This might be one of the more bizarre stories out there. Exactly ow the kids were able to keep moving the manhole cover I don’t know, but really weird. and very unfortunate. I think it says something about our society unfortunately. Just not sure what…..
You asked for more figures – so here you go Very cool stuff. All done by students.
In the last blog I showed what reclaimed wastewater could do for an ecosystem. Very cool. But what about for drinking water. I actually was involved in an indirect potable reuse project several years ago. The concept was to take wastewater, filter it with sand filters, filter it with microfiltration, reverse osmosis and then hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light. This is what they do in Orange County California when they recharge groundwater, and have been for over 30 years. Epidemiological studies in the 1990s indicated no increased incidence of disease when that water was withdrawn from the aquifer, and then treated in a drinking water plant before distribution. So our project was similar – recharge to the Biscayne aquifer in south Florida. It worked for us. Total phosphorous was below 10 ppb, TDS was less than 3 mg/L (<1 after RO), and we were able to show 3 log removal of endocrine disruption compounds an d pharmaceuticals. It worked well. This is a concept in practice in California. And will be at some point in south Florida since only the Biscayne aquifer provides sustainable water supplies. Here is what our system looked like.
This is also the same basic concept Big Springs Texas uses for their direct potable program, demonstrating that the technology is present to treat the water. A means for continuous monitoring is lacking, but Orange County demonstrates that for indirect potable reuse projects, a well operated plant will not risk the public health. This is how we do it safely.
We have a lot of conversations about the impact of people on the ecosystem, the cost to reuse wastewater, competing water demands, water limited areas etc. All are valid issues to raise and since people control the outcomes in all of these situations, we need to be aware of consequences. So while Florida is a leader is wastewater reuse for irrigation, it is kinda cool to see what happens when we think outside the box. The Wakodahatchee wetland is a sewer treatment area created by Palm Beach County Utilities a number of years ago. This is reclaimed quality water placed into an area specifically designed to allow for nutrient removal and aquifer recharge. The County placed mosquitofish in the water to reduce mosquitos. Bluegills found there way. So did the turtles and alligators. But this is THE bird watching site in southern Palm Beach County. And it is located between the wastewater plant and a neighborhood. You can’t get parking easily. This is an example where looking at the bigger picture seems to have a positive effect on the community and the ecosystem as well. The birds don’t look unhappy.
My cousin once asked me what I thought about deciding on who to vote for for President might be best done when evaluating how well your 401K or investments did. Kind of an amusing thought. In that vein the decisions might be very different than they were. Clearly your 401k did with with Clinton. The economy was flat for George W. Bush, and the end of his term was the Great Recession. Reagan’s first term was flat. We all know about George H.W. Bush. Interesting thoughts. Not so good. So what about the last 8 years? But is raises a more interesting issue. So don’t get me wrong, this blog is not intended to lobby for any candidate (and Obama can’t run), but it is interesting to look at the last 8 years. They have been difficult. The economy responded slowly. Wages did not rebound quickly. But in comparison to 2008 are we better off?
The question has relevance for utilities because if our customers are better off, that gives us more latitude to do the things we need – build reserves (so we have funds for the next recession), repair/replace infrastructure (because unlike fine wine, it is not improving with age), improve technology (the 1990s are long gone), etc., all things that politicians have suppressed to comport with the challenges faced by constituents who have been un- or under-employed since 2008.
Economist Paul Krugman makes an interesting case in a recent op-ed in the New York times: (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/yes-he-did/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs®ion=Body). Basically he summarizes the figure below which shows that unemployment is back to pre-2008 levels, and income is back to that point. Some income increase would have been good, but this basically tracks with the Bush and Reagan years for income growth – flat. So the question now is in comparison to 2008 are we worse off that we were? And if not, can we convince leaders to move forward to meet our needs? Can we start funding some of the infrastructure backlog? Can we modernize? Can we create “smarter networks?” Can we adjust incomes to prevent more losses of good employees? Can we improve/update equipment? All issues we should contemplate in the coming budget.
Most states were doing pretty well before the 2008 recession hit, but that ended in 2009. Most states had to make extremely difficult cuts or raise taxes, which was politically unacceptable. Of course invested pension systems received a lot of attention as their value dropped and long term sufficiency deteriorated, which was fodder for many changes in pensions, albeit not how they were invested. The good news is a lot of them came back in the ensuing 5 years, but 2015 may be different. A number of states have reported low earnings in 2015 and whether this may be the start of another recession. The U.S. economy has averaged a recession every six years since WWII and it has been almost seven years since the last contraction. With China devaluing their currency, this may upset the economic engine. At present there are analysts on Wall Street who suggest that some stocks may be overvalued, just like in 1999. If so, that does not bode well states like Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey, Louisiana, Alaska and Pennsylvania that are dealing with significant imbalances between their expenses and incomes. Alaska has most of its revenue tied to oil, so when oil prices go down (good for most of us), it is a huge problem for Alaska that gives $2200 to every citizen in the state. An economic downturn portends poorly for the no tax, pro-business experiment in Kansas that has been unsuccessful in attracting the large influx of new businesses, or even expansion of current ones. California and next door Missouri, often chided by Kansas lawmakers as how not to do business, outperform Kansas.
