courtesy of CH2M Hill)
wastewater treatment infrastructure is in sorry shape. Population
growth and development have overwhelmed expansion of collection
systems across much of the U.S. Maintenance often has lagged
as many cities still rely on pipes that were put in the ground
over a century ago.
Over a third of Newark, N.J.s
170-mile collection system is brick. Alexandria, Va.s
sewer network even has a few feet of wooden pipe underlying
its historic Old Town section. The two are not too different
from aging systems in many other cities that are prone to
leaks and spills.
A 2002 federal report estimated
that 1.2 trillion gallons of overflows occur each year from
combined stormwater and sanitary sewers. Inflow and infiltration
is also a huge problem. "We estimate that our I/I may
run as high as 45%," says Emily Baker, Alexandrias
There are about 16,000 publicly
owned treatment plants in the U.S. Like the aging sewer systems
that feed them, many have been chronically underfunded and
are now wearing out. "In many places, the local politicians
wont step up," says Rob Pennington, an engineer
in the Edison, N.J., office of consulting engineer Camp Dresser
& McKee Inc. "Theyre feeling strapped, probably
running a deficit, with no prospect of help from Washington
or their state capital. Problems are out of sight, either
at the treatment plant or buried underground. To raise rates
with a big capital program is viewed as a sure way for a politician
to have an out-of-office experience."
Fixing or replacing pipes is the
next step in cleansing the nations water and follows
the early success of the construction grants program included
in 1972s Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The grant
program funded a massive building of wastewater plants that
treated flows to secondary standards. But cities and states
are now on their own and the country seems stuck in a holding
pattern. A 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis
of water and wastewater treatment needs noted that wastewater
treatment efficiencies are leveling off.
It should come as no surprise.
The federal government in 1980 pumped $9.7 billion into water
and sewer systems. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about
$22 billion today. But by fiscal 2002 EPA funding had dwindled
to a trickle of $2.2 billion a year.
Still, 35% of the nations
rivers, lakes and streams remain unsafe for fishing, swimming
or drinking, claims EPA. Reducing that percentage hinges on
plugging sewer system leaks, overflows and collecting and
treating runoff from nonpoint sources, say wastewater engineers.
Like other cities, Seattles water pipes and sewer
system are showing their age. (Photo courtesy of Seattle
Although the Bush administration
is not pushing EPA to pursue major new regulation, the agency
is working to improve water quality through establishing total
maximum daily loads for specific pollutants in a given watershed,
attacking disinfection byproducts and refining its Capacity
Management Operations and Maintenance program, dubbed CMOM.
CMOM will require utilities to
mitigate system overflows, provide capacity for base and peak
flows and initiate extensive mapping and management controls.
Delayed in 2000 and 2002, the industry expects to see the
rule in place some time next year.
"Collection systems are really
stressed. Fixing them will be really costly," says Pervaiz
Anwar, director of business consulting for Brown and Caldwell.
"The federal government doesnt have the money.
Neither do most utilities." The Walnut Creek, Calif.-based
engineer has formed a joint venture with Hunter Water Corp.,
a utility operator-consultant in Newcastle, Australia, to
promote systems management.
"Asset management isnt
exactly new, but its surprising how many utilities dont
even tell you the value of their assets," says Anwar.
"Maximizing efficiencies and programming O&M in a
systematic way is something that theyve been doing in
Australia and New Zealand for about two decades."
The partnership already has assisted
a number of U.S. utilities in implementing asset management
programs, including agencies in Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento
and Orange County, Calif. The agencies are proactively implementing
systematic programs that will probably resemble the forthcoming
federal regulations, says Anwar.
While the federal government
has pared funding, local rates have more than doubled. Still,
the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies survey on
rates shows the annual increase in local spending ran well
ahead of the U.S. Consumer Price Index through 1994. In four
of eight years since, the annual investment pace has lagged
here to view chart
"Even though our members are
trying to do their share, its clear that the existing
financial model is inadequate," says AMSA Executive Director
Ken Kirk. AMSA is trying to garner support for dedicated funding,
similar to the highway trust fund that uses a tax on fuels
to pay for federal highway system improvements. Kirk doubts
the Bush administration will consider new taxes in any form.
