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!