Ultimately the issue that lawmakers must face at the state and as a result the local level is that tax rates may not be high enough to generate the funds needed to operate government and protect the states against economic down turns. There is a “sweet spot” where funds are enough, to deal with short and long term needs, but starving government come back to haunt these same policy makers when the economy dips. It would be a difficult day for a state to declare bankruptcy because lawmakers refuse to raise taxes and fees.
The other thing we learned was that we need to be far more careful about what goes in the sewer system. Paper towels, baby wipes and hand towels do not deteriorate in the sewers. No matter what manufacturers claim, you find them everywhere and they look just like they did when flushed. They clog lift station pumps and pipelines. Do not put these down the toilet for any reason? Likewise there are no feminine hygiene products that should be flushed, ever! Again regardless what the manufacturers claim, you can find there ubiquitously in the sewer system and they look, well just like they did when flushed. No biodegradation. I have included some figures. They show up in pump clogging and at plants as well. They are not biodegradable. Again do not put these down the toilet! Put all these products in the trashcan in the bathroom.
Worse, do not put grease down the drain. One photo is a greaseball in a manhole. It fills the whole manhole up! Of course the feminine hygiene products, towels, wipes, etc. plus grease make almost impenetrable obstacles that block the sewer system. So we need to remove the inflow and we need to keep grease and the reset of these products out to reduce the costs of operating the wastewater utility. We all contribute, and we all can help. We want systems to operate properly and dependably, so let’s do our part.
Wastewater utilities and water utilities are intrinsically linked. Wastewater utilities often discharge to water bodies that are water supplies for downstream water plants. In other cases, wastewater plants provide additional supply options to reduce water demands in the form of reclaimed water. However as a wastewater utility, costs are often associated with power- pumping and aeration, which can be 30% or more of the utility’s costs in the worst cases. However, substantial savings in operations can be achieved by reducing the amount of wastewater that must be pumped and treated and in some cases that reduction also is associated with water quality benefits for the reuse of reclaimed water. Utilities have long dealt with the infiltration and inflow (I and I) issues in their system by televising their pipes and identifying leak points, but this primarily addresses only the infiltration part of I and I. Inflow and infiltration are not the same thing – they are very different and must be addressed differently. Inflow causes hydraulic issues during rain events – like sanitary sewer overflows and basement flooding. Both subject the utility liability from lawsuits and/or regulatory fines. Inflow is the risk issue that must be addressed to protect the utility. A cost effective solution to inflow involves low tech, low cost methods can identify the problems that can corrected easily. Removing the inflow portion from I and I, often leads to a more focused plan for infiltration correction. What are those tools? Smoke testing, cleanout repairs, sealing manholes and manhole dishes. But each of these needs to be carefully selected. Because these solutions, pipe that leak can be seen through another low tech solution – a midnight monitoring event. Recent efforts here in south Florida indicate that only 15-20% of the pipes in a sewer system need to be televised and within those, about half the leaky pipes are actually not leaking – they are broke laterals. Laterals are one of the most ignored parts of the sewer system – often they are small pipes and much of the piping is on private property so the utility does not address those pipes. And in many utilities these are the pipes in the worst condition.
Other things that our efforts have shown are that new pipe can leak, just like old pipe, clay is not the only pipe that leaks and that the inflow solutions can be very helpful. Figures 1-4 show how the solutions affected three lift stations and one community. The graphs show rainfall vs flow. Before these efforts, the flows increased with rainfall events. After, they did not. Hence this utility was able to resolve its risk for overflows at a cost of under $500/manhole. That is relatively inexpensive.
So I am training a group of public officials about utilities. Many have limited experience; others much more so. The interesting question that came up is how these officials should communicate with their customers. Interesting question and one that often receives little thoughts. So I thought their thoughts might be enlightening, keeping in mind that I have abbreviated some of them, and this was a discussion. Here are the thoughts they provided, in no particular order:
“Not the newspaper, most residents do not receive the newspaper anymore”
“Who are our customers and how do they communicate? Until you can answer that, you will not reach them. Ask them.”
“If 37% percent of your customers are direct deposit – should we send them direct mailings?” Response: “Yes! They will not think it is a bill and they might read it.”
“Most people discard bill stuffers without reading them . That wastes a lot of time and money.”
“We have a Facebook page, but we don’t just talk utilities. We talk about things that might interst them like strawberry shortcake recipes and current community events.”
“We use twitter and Facebook”
“We have a website, but we found the website was useless if we did not keep it current constantly. It takes effort and someone with that responsibility to accomplish that.”
“We use Facebook to get people interested, then use it to direct them to our website.”
“Every utility should have a public relations person that deals with media, and can brand your utility to the public.”
“Understand your demographics and then figure out how they communicate – phone, twitter, Facebook, on line, etc. Maybe all of these, interconnected. You can find local people who will do this for your professionally. The results are worth the investment.”
“Radio is useless, just like the paper. Avoid the television because they really only want to report the bad stuff.”
“Blogs tied to websites and Facebook are helpful.”
“Many venues are needed – make the message the same.”
“Ask the young people in your community – they will know how the reach the residents.”
“Don’t focus just on utility issues, add content on topics they might be interested in.”
“Public relations is as important as providing good service. It is part of your job.”
“worth every dollar spent.”
Interesting isn’t it. I wonder if the mainstream media will take note? And I wonder how many utilities do not have these things and will consider it as a part of the coming budget cycle?