Tag Archives: public relations

The term algae encompass a variety of simple structures, from single-celled phytoplankton floating in the water, to large seaweeds.  Algae can be single-celled, filamentous or plant-like, anchored to the bottom.  Algae are aquatic, plant-like organisms – phytoplankton.  Phytoplankton provides the basis for the whole marine food chain. Phytoplankton need light to photosynthesize so will therefore float near the top of the water, where sunlight reaches it.  Light is the most limiting factor for algal growth, followed by nitrogen and phosphorus limitations), but other nutrients are required including carbon, silica, and other micronutrients. These microscopic organisms are common in coastal areas.  They proliferate through cell division.

A natural progression occurs in many water bodies, from diatoms, to green algae to yellow/brown to blue-green, with time and temperature.  The environment is important.  Southern waters are characterized as being slow moving, and warm.  This encourages cyanobacteria – or blue green algae.  The introduction of nutrients is particularly difficult as it accelerates the formation of the blue green algae. Blue-green algae creates the bright green color, but is actually an end-of-progression organism.

If cells are present in the water mass in large numbers an algal bloom occurs.  An algal bloom is simply a rapid increase in the population of algae in an aquatic system. Blooms may occur in freshwater as well as marine environments. Colors observed are green, bright green, brown, yellowish-brown, or red, although typically only one or a few phytoplankton species are involved and some blooms may be recognized by discoloration of the water resulting from the high density of pigmented cells.

So the desire for development created the idea to drain the swamp, which led to exposure of dark, productive soil that led to farming, which lead to fertilizers, which led to too much water, and water pollution leading to algae.  A nice, predictable progression created by people.  So what is the solution?

The reliability of the assets within the area of interest starts with the design process in the asset management plan. Decision-making dictates how the assets will be maintained and effective means to assure the maximum return on investments. Through condition assessment, the probability of failure can be estimated. Assets can also fail due to a growing area that may contribute to exceeding its maximum capacity. Operation and maintenance of the assets are important in reassuring a longer life span as well as getting the most out of the money to be spent. Prioritizing the assets by a defined system will allow for the community to see what areas are most susceptible to vulnerability/failure, which assets need the most attention due to their condition, and where the critical assets are located in relation to major public areas (hospitals, schools, etc.) with a high population.

So what happens when conditions change?  Let’s say sea levels are rising and your land is low.  What would the potential costs be to address this?  Better yet, what happens if it rains? We looked at one south Florida community and the flood stage for each based on 3 storm events: the 1:10 used by FDOT (Assumes 2.75 inches in 24 hours), the Florida Building Code event that includes a 5 in in one hour event (7 in in 24 hrs), and the 3 day 25 year event (9.5-11 inches).

Of no surprise is that the flooding increases as rainfall increases.  Subsequent runs assumed revisions based on sea level rise. The current condition, 1, 2 and 3 ft sea level rise scenarios were run at the 99 percentile groundwater and tidal dates and levels.  Tables 2-5 depict the flood stage results for each scenarios.  The final task was designed to involve the development of scenarios whereby a toolbox options are utilized to address flooding in the community.  Scenarios were to be developed to identify vulnerabilities and cost effectiveness as discussed previously.

The modeling results were then evaluated based of the accompanying infrastructure that is typically associated with same.  A summary of the timelines and expected risk reductions were noted in the tables associated with storm and SLR scenarios.  This task was to create the costs for the recommended improvements and a schedule for upgrading infrastructure will be developed in conjunction with staff.  Two issues arise.  First, the community needs to define which event they are planning to address and the timelines as the costs vary form an initial need of $30 million to over $300 million long-term.  Figure 1 shows how these costs rise with respect to time.  The long-term needs of $5 million per 100 acres matches with a prior effort in Palm Beach County.

SLR costs

Figure 1  Summary of Costs over the 3 ft of potential sea level Rise by 2011, under the 3 storm planning concepts.