Still, "we believe that some sort of a dedicated fund
is an idea with merit," he says.
EPAs 2002 needs assessment
supports his argument. The country needs to invest between
$331 billion and $450 billion on wastewater treatment infrastructure
by 2019, according to the study. Operation and maintenance
needs are not included but the O&M gap adds between $72
billion and $229 billion.
A similar report issued last November
by the Congressional Budget Office puts the annual shortfall
for wastewater treatment at $20.9 billion per year. Annual
O&M needs range between $20.3 billion and $25.2 billion.
Without an infusion of cash from
somewhere, EPA fears a reversal of "hard-won water quality
gains. By 2016 pollution levels could be similar to levels
observed in the mid-1970s," the report notes.
Few expect much assistance from
Washington, however. Near-term financial projections for the
federal deficit are bleak. Municipal officials know that federal
assistance of the kind that supported the big capital programs
of the 1970s and 1980s wont happen. "Were
on our own," says Chuck Clarke, Seattle Public Utilities
executive director. "Its pretty much us and our
UP In Newark, rehab contractor expanded cured-in-place
pipe technology to 108-in.-dia sewer. (Photo courtesy
But some cities are reporting significant
progress on programs that began more than a decade ago. Newarks
trunk lines date to the 19th Century and provide about a third
of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission Plants 330-million-gal-per-day
average flow. "We knew [around] 1990 that wed have
to spend about $50 million to bring the system up to current
standards," says John George, Newark Water and Sewers
program manager. Residents could not afford to finance that
large of a program at once.
Anchored by a $44.3-million EPA
grant, the city cobbled together funding from phased rate
hikes, bonds and low-interest state loans. New Jersey lawmakers
holding key positions on federal public works committees at
the time assisted in landing the grant. "Their political
stars were properly aligned," says Richard D. Fox, CDM
president. "When that happens, you have to take advantage."
The program, broken into five phases,
focuses on CSO abatement and storm drainage, with an emphasis
on pipe rehabilitation and repair. CDM manages project design
and contract administration. Newark is benefitting from recent
advances in cured-in-place-pipe technology and spirited competition
"Margins have come down as
more people have come in," admits Doug Sanders, CIPP
director of Spiniello Cos., which has won the majority of
the rehab work in Newark. The Morristown, N.J.-based contractor
has carved out a lucrative niche in large-bore CIPP work.
Relining pipe with a diameter of 48 in. and larger earns the
firm roughly $30 million a yearabout half the companys
revenue, says Sanders. "Margins can be higher, but so
are the risks," he says.
Recently, Spiniello crews ran CIPP
sections of 105 in. and 108 in. in diameter, setting new standards
for large-bore work. The process typically needs a two-day
window of dry weather. Crews feed a resin-impregnated felt
liner into pipe from one manhole cover to the next, then fill
it with heated water that triggers a reaction to harden the
resin. Water is pumped out and crews cut openings at the ends
and to lateral lines. Structurally, the hardened tube "is
sound and strong as concrete," says Pennington. "It
should last 50 to 100 years."
George says the improved friction
coefficient more than offsets the decrease in diameter. Equally
important, CIPP minimizes disruption in busy downtown areas.
"Cut and cover tears up streets for months at a time.
This way, we take it block by block and were in and
out in days," he says.
Nashville also is succeeding in
its program (ENR 2/17/1997 p. 32). In 1990 the Tennessee Dept.
of Environment and Conservation imposed a moratorium on sewer
hook-ups. TDEC was alarmed at pollution from 20 billion gallons
of untreated effluent spilling each year into the Cumberland
River watershed from the citys sanitary and combined
AHEAD Nashville detention chamber helped restore
33 miles of Cumberland River. (Photo courtesy of CTE)
The city hired Consoer Townsend
Envirodyne Engineers Inc., Chicago, to help develop and manage
a $1.3-billion program. Work includes CSO separation, equalization
basins, primary bypass blending, CIPP rehabilitation and new
pump stations and pipelines.
It reduced overflows "from
21 billion gallons in 1990 to less than 1 billion gallons
in 2002, and [eliminated] 24 CSO and 124 SSO overflow points,"
says Vernon D. Thompson, CTE vice president. Last November,
regulators removed 33 miles of the Cumberland from a list
of impaired waters.
