Oct 12, 2020

WEFTEC Connect Editor Takeaways

Editor's key takeaways from WEFTEC Connect 2020 sessions!

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WEFTEC Connect Editor Takeaways

The Water Environment Federation last week held WEFTEC Connect, a virtual representation of WEFTEC, which would have been held in New Orleans, Louisiana this year. Instead, the event was completely virtual with hundreds of exhibitor booths in the exhibitor showcase area, networking events, and 400 technical and educational sessions. Water & Wastes Digest editors highlighted their most anticipated sessions of WEFTEC Connect prior to the event and below they’ve shared takeaways from select sessions they attended.

Cristina Tuser’s Takeaways

Opening General Session - Clarity Through Crisis

Rene Rodriguez, Volentum

Rene Rodriguez, Volentum kicked-off the opening general session for 2020 WEFTEC Connect. Rodriguez uses his training and experience in applied behavioral neuroscience to facilitate an immersive experience for water professionals. 

The presentation introduces the Courage Scale Model and Brain Model to help viewers navigate their feelings during moments of crisis.

"Too many people confuse being prepared with being panicked,” said Rodriguez.

How to reframe adversity and harness the power of courage to become more thoughtful, engaged, and adaptable leaders during normal times and in moments of crisis is a focal point of this stellar session. 


Stormwater Rules! Making Codes and Ordinances Work for You

Palencia Mobley, City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

Sarah Stoolmiller, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

This session discussed Detroit’s learning curve with a new storm water ordinance. According to Mobley, Detroit has been able to reduce 95% discharges into the Detroit Rivers, using green storm water infrastructure plans to mitigate the damage coming from heavy storms. 

“With community and collaboration, we are managing thousands of acres of land and billions of gallons of storm water,” said a video played in the presentation. We’re bringing together neighbors, improving water quality, and making Detroit more beautiful.”

Decreasing untreated CSOs is a key goal of Detroit. New development and redevelopment were key themes of the presentation. 

“We’re one of the amazing comeback stories of how an investment in an environmental or social construct really reaps rewards from an economic standpoint,” said Mobley. “This is about the economic vitality, social vitality, and the environmental stewardship that we should have as a regulatory body.” 

A key point to note is that flood control and retention requirements were not reasonable for some sites. Detroit’s Post Construction Storm Water Ordinance (PCSWO) was also detailed. 

#StormwaterData: Using Technology to Inform Program Decisions

Gary Conley, Chief Scientist 2NDNATURE

Palencia Mobley, City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department

Tom Batroney, AKRF

Gary Conley, Chief Scientist of 2NDNATURE led a talk about how improving information management and use of technology can enhance storm water program efficiency. 

This session included presentations on digital methods, twitter crowdsourcing, and public mapping to engage communities on storm water. According to Conley, storm water information management is broken due to: high cost, organizational silos, resource intensive, complexity, and program effectiveness.

Conley cites a site in Salinas, California. In 2014 the EPA found the Salinas storm water program ineffective, so change had to occur. 

“The concept I have discussed as well as the platform I have shown has now been implemented in 8 states and 50 cities,” said Conley, referring to 2NDNATURE. 

The second speaker, Palencia Mobley, spoke about the Detroit Stormwater Hub. 

According to Mobley, the website is important so that the implementation of green storm water infrastructure across the city can be displayed concisely and accurately. 

“We really wanted this to be a one-stop shop for people to understand how the city of Detroit is working to actively manage storm water runoff.” 

The last speaker, Tom Batroney, spoke about unlocking Twitter and high-resolution radar rainfall to better understand urban flooding patterns and extents. Using Pittsburgh as an example due to its record flooding in 2018, Batroney demonstrated the pros of taking data and viewing it in place, so that we don’t move on and get over it. 

In Batroney’s opinion, flooding is the greatest challenge facing water professionals, and his Twitter research has affirmed that. To combat this challenge, using more real data observations must occur to better inform and plan future strategies.

Wastewater 101: Solutions Sessions Presentation

These presentations focused on wastewater treatment processes. 

William Flores of Smith & Loveless spoke about centrifugal pump stations and vacuum primed setups. Vacuum primed setups allow it so that one man can do the job. 

Brian Mitchell of WesTech Engineering Inc. discussed secondary clarification, how activated sludge works, tertiary treatment and disinfection of some sort. 

David Dubey of Evoqua Water Technologies outlined the biological nutrient removal process, the nitrogen cycle, and phosphorus removal.

Kathleen Peach of Suez Water Technologies talked about Membrane bioreactors to simplify secondary treatment. The benefits of this system included increased capacity and more consistent effluent quality. 

Pete Leverson of WesTech Engineering described the tertiary treatment done before disinfection. Suspended solids removal, nitrates, phosphorus and various types of filters were focal points of the presentation as well.

Pulp and Paper Wastewater Treatment Issues 

George Patrick, PE, Arcadis

This presentation was based on lab scale treatability tasks to evaluate three technologies used in pulp and paper wastewater treatment. The treatment technologies are: aerated stabilization basins (ASBs), activated sludge treatment (AST), moving bed bioreactor (MBR).

