Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Global Voice of the Middle Class

From the Tom Friedman column in the New York Times today - watch this carefully:
A second factor is the way middle-class workers are being squeezed between a shrinking welfare state and a much more demanding job market. For so many years, workers were told that if you just work hard and play by the rules you’ll be in the middle class. That is just not true anymore. In this age of rapid globalization and automation, you have to work harder, work smarter, bring more innovation to whatever job you do, retool yourself more often — and then you can be in the middle class. There is just so much more stress on people in, or aspiring to be in, the middle class, and many more young people wondering how they’ll ever do better than their parents.
Too few leaders are leveling with their people about this shift, let alone helping them navigate it. And too many big political parties today are just vehicles for different coalitions to defend themselves against change rather than to lead their societies in adapting to it. Normally, this would create opportunities for the opposition parties, but in places like Turkey, Brazil, Russia and Egypt the formal opposition is feckless. So people take to the streets, forming their own opposition.
In America, the Tea Party began as a protest against Republicans for being soft on deficits, and Occupy Wall Street as a protest against Democrats for being soft on bankers. In Brazil, a 9 cent increase in bus fares set off mass protests, in part because it seemed so out of balance when the government was spending some $30 billion on stadiums for the Olympics and the World Cup. Writing in The American Interest, William Waack, an anchorman on Brazil’s Globo, probably spoke for many when he observed: “Brazilians don’t feel like their elected representatives at any level actually represent them, especially at a time when most leaders fear the stigma of making actual decisions (otherwise known as leading). ... It’s not about the 9 cents.”
China is not a democracy, but this story is a sign of the times: In a factory outside Beijing, an American businessman, Chip Starnes, president of the Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, was held captive for nearly a week by about 100 workers “who were demanding severance packages identical to those offered to 30 recently laid-off employees,” according to Reuters. The workers feared they would be next as the company moved some production from China to India to reduce costs. (He was released in a deal on Thursday.)
Finally, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, aggrieved individuals now have much more power to engage in, and require their leaders to engage in, two-way conversations — and they have much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests. As Leon Aron, the Russian historian at the American Enterprise Institute, put it, “the turnaround time” between sense of grievance and action in today’s world is lightning fast and getting faster.
The net result is this: Autocracy is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever. Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels.

Infrastructure Investment Funds

Check out GCP Infrastructure.  In an world facing increasing inflation pressures and much needed public infrastructure, funds that invest in building projects should be watched.  Who they invest with and what they invest in will be interesting (along with their financial performance).

Why Some Engineering Students Fail In Industry

From Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration at the Boeing Company in an article in The Bridge - Aligning Engineering Education and Experience to Meet the Needs of Industry and Society:

"There are few reports from industry that students don't have the right technical competency to succeed - the engineering school accreditation process has ensured the acquisition of technical competencies.  Rather, engineering majors who fail in industry are those who have all the right technical competencies but not the soft or people skills to be successful.  Specifically, they tend to lack the ability to work well in teams, communicate effectively, define problems, and consider alternative and creative solutions.  They also tend to rely too heavily on digital tools in their efforts to develop solutions that can be delivered in the real world."

Project Management Question of the Week

The project manager will use the work breakdown structure (WBS) during the project execution.  What use will the WBS have?
  • Serve as the basis for the estimating of resources, time, and costs.
  • Establish the roles and responsibilities of the team members for each work package.
  • Show the dates for each work package.
  • Communicate with the stakeholders.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Crossrail London Project

I will be in London the month of July to visit my son at Oxford.   The U.K. is completing a huge transportation project - the Crossrail Project.  From their website (which is a really good example of a first class project website!!):

Crossrail Construction programme

The main civil engineering construction works for Crossrail are planned to complete in 2017. Fit-out of stations and testing will continue afterwards. It is expected that Crossrail services will commence on the central section by late 2018 followed by a phased introduction of services along the rest of the Crossrail route over several months.
As detailed design and development of the Crossrail scheme progresses there will be increasing certainty over the exact times that main construction works will start and finish at each location.  The information below gives the currently assumed timings for construction works at key locations.

At some locations, enabling works, such as the diversion of utilities like gas mains, and demolition of existing buildings, will need to take place before main works.  The sites may also be required after main works to support the fit-out of stations and tunnels.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Engineering and the End of Cheap Money

Your next wastewater treatment plant expansion project just got more expensive.  From the New York Times - - Bill for Public Projects is Rising, and Pain Will be Felt for Years:

States and cities across the nation are starting to learn what Wall Street already knows: the days of easy money are coming to an end.