Other municipalities have stumbled.
In Birmingham, Ala., initial estimates pegged costs between
$250,000 and $1.2 million to implement a 1996 federal consent
decree for rehabilitation of the regional system. But now
the estimate is closer to $3 billion, and sewer rates are
likely to rise 12.5% a year for the next eight years, says
Gary Martin, project manager for BE&K Engineering Co.,
which last year performed an audit of the program.
County Commissioner Gary White
demanded the audit after taking control of the Jefferson County
environmental services department. The BE&K-led team wrote
a blistering review of program mismanagement, finding that
the county and the environmental department made a number
of "unwise decisions" that significantly increased
capital and operating costs.
Under the consent decree, the county
took over the sewer systems of 21 municipalities, adding 12
million linear feet of sewer line to its existing 3 million
feet. It set a 2007 deadline 2007 to eliminate sewer overflows
and bring nine treatment plants into Clean Water Act compliance.
"Decisions were made
early in the game that increased costs, says Martin.
One disputed action was the countys
decision to spend about $1 billion to increase treatment plant
capacities, even though wastewater flows have not increased
in five years and were not projected to increase. The capacity
of the largest plant was doubled from 60 mgd to 120 mgd. "But
it has never seen more than 40 mgd and that was in 1997,
Auditors found that the county
did not review other technologies for cost-efficient alternatives.
Contractor prequalification methods increased costs unnecessarily
and ineffective cost and schedule controls pushed costs upward.
"There is no such thing as no surprises in construction,
but they could have had a better handle on the order of magnitude,
The report recommended the county
hire an experienced program manager because the environmental
department went from a $25-million-a-year operation to a $250-million-a-year
agency. "Its a monumental task. Theyve done
some things right. Its hard to know what youre
not doing if you dont have the tools to do it,
Complicated public works
projects benefit from the hiring of outside program managers,
say many in the industry. "What a program manager brings
to the table is the ability to focus resources on the problem,
manage the risks and make sure the product is delivered,
says Skip Holland, managing executive for program management
at MWH, Broomfield, Colo.
TO PLAY Kids love Atlantas fountains, but
city faces $3-billion clean water upgrade. (Photos courtesy
MWH is program manager for Atlantas
$3-billion sewerage program. The job is driven by two consent
decrees, one for combined sewer overflows and the other for
sanitary system overflows. Some 15% of the citys sewers
serving 19 square miles of downtown Atlanta are combined.
The city now is building an 8.5-mile-long, 24-ft-dia tunnel
designed to hold 150 million gallons of overflow. Flows would
be pumped to a treatment plant when capacity becomes available.
The city considered building another tunnel but value engineering
determined that a storage tank near the treatment plant would
be enough, says Rob Hunter, deputy commissioner for watershed
management. The city has completed 10 short-term SSO projects,
including an 8-mile-long, 16-ft-dia holding tunnel in the
northern part of the city, but now it is evaluating the system
to determine the next step.
Unlike Birmingham, Atlanta must
add new capacity to accommodate its rampant growth. New capacity
is not included in the decree, but is part of the total upgrade.
"In rough terms, $1 billion is for SSO, $1 billion is
for CSO and $1 billion is tied to other regulations,
The problem facing both cities
is how to pay for $3-billion systems. While Birminghams
rates could double, Atlantas rates could triple, with
the heaviest burden falling on its poorest citizens. Mayor
Shirley Franklin (D) asked Fulton County to put a local option
sales tax on the ballot to help fund the projects, but county
Both communities are facing rate
hikes that are unaffordable, says Eric Rothstein, senior economist
with Denver-based CH2M Hill Cos., a part of Atlantas
program management team. Within five years, low-income residents
could face sewer and water bills that are 6 to 8% of their
disposable income, far above EPAs 2% threshold. Both
municipalities need legislation that will allow them to spread
the burden over a larger rate base, says Rothstein.
Even that might not be enough.
For years engineers have been content to act as silent partners
for their municipal clients, says William Howard, chief technology
officer for CDM and incoming chair of the American Council
of Engineering Companies. For their own sake and for the public
good, they must assume a more active role, he says.
"Engineers have to plead their
case to the public and to Washington," he says. "If
all the work on the table needs to be funded locally, it will