I was at a recent AWWA technical and Education Council meeting in Denver. One of the major discussions was the issues with lead service lines as highlighted by the current problem in Flint, and how many utilities are now fielding questions about and dealing with lead in their services lines, research that will come for lead, and regulatory requirements for upgrades. One issue that remains unanswered is what happens on the customer’s side of the meter, which may also be lead piping. So removing the utility’s lead service would not solve the lead issue completely, but it will help. But why has lead not been an issue in 25 years? Did it suddenly arise?
While the lead has arisen again as a public health topic, the lead and copper rule has been in effect for nearly 30 years and much of the lead and copper testing was conducted in the early 1990s. Most utilities made water treatment upgrades based the findings from the testing, and utilities have been required to continue to monitor their system ever since. Normally lead levels, even when present, were not a health issue because the zinc orthophosphates and other treatment methods kept the pipe
encapsulated. Others like Cincinnati, Lansing, Madison, Boston and others had ongoing programs to replace lead pipes. 30 years ago in North Carolina we changed out lead goosenecks and galvanized lines rather than replace them – it was just easier.
Most of the folks in the room agreed most utilities have or have such programs and that the number of lead service lines and lead goosenecks on the utility side is
limited. So I suggested that maybe the lesson we should learn from Flint is not about lead service lines, but instead the risks we incur with decision-makers who only look at money when making decisions. Flint’s decision to change water sources was driven by money, not public health.
In fact the report just published indicates that public health was not a real consideration at all. But decisions based on money impacted not only Flint, but Alamosa, CO in 2008, where disinfection was not practiced, and Walkerton,
ONT in 2001 where a Flint like set of decisions cascaded into contamination that killed people. There are utiity systems who contract operations and their contract operator makes decisions based on money, and now there is a distribution system problem. This is a repetitive pattern that has less to do with personnel operating these systems, than decision-makers, who tend to look more at the business case or money as opposed to public health. The lesson we need to learn is that money cannot be the
deciding factor when operating public water and sewer system. And to reduce the chance it happens in the future, perhaps there should be penalties if it does.

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.


sand filters




Reverse osmosis



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.


IMG_7385One of the issues I always include in rate studies is a comparison of water rates with other basic services.  Water always comes in at the bottom.  But that works when everyone has access and uses those services.  Several years ago a study indicated that cable tv was in 87-91 % of home.  At the time I was one of the missing percentage, so I thought it was interesting.  However, post the 2008 recession, and in certain communities, this may be a misplace comparison.  A recent study by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman notes that the top 0.1% have assets that are worth the same as the bottom 90% of the population!  Yes, you read that correctly.  Occupy Wall Street had it wrong.  It’s not the 1% it is the 0.1%.  This is what things were like in the 1920s, just before the Great Depression.  The picture improved after the implementation of tax policies (the top tax rate until 1964 was 90% – yes you read that right – 90%).  Then the tax rate was slowly reduced to deal with inflation.  The picture continued to improve until supply side economics was introduced in the early 1980s when the disparity started to rise again (see their figure below), tripling since the late 1970s (you recall the idea was give wealthy people more money and they would invest it in jobs that would increase employment opportunities and good jobs for all, or something like that).  Supply side economics did not/does not work (jobs went overseas), and easy credit borrowing and education costs have contributed to the loss of asset value for the middle class as they strove to meet job skills requirements for better jobs.  In addition wages have stagnated or fallen while the 0.1% has seen their incomes rise.  The problem has been exacerbated since 2008 as they report no recovery in the wealth of the middle class and the poor.  So going back to my first observation – what gets cut from their budget, especially the poor and those of fixed pensions?  Food?  Medicine?  Health care?  My buddy Mario (86 year old), still works because he can’t pay his bills on social security.  And he does not live extravagantly.  So do they forego cable and cell phones?  If so the comparison to these costs in rate studies does not comport any longer.  It places at risk people more at risk.  And since, rural communities have a lower income and education rate than urban areas, how much more at risk are they?  This is sure to prove more interesting in the coming years.  Hopefully with some tools we are developing, these smaller communities can be helped toward financial and asset sustainability.  But it may require some tough decisions today.

Income percent



In my last blog I introduced our ethics project we hope to make progress on.  But here is one of the interesting questions, especially in Florida.  I could not find any actual laws or rules issues here, but it is increasingly common for big engineering contracts to have lawyers, lobbyists, etc. get involved in what is intended to be a qualifications based selection process? There is an interesting issue raised in 287.055 FS (CCNA) where the legal intent is that governmental agencies “shall negotiate a contract with the most qualified firm for professional services at compensation which the agency determines is fair, competitive, and reasonable.” Most states use credentials and qualifications for selection as opposed to cost, because the lowest cost may not get you the best job.  You want people doing engineering that have experience with the type of project you are doing.  This has come up to me with storage tanks, membrane plans, deep wells, etc.  You want someone that has done it before, not someone who is cheaper but hasn’t. There is too much at risk.