Interest rates have been inching up everywhere, sending America’s vast market for municipal bonds, a crucial source of financing for roads, bridges, schools and more, into its steepest decline since the dark days of the financial crisis in 2008.

For one state, Illinois, the higher interest rates will add up to $130 million over the next 25 years — and that is for just one new borrowing. All told, the interest burden of states and localities is likely to grow by many billions, sapping tax dollars that otherwise might have been spent on public services.

Much as home mortgage rates are making home buying a bit more costly as they rise, so, too, are the rates at which states and cities borrow money. Public officials — and taxpayers — may feel the effects for years. Perversely, the places with the greatest distress are likely to see their borrowing costs rise most.

Over the last few days Georgia, Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York and others have delayed sales of new bonds, citing the precipitous plunge in prices that is driving up interest rates.

Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois attributed the extra cost to the state’s failure to shore up its finances, particularly its rickety pension system. Illinois has the lowest credit rating of any state, and as interest rates rise they tend to rise fastest for the weakest borrowers.

“Borrowing money when you’re already in debt doesn’t seem like a good idea to me,” said Felicia Hill, a 44-year-old Chicago woman who wondered how the state could bear the rising cost. “I think it could have waited, when we have bigger problems in Illinois.”

The sell-off in the municipal bond market has followed the general rout in the overall bond market, which was set off when Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, indicated that the strength of the economic recovery might allow the central bank to pull back on its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program earlier than anticipated.

The Fed was not buying municipal bonds, but the market reacted anyway. Investors expected interest rates to rise, and because prices move in the opposite direction, the values of the municipal bonds they already held dropped.

Investors apparently started selling, not wanting to be the last one out. That caused a flood of bond sales. For the week ended June 19, $3.368 billion flowed out of mutual funds that hold tax-exempt municipal bonds, according to the Investment Company Institute. The outflow for the previous week was $3.236 billion.

Such sell-offs tend to hit the municipal bond market hard because it has many individual investors who buy bonds to hold them, either directly or through mutual funds, rather than financial institutions that trade them quickly.

“The mutual fund’s customer has proven to be fickle in these volatile periods, and you get the sticker-shock effect,” said Chris Mauro, the head of municipal bond strategy at RBC Capital Markets. The trend starts to feed off itself and can last for a long time, he said. “As they liquidate, there’s pressure on the mutual funds to raise cash, which puts more selling pressure onto the market.”

Some analysts thought the sell-off was made worse by the actions of Detroit as it flirted with bankruptcy. The city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, proposed inflicting severe losses on its bondholders earlier this month as he struggled to keep the city from declaring what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. That prompted investors to sell Detroit bonds, and raised questions about whether Detroit’s approach could set an example that other distressed cities would follow.

Some local governments that had planned to issue bonds this week decided to wait and see whether the market improved. But Illinois was among those that could not afford to wait. It had been conserving money by delaying road maintenance and the building of new schools.

Abdon Pallasch, an assistant state budget director, cited in particular the risk of delaying reconstruction of the city’s commuter rail system in hopes of obtaining better rates on the bonds, which have a total value of $1.3 billion. He said service had been halted on the Red Line, Chicago’s oldest, inconveniencing 80,000 commuters a day.

Mr. Pallasch said that state finance officers had calculated the state’s $130 million market penalty by comparing the rate Illinois will pay on these bonds with the rates being paid on similar bonds issued by states with AA ratings. That, he said, was Illinois’s credit rating before the state’s pension problems boiled up.

Illinois has shortchanged its pension system for many years and has now fallen so far behind that it cannot catch up without diverting money away from other programs. Governor Quinn has tried several times without success to push pension overhauls through the legislature. Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the state’s credit to A2 in June, soon after one failed legislative effort, and Fitch went to A-, the equivalent in its ranking system.

Although those ratings are the lowest of any state, they are still several notches above junk grade.
Governor Quinn said that the state was paying an average interest rate on the bonds of 5.042 percent. He called on lawmakers to enact pension changes “by July 9, so we can stop the bleeding, prevent future downgrades and jump-start Illinois’s economy.”

Daniel Berger, senior market strategist for Thomson Reuters Municipal Market Data, said the pension-related downgrades cited by the governor were important factors but not the only ones.
He said that market conditions had driven the interest rate on a typical 10-year municipal bond up by more than one percentage point since the beginning of May. The rate for longer-maturity bonds were more than 1.25 percentage points higher.