The presentation showcased data comparing the effluent quality of the three technologies in terms of BOD, COD, and ammonia. Design criteria established for the three technologies were discussed as well. 

Katie John’s Takeaways

Show me the Money: Getting Funding and Spending it Effectively

Funding is always a hot topic, and/or challenge, when planning storm water projects and improvements, so hearing from two speakers, Amanda Hallauer with the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management and Christine Boyle with Xylem Vue, provided valuable insight. 

Hallauer spoke on “Financing Community and Resilience and Green Infrastructure in Atlanta with an Environmental Impact Bond.” The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management was awarded Rockefeller Foundation grant funding to pioneer the first publicly offered environmental impact bond. Hallauer walked viewers through an EIB, which uses a “pay for success” approach to its projects and has the ability to model and assign an “economic value to project benefits.”

New York City, which Boyle was speaking on, has been under a consent decree since 1992 for violating the U.S. EPA Clean Water Act. Since then, the city has responded by spending $1.7 billion on major infrastructure since 2009 and launched a NYC Green Infrastructure Plan in 2010, in which the city plans to spend $5.3 billion by 2030. Boyle touched on a publicly available tool NYC is using that features an interactive dashboard to model and compare storm fee policy alternatives.

My key takeaway from this session was the trend in looking at green infrastructure as a solution. We all know about its positive environmental impacts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more cities consider it in funding solutions too.


Plan to Plan: Integrated Master Planning Efforts for Green Infrastructure and Stormwater Management

In this on-demand session, viewers heard from Camille Tigner with ARUP and Shandor Szalay of AKRF on two different case studies.

Tigner spoke on integrating blue and green infrastructure in megacities, specifically Shanghai. In Shanghai, increased runoff is causing flooding, so a new drainage plan is incorporating governance, blue infrastructure, green infrastructure and grey infrastructure. Some measures the project developers are taking include unified GI standards and pilot districts. Key components of the plan also include climate change adaptation, flood control planning and decentralized infrastructure. 

On the second case study, Szalay spoke on Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Water Initiative and the development of a life cycle cost analysis tool for urban green infrastructure. He said there has been an “explosion” of green storm water infrastructure over the past few years.

The life cycle cost analysis tool will come in the next phase of the PWD Sedimentation Research Program, and a goal is to predict the expected lifespan of GSI. Additionally, this tool will help model primary cost input using existing data and compare scenarios in desktop application. 

The “explosion” of green infrastructure seen in the industry, as Szalay said, is something I have noticed as well. More and more cities seem to be turning to green infrastructure for solving storm water problems. Szalay said it comes with many benefits, including its cost effectiveness and the enhanced recreational benefits to communities, so it isn’t surprising that both sessions mentioned here revolve around green infrastructure. Going forward, the industry will likely see an increase in green infrastructure projects. 

Bob Crossen’s Takeaways

Water-side Chat on Health Issues in the Water Sector

Dr. Andrew Sanderson, chief medical officer for Water Environment Federation highlighted several important points in his discussion about health issues for water and wastewater workers. Given the stresses of this year, many operators and field technicians may have felt they cannot take time off because of the pandemic and the importance of their jobs to preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Sanderson likened this to John Henryism, which is reference to the man who worked himself so hard on a railroad to prove he was better than a steam hammer that he died of a heart attack. Wastewater treatment workers, he said, should pay attention to their own health as much as their communities.

“Whether is to take time for your mental health or your physical health, use the resources at your disposal for a break.” Dr. Sanderson said.

Sanderson also touched on the issues and discussions surrounding equity, access and affordability for black and indigenous people of color and other underserved communities. He said a lot of it boils down to resources, and noted that the issue is a global one.

2.2 billion people do not have access to sanitation globally. Transfer of knowledge and resources is critical to addressing this global issue.

“If you look globally, there are millions of people who die from preventable illness because they don’t have access to clean water, don’t have sanitation or good hygiene,” Dr. Sanderson said.

The U.S. has some of the safest water in the world, while also having access to strong sanitation and good hygiene, but there are still issues for communities in the U.S., and we should address them.

Lastly, he touched on one water, cyclical water and water reuse, and how the pandemic has changed or shifted the outlook of the public on reusing water from wastewater facilities.

“I think that's a difficult sell, when you talk about trust issues and political capital,” Dr. Sanderson said.

Even though it is clear the water is not infectious—even data backs this up—the level of trust to employ reuse technologies is something that has to be built over time. 

As we move forward, having an open policy discussion between the government, medical health professionals, and water and wastewater professionals will be necessary to introduce reuse fairly for everybody. 

This point is particularly interesting as it highlights the equitability aspect of water reuse technologies and how that water would then be equitably shared. Dr. Sanderson liked it to that of vaccines. How do we address the ethics of equitable distribution of vaccines? The same will eventually be said of equitable distribution of reused water.