It is the end of the semester.  Where did winter go?  Congratulations to our students who are graduating May 4!.  Early this time.  Maybe I can get all the grades done before the weekend!!   Looks Like Colorado has had some snow, so my July trip out should be fun and green (Hot, but fun).  Lemon basil ice cream in Grand Lake.  You cannot imagine how good that is!  We are also planning a Yellowstone trip and I cannot wait to grab 1000s of photos to share.  Last time I was at Yellowstone I shot 1000 picture on film.  No limitations this time!!!!  How I will use the concepts in a future paper I am unsure, but I would like to do a comparative study across Alaska, Michigan, Colorado and Florida as a summer class.  It would be interesting I think. Or at least I can gather enough data for….another project.  In the meantime, I will be back to blogging.  Economics and utilities and leadership – fodder for another book perhaps?.  I am looking at a paper on stewardship that may tie to an ethics seminar next Fall.  And I am hoping AWWA will help with the “leadership in the water industry” survey that is partially drafted but need a survey.  I know people are tired of surveys, but sometimes there is one that might help us all.  We think this is one.


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.

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.

In the last blog I commented on the Donald Sterling, Thomas Sowell and Clive Bundy comments the week before. I wonder if letting the hate out just a way to keep us from looking at the bigger picture from a political (and maybe business) perspective? And should utilities we concerned? The answers may be yes, and yes an dhere is why. An August 2012 Pew Research Center report noted that only half of American households are middle-income, down from 61 percent in the 1970s. The shift was downward, not upward as the very rich (0.1%) control 58% of the wealth in the US. In addition, median middle-class income decreased by 5 percent in the last decade, while total wealth dropped 28 percent. The need for social programs, despite cutbacks and revisions to the welfare programs in the Clinton era, have increased – since 2000 Medicaid has increased from 34 million people to 54 million in 2011 and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) from 17 million to 45 million in 2011. Keep in mind that income drives qualification for these services so it means that incomes are down for millions in America. The increase in people needing help is no surprise since there is an ongoing increase in the number of lower-wage service jobs like food preparation, retail and service industry, but the number of middle-class occupations, like teaching and construction, have declined. Since 2010, the State of Florida has added 400,000 jobs, impressive except that the vast majority are service and retail jobs that pay just above minimum wage. The job growth in low wage jobs does not replace the loss of middle income jobs which is why 47% of households did not earn enough to pay income tax in 2103. It is not because they don’t want to, it’s because they don’t get paid enough. And we have tens of millions of these low wage jobs that don’t pay enough for the recipients to pay taxes. Just the opposite of what some of the political discussion would have you believe.

The loss of wages is felt locally more than nationally. It means that local officials hear about costs more because water, sewer, power, etc competes for an ever larger portion of the shrinking paycheck. So we see more attention paid to affordability indexes, the ability to pay. The concept of affordability is to take your annual water and sewer bill and divide it by the average or median local income. The goal is water plus wastewater is under 3.5% of the median income. Keeping the percent low is great and easy when people are making more money, but creates a lot of difficulty when the incomes are static or dropping. An our costs are rising due to the increasing need to maintain and upgrade infrastructure that has been neglected since 1980 (the annual investment is under 1.4% for most of the US infrastructure for the last 30 years. We need to invest above 2.3% to keep up according to GAO).

When income drop, costs become more important, and local water and sewer costs are often easier targets to limit than groceries, rent, power, telephone, cable or other services that are not subject to local official votes. So it is in all of our interests to work with local officials, colleges, vocational schools, public schools et al. to attract or build a economy that features higher income jobs, to get everyone employed, and to provide training, infrastructure, outreach, health care and other help to establish a competent, highly skilled workforce in a community. That means that utilities must support the local efforts to effect social change in the community, to help meet the needs of residents not just with water, but with respect to the local economy as well. Does that mean we are actually agents for social change?

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