“He’s ignoring the adverse market conditions,” Mr. Berger said.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Just Compensation Clause

From The Supreme Court Just Handed Real Estate Developers a Huge Win in the online Atlantic Monthly:

"The case revolves around a 14.9-acre property – primarily wetlands – east of Orlando purchased by Coy Koontz, Sr., in 1972. In the 1990s, he sought a permit from the local water management district to develop 3.7 acres of the land, dredging and filling it in to construct a building, a parking lot, and a retention pond. Under Florida law designed to protect the state's dwindling wetlands, anyone who wants to dredge or fill wetlands must get a special permit. And the land-use agencies that issue those permits can require property owners to offset any environmental damage to get one.

In this case, Koontz offered to permanently conserve the rest of his land from development in exchange for the permit to develop the 3.7 acres. The St. Johns River Water Management District argued that his offer was insufficient. The agency proposed instead that he develop only one acre and conserve the rest, or that he pay for contractors who would make improvements to other government-owned wetlands within the same watershed but several miles away. Koontz turned down both options and sued instead. In the 11 years this case has been winding through the legal system, Koontz died. The property owner is now his son, Coy Koontz, Jr.

The legal issue at play here comes from the Fifth Amendment – the Just Compensation Clause that states "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." There is a long and complicated legal history sketching out what constitutes a government "taking" of private property, and when public agencies must compensate property owners for that taking. In Koontz, the central question was whether or not the St. Johns River Water Management District violated Koontz' property rights by denying him a permit when he wouldn't agree to the District's conditions to develop his land.

As the District argued, nothing was ever actually "taken" from Koontz. The federal government, the American Planning Association, the National Governors Association, and a wetlands protection group all lined up on the side of the Water Management District. On the other side, supporting Koontz, were the National Association of Home Builders, several civil liberties and property-rights advocacy groups, and conservative legal foundations."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Better roads via pig manure

Sustainable asphalt roads meets 107 million tons of pig manure per year in the United States.  Pig manure into a "bio-adhesive" - - link to PIGrid.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Wastewater Treatment Plant as Ward of the State

The current ASCE Leadership and Management in Engineering Journal has a special section on development sprawl and growth. All of the articles are very good.  The best is Suburban Ponzi Scheme by Charles Marohn, P.E., AICP. Marohn does a great job of discussing the connection between development, asset management, sustainability, and financial management at the local level.  According to Marohn, the American city is unique is routinely trading nominal near-term cash advantages associated with new growth for far greater long-term financial obligations of maintenance. 

This is an important issue that engineering needs to think harder about.  From the article:

"This strategy is a disaster of monumental proportions for the United States.  Not only have we created an entire economy based on a growth model that cannot be sustained, in the process we have highly indebted our population.  The quality employment opportunities available for the masses rely solely on the perpetuation of this unsustainable model, so we cannot even work our way out of this mess.  We have tied up our individual wealth into homes - homes whose value is tied to community infrastructure that we cannot afford to maintain without continued hyper-growth, which we are now powerless to induce.  So as our wealth disappears and our economy painfully grinds to a halt, we are left with not options to continues on this path."

The huge problem of asset management is clearly visible in this simple example that Marohn outlined:

"A small town received support to build a sewer system from the federal government back in the 1960s as part of a community investment program.  Additional support was given in the 1980s to rehabilitate the system.  Today, the system needs complete replacement at a cost of $3.3 million.  this is roughly $27,000 per family, which is also the city's median household income.  Without massive public subsidy, this city cannot maintain its basic infrastructure.  It is, essentially, a ward of the state."

As you set on the toilet and think about your sewer system, your city streets are another example of the fiscal hole we call asset management.  From the article:

"An urban street section is in need of repair, which will require milling up and replacing the bituminous surface.  The development along the street as stagnated for decades in favor of new growth on the periphery of town.  Thus, over the estimated life of the new street, the city expects to collect a total of $27/ft for road repairs.  Depending on the alternative chosen, the cost for repairs is estimated to be between $80/ft and $100/ft."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

When Did Noah Start the Ark?

Noah got the planning sequence of climate adaptation correct - - he starting building the Ark before it started to flood.

Very interesting report - - Pound Foolish: Federal Community-Resilience Investments Swamped by Disaster Damages by the Center for American Progress.

Project Management Question of the Week

From Project Manager: How to pass the PMP Exam without dying in the attempt:

In which project management process group are stakeholders identified?
  • Controlling and Closing
  • Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling
  • Planning, Monitoring and Controlling
  • Initiating and Planning
Remember, the PMP exam is structured as a multiple choice exam with four possible answers.  Typically, two will be obviously wrong and two will be obviously correct - - only one is how the PMI Body of Knowledge sees the world of project management.