In addition the statute is fairly specific about contingent fees (as are most states):


(a) Each contract entered into by the agency for professional services must contain a prohibition against contingent fees as follows: “The architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) warrants that he or she has not employed or retained any company or person, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper, or professional engineer, as applicable) to solicit or secure this agreement and that he or she has not paid or agreed to pay any person, company, corporation, individual, or firm, other than a bona fide employee working solely for the architect (or registered surveyor and mapper or professional engineer, as applicable) any fee, commission, percentage, gift, or other consideration contingent upon or resulting from the award or making of this agreement.” For the breach or violation of this provision, the agency shall have the right to terminate the agreement without liability and, at its discretion, to deduct from the contract price, or otherwise recover, the full amount of such fee, commission, percentage, gift, or consideration.

So here is the question:  As the public becomes more aware of these types of political lobbying activities, does it move the perception of engineers away from a profession and more towards profession toward developers, lawyers and others who are often seen as less ethical than perhaps engineer, doctors, educators, and scientists?  And if so, is this good for either the engineering profession or the local governments (and their utilities) involved in the selection process?  The comment that “that’s how business get done” is not an acceptable argument when the priority purpose of engineers, and utility operators is the protection of the HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE OF THE PUBLIC.  Somehow I think the politicizing of engineering contracts does not help our profession.  Looking forward to your thoughts.


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?

Earlier this year the Journal for AWWA had several articles about water use and infrastructure needs.  One of the major concerns that has arisen in older communities, especially in the Rust Belt and the West is that demands per person have decreased.  There are a number of reasons for this –the 1992 Energy Policy Act changes to plumbing codes that implemented low flush fixtures, the realization in the west that water supplies are finite and conservation is cheaper than new supplies, a decline in population, deindustrialization, and climate induced needs.  But all add up to the result that total water use has not really changed over the past 30 years and in many locales, water sales may have decreased.  Water utilities rely on water sales for revenues so any decrease in sales must be met with an increase in cost.  Price elasticity suggests the increase will be met with another decrease in sales, etc.  It is a difficult circle to deal with.  So less water, whether through deliberate water conservation or other means, creates a water revenue dilemma for utilities.  A concern about conserving to much and eliminating slack in the system also results.

Less water means less money for infrastructure.  Communities do not see a need for new infrastructure because there are fewer new people to serve.  Replacing old infrastructure has always been a more difficult sell because “I already have service, why should I be paying for more service” is a common cry, unless you are in my neighborhood where the water pipes keep breaking and we are begging the City to install new lines (they are on my street J)  Educating customers about the water (and sewer) system are needed to help resident understand the impacts, and risk they face as infrastructure ages.  They also want to understand that the solutions are “permanent” meaning that in 5 or 10 years we won’t be back to do more work.  Elected officials and projected elected officials (the tough one) should be engaged in this discussion because they should all be on the same page in selling the ideas to the public.  And the needs are big.  We are looking at $1 trillion just for water line replacement by 2050 and that is probably a low number(2010 dollars).  The biggest needs are in the south where infrastructure will start hitting its expected life.  The south want west will also be looking for about $700 billion in growth needs as well.  All this will cause a need for higher rates, especially with ¼ less low interest SRF funds avaialalbe this year from Congress.

The rainy season has sort-of started in south Florida and with it comes flooding and discussions of the falls end of season and concurrent high, high tides for the year, flooding and the impact of sea level rise on low-lying areas.  Much focus has been spent on the causes of sea level rise and the potential flooding caused by same.  However the flooding can be used as a surrogate to impacts to the social and economic base of the community.  By performing vulnerability assessments, coastal areas can begin planning for the impacts of climate change in order to safeguard their community’s social, cultural, environmental and economic resources. Policies need to focus on both mitigation and adaptation strategies, essentially, the causes and effects of climate change. Policy formulation should be based on sound science, realizing that policy decisions will be made and administered at the local level to better engage the community and formulate local decisions.

