water gone” – a discussion on how groundwater is depleting across the country including south Florida which gets 60 inches of rain. But the article points out what that climate, rainfall, recharge and other factors have been altered in south Florida as a result of development. We really do make an impact and it is affecting utilities today. This follows another article last week on depleted groundwater around the world. I have lots of photos in my travels from the air – groundwater use is highest where surface waters are limited – i.e. dry areas. Except in dry areas, the groundwater does not recharge. I had a student do a project for his master’s degree that estimated that groundwater depletion is a measureable percentage of sea level rise. More to come on that.
Next the kitchen. I will post photos in another blog.
As I said, a busy month.
There is an interesting ethical issues that arises in this discussion also. Engineers are entrusted to protect the public health, safety and welfare. When there were few people, projects did not impact many so little thought was given to the “what could possible happen” question. We are still paying for that. When bad things happen, the precedent has unfortunately been set that somehow “the government” will resolve this. An old 1950s BOR director said he thought he was “a hero because he helped create more room for people” in the west with dams and water projects. He did accomplish that, except that while there were more people coming, the resources were never analyzed for sustainability, nor the impact it might have on the existing or potential future economic resources. But once the well runs dry, I think we just assumed that another solution would resolve any issue. But what is if doesn’t?
There are many water supply examples, where we have engineered solutions that have brought water or treated water to allow development. South Florida is a great example – we drained half a state. But no one asked if that development was good or appropriate – we drained off a lot of our water supply in the process and messed up the ecological system that provided a lot of the recharge. No one asked in the 1930 if this was a good idea.
Designing/building cities in the desert, designing systems that pump groundwater that does not recharge, or design systems that cannot be paid for by the community – we know what will happen at some point. Now that there are more people, conflicts become more likely and more frequent. Most times engineers are not asked to evaluate the unintended consequences of the projects they build. Only to build them to protect the public health safety and welfare while doing so, but from a specific vantage point.
So if you know a project will create a long-term consequence, what action should you take? So the question is whether there is a conflict between engineers meeting their obligations to the public and economic interests in such cases? Or should we just build, build, build, with no consideration of the consequences?
We are all aware of the major drought issues in California this year – it has been building for a couple years. The situation is difficult and of course the hope is rain, but California was a desert before the big water projects on the 1920s and 30s. Los Angeles gets 12 inches of rain, seasonally, so could never support 20 million people without those projects. The central valley floor has fallen over 8 feet in places due to groundwater withdrawals. Those will never come back to levels of 100 years ago because the change in land surface has collapsed the aquifer. But the warm weather and groundwater has permitted us to develop the Central Valley to feed the nation and world with produce grown in the desert. The development in the desert reminds me of a comment I saw in an interview with Floyd Dominy (I think), BOR Commissioner who said his vision was to open the west for more people and farming, and oversaw lots of projects to bring water to where there was none (Arizona, Utah). The problem is that the west never head much agriculture or population because it was hot, dry and unpredictable – hence periodic droughts should be no surprise – the reason they are a surprise is that we have developed the deserts far beyond their capacity through imported water and groundwater. Neither may be reliable in the long run and disruptions are, well, disruptive. Archaeologist Bryan Fagan traced the fall of Native American tribes in Arizona to water deficits 1000 years ago.
Yet policymakers have realized that civil engineers have the ability to change the course of nature, at least temporarily, as we have in the west, south, Florida. I often say that the 8th and 9th wonders of the world are getting water to LA over the mountains and draining the southern half the state of Florida. I have lived in S. Florida for 25+ years and am very familiar with our system. The difference though is that we have the surficial Biscayne aquifer and a rainy season that dumps 40 inches of rain on us and LA doesn’t (as a note of caution, for the moment we are 14 inches below normal in South Florida – expect the next drought discussion to ensue down here in the fall). The biggest problems with the Everglades re-plumbing are that 1) no one asked about unintended consequences – the assumption was all swamps are bad, neglecting impacts of the ecosystem, water storage, water purification in the swamp, control of feedwater to Florida Bay fisheries, ….. 2) one of those unintended consequences is that the recharge area for the Biscayne aquifer is the Everglades. So less water out there = less water supply along the coast for 6 million people 3) we lowered the aquifer 4-6 ft along the coastal ridge, meaning we let saltwater migrate inland and contaminate coastal wellfields 4) we still have not figured out how to store any of that clean water – billions o gallons go offshore every day because managing Lake Okeechobee and the upper Everglades was made much more difficult when the Everglades Agricultural Area was established on the south side of Lake Okeechobee, which means lots of nutrients in the upper Everglades, and a lack of place for the lake to overflow, which meant dikes, more canals, etc. to deal with lake levels.
The good news is that people only use 11% of the water in California and Florida, and that Orange County, CA and others have shown a path to some degree of sustainability (minus desal), but the real problem is water for crops and the belief that communities need to grow. When we do water intensive activities like agriculture or housing, in places where it should not be, it should be obvious that we are at risk. Ultimately the big issue it this – no policy makers are willing to say there is “no more water. You cannot grow anymore and we are not going to send all that water to Ag.” Otherwise, the temporary part of changing nature will come back to haunt us.