Stormwater Engineering in a Changing World

Interesting paper in the journal Nature - - Global Flood Risk Under Climate Change.  The abstract:

A warmer climate would increase the risk of floods1. So far, only a few studies2, 3 have projected changes in floods on a global scale. None of these studies relied on multiple climate models. A few global studies4, 5 have started to estimate the exposure to flooding (population in potential inundation areas) as a proxy of risk, but none of them has estimated it in a warmer future climate. Here we present global flood risk for the end of this century based on the outputs of 11 climate models. A state-of-the-art global river routing model with an inundation scheme6 was employed to compute river discharge and inundation area. An ensemble of projections under a new high-concentration scenario7 demonstrates a large increase in flood frequency in Southeast Asia, Peninsular India, eastern Africa and the northern half of the Andes, with small uncertainty in the direction of change. In certain areas of the world, however, flood frequency is projected to decrease. Another larger ensemble of projections under four new concentration scenarios7 reveals that the global exposure to floods would increase depending on the degree of warming, but interannual variability of the exposure may imply the necessity of adaptation before significant warming.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Asset Management and the Value of Competition

This is an interesting report on competition in the Scottish water markets - link.

How do we create an integrative effect?

Ten years ago the ideas of climate adaptation were unknown to the engineering communities.  Times are rapidly changing and adaptation could be the most important word in the engineering vocabulary (the United Nations has estimated the current annual adaptation engineering and construction market at $130 billion).

The word "adaptation" - the catchall for attempts to fortify our national and build environments against the epochal temperature spike - also reinforces another key issue engineering faces.  Adaptation will require engineering to understand the power of integrating disciplines.  Historically engineering was structured as silos - singular disciplines solving stand alone problems.  We became really good at developing directional ideas.  Problems like climate change adaptation are far different - more complex. more systemic, more interconnected, more "wicked", more interdisciplinary - and will require future engineers to be very good with combining concepts between multiple fields and disciplines.  Our future will require us to focus more on intersectional ideas versus directional solutions.

As systems increase in complexity (and nothing is more complex and difficult than climate change adaptation) they require a greater understanding of the connectivity of the disciplines.  How do we create an integrative effect?  Can we better understand and breakdown associative barriers?  No longer will pure disciplines singularly yield disruptive technologies.  Maybe you can deal with the impacts of climate change in the margins, but as the cycle of superstorms, floods, and drought deepens and tightens, the ability to create and develop truly disruptive technology and processes will be critical.

Look for the immediate need to protect and bend (a great visualization of adaptation) to displace efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions (mitigation).  Adaptation is a diverse problem that will require a diversity of thought.  From relocating species and habitats, fortifying that which can be saved, abandoning that which can't, the general remapping of viable human settlement in the United States and worldwide - these activities will require engineers to think bigger and holistically. 

We have already started to think about how we can protect the core of our societies and civilizations.  Local adaptation planning often involves making a case for our communities' vulnerabilities.  Engineers will be key in developing these local and regional blueprints.  Engineering is also key to the private sector - any company with a supply chain is thinking about how to avoid climate disruption.

Consider the following two articles in the context of the central question - "How do we create an integrative effect?":

From the New York Times editorial page (The Sandy Imperative) on June 22, 2013:

"Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done his successor a huge favor in laying our an ambitious plan to help the city cope with a changing climate.  In an era of rising seawater, temperature extremes and superstorms, the next mayor has a duty to manage the growing risk of natural disaster.

Mr.. Bloomberg's plan calls for new fortifications to keep homes and businesses dry, to keep the trains running and the lights on.  It envisions spending almost $20 billion over 10 years, a price tag that will have to push through long-term investments in infrastructure, despite constrained budgets and short-term emergencies."

From the June 17, 2013 issue of Engineering News-Record (Water Sector Takes the Brunt of Changing Weather) - the top 10 low-risk, low-cost strategies that utilities and cities can implement now to avoid water scarcity and other climate-related problems:
  1. Reduce carbon pollution to minimize future climate impacts, thereby protecting public health and safety.
  2. Use green infrastructure to manage and collect stormwater and dry-weather runoff.
  3. Improve urban water conservation and efficiency.
  4. Improve water conservation and efficiency among commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) users.
  5. Increase agricultural water efficiency and manage water-quality impact.
  6. Increase the use of reclaimed wastewater.
  7. Increase water efficiency in energy production to save water and fish.
  8. Preserve and restore wildlife habitat for source-water and flood production.
  9. Improve land-use planning to reduce building in vulnerable areas
  10. Ensure effective emergency response and hazard-mitigation planning.