Making long-term decisions will be important.  Businesses look at long-term viability when making decisions about relocating enterprises.  The insurance industry, which has traditionally been focused on a one year vision of risk, is beginning to discuss long-term risks and not insuring property rebuild is risk-prone areas.  That will affect how bankers look at lending practices, which likely will decrease property values.  Hence it is in the community’s interests to develop a planning framework to adapt to sea level rise and protect vulnerable infrastructure through a long-term plan.

While uncertainties in the scale, timing and location of climate change impacts can make decision-making difficult, response strategies can be effective if planning is initiated early on. Because vulnerability can never be estimated with great accuracy due to uncertainty in the rate of warming, deglaciation and other factors, the conventional anticipation approach should be replaced or supplemented with one that recognizes the importance of building resiliency.  The objectives of the research were to develop a method for planning for sea level rise, and providing a means to prioritize improvements at the appropriate time.  In addition the goals were to provide guidance in developing a means to prioritize infrastructure to maximize benefit to the community by prioritizing economic and social impacts.

Adaptation planning must merge scientific understanding with political and intuitional capacity on an appropriate scale and horizon.  According to Mukheibir and Ziervogel (2007), there are 10 steps to consider when creating an adaptation strategy on the municipal level.  To summarize, these are as follows:

  1. Assess current climate trends and future projections for the region (defining the science).
  2. Undertake a preliminary vulnerability assessment of the community and communicate results through vulnerability maps (using GIS and other tools).
  3. Analyze vulnerability spatially, by overlaying development priorities with expected climate change on GIS maps to identify hotspots where adaptation activities should be focused.
  4. Survey current strategic plans and development priorities to reduce redundancy and understand institutional capacity.
  5. Develop an adaptation strategy that focuses on highly vulnerable areas. Make sure the strategy offers a range of adaptation actions that are appropriate to the local context.
  6. Prioritize adaptation actions using tools such as multi-criteria analysis (MCA), cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and/or social accounting matrices (SAM).
  7. Develop a document which covers the scope, design and budget of such actions (what they call a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP)).
  8. Engage stakeholders and decision-makers to build political support. Implement the interventions prioritized in the MAP.
  9. Monitor and evaluate the interventions on an ongoing basis.
  10. Regularly review and modify the plans at predefined intervals.


The strengths of this framework are the initial focus on location-specific science, the use of both economic and social evaluation criteria, and the notion that the plan is not a fixed document, but rather a process that evolves in harmony with a changing environment.  The final two steps occur at regular intervals by the community with associated adjustments made.  The next question is how to develop the data and priorities.

Last week I went to Boston for the American Water Works Association Annual Conference and Exposition.  It is a gathering of thousands of water industry professionals – from operators to university professors to engineers to manufacturers.  It is a good group of people and most know a number of people each year.  The industry is smaller than one things despite there being over 50,000 community water systems in the United States.  All are there to network, which allows them to discuss their issue, learn new ways to approach things, create new contacts and see new equipment and techniques.  Over 11,000 registered.  Good job to AWWA staff and the folks in New England that local hosts.

At the conference, one of many tasks, beyond meetings and education, was to do a class for public officials on what water and sewer utilities are, how they operate, how to deal with revenues and expenses and regulations.  The idea is to help local officials understand the complex utility issues which are often second fiddle to more “surficial” activities like parks, and economic development.   The officials get a certificate from AWWA for 12 hours of class time, but the fact that these folks come, spend the time, get involved and can then experience the rest of the program is to be commended.  I have been doing these public officials classes since my book came out in 2009.  The first two days are always based on the book, but the third day can vary depending on issues in the news and preferences form the public officials group within AWWA.  This year the focus was operations and revenues. The responses were positive, and the interaction was very good.  And I had a blast as well.

It had been 40 years since AWWA was in Boston for ACE.  I have been twice previously – once when I was 7 and we went to the aquarium and once to catch a baseball game at Fenway, while on a 5 game, 4 city, 3 day baseball trip.  Boston led off.  This time, I was able to spend a day looking at the City.  Thanks to my friend Chi Ho Sham who acted as chauffer and tour guide – I expect to repay the gesture whenever he can spend a couple days in S. Florida.  Boston as many of you know is the cradle of the American revolution, and visits to the old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, the USS Constitution, several cemeteries and Faneuil Hall.  Fascinating.  Another trip to come as there is much more to experience than a day.

The moral to the story is that conferences allow us to accomplish many things.  We meet new people, hear new things, and if we spend a little time, we can experience how others live or have lived.  The history is valuable to us personally.

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