Jobs - The Movie

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the June 22nd edition of the Economist - -

America’s municipal-bond market

State of pay

What do the woes of Detroit mean for muni bonds?

The situation remains grim. According to the National League of Cities, an advocacy group, American cities in 2012 experienced their sixth straight year of constant-dollar declines in general-fund revenues. Year-on-year sales-tax collections rose modestly in 2012 but income-tax collections fell for the third year in a row. So did property-tax collections, despite a recovery in housing markets; assessed values, which determine property-tax rates, usually lag the market by at least 18 months. Cash reserves have fallen by almost 50% since 2007 to 12.7% of expenditures, their lowest level since 1996. (The picture is a bit rosier for states, which tend to have more flexibility in raising revenue than cities do.)

Link to the complete story.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Decision Center for a Desert City

Good source of information and research regarding sustainability in the City of Phoenix - - link.

Roman Concrete - The Really Good Stuff

Link to the story.

Graph of the Week

The E2e Project

Link to the E2e project and mission statement.

E2e’s mission is to solve one of the most perplexing energy puzzles of our time—the efficiency gap. Study after study has shown potential for huge savings and hefty cuts in carbon emissions from widespread adoption of energy efficient technologies. Yet these gains have failed to fully materialize. Scholars can’t say why. Theories abound. Solutions remain elusive.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Sentence to Ponder

From Coastal Cities and Climate Change (You're going to get wet) in the June 15th, 2013 issue of The Economist:

"A survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found cities in America among the least likely, globally, to have plans for adapting to changing weather."

Edward Gibbon did not have climate change in mind when he wrote this, but his words could be increasingly important:

" . . .  the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works . . . buries empires and cities in a common grave."

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Little Yellow Book

From CH2MHill - - link.

The Era of Good (Very Good) News

The headline tells the story - Even Pessimists Feel Optimistic About the American EconomyLink to the story in the New York Times yesterday.

Key points -

"He is not predicting an imminent resurgence. Like most academic economists, Mr. Cowen focuses on the next quarter-century rather than the next quarter. But new technologies like artificial intelligence and online education, increased domestic energy production and slowing growth in the cost of health care have prompted Mr. Cowen to reappraise the country’s prospects.
It’s better than it looked,” Mr. Cowen said. “Technological progress comes in batches and it’s just a little more rapid than it looked two years ago.” His next book, “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation,” is due out in September.
Certainly, there are significant headwinds that will not abate anytime soon, including an aging population, government austerity, the worst income inequality in nearly a century and more than four million long-term unemployed workers.
These and other forces prompted some leading economists, led by Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern, to conclude not long ago that the arc of American economic growth for centuries was over, to be replaced by decades of stagnation. Productivity might grow steadily, Professor Gordon argued, but the benefits will not flow to most Americans.
Other analysts are challenging that perspective, which they said was colored, in part, by the severe downturn that hit the global economy more than five years ago. And some of them now see a brighter outlook right around the corner, not just far into the future.
Two widely followed economic forecasters, Morgan Stanley and IHS Global Insight, have both increased their estimates for growth in recent days.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS. “There is more optimism about the U.S. and in particular about the second half of this year and 2014. Three months ago, we wouldn’t have come to that same conclusion.”

The Robot Society

Great TED lecture link by Robin Hanson - - highly recommend this talk.

TX Loses to OU, Again

This past week saw another beat down for Texas versus Oklahoma.  Water has replaced football as the new regional battle point.

From the Huffington Post - (Supreme Court Water Decision: Court Sides With Oklahoma In Red River Dispute) -

"WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday decisively sided with Oklahoma and rejected Texas' claim that it has a right under a 30-year-old agreement to cross their common border for water to serve the fast-growing Fort Worth area.

The justices unanimously said that the Red River Compact "creates no cross-border rights in Texas."
The case concerns a dispute over access to southeastern Oklahoma tributaries of the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas.

The Tarrant Regional Water District serving an 11-county area in north-central Texas, including Fort Worth and Arlington, wants to buy 150 billion gallons of water and said the four-state compact gives it the right to do so. Arkansas and Louisiana are the other participating states, and they sided with Oklahoma.

"Obviously, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision. Securing additional water resources is essential to North Texas' continued growth and prosperity and will remain one of our top priorities," water district general manager Jim Oliver said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's opinion for the court made plain that the justices did not find this a close case. "We hold that Tarrant's claims lack merit," Sotomayor said.

The case arose from a federal lawsuit the district filed in 2007 against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Water Conservation Storage Commission that challenged the state's water laws and sought a court order to prevent the board from enforcing them.

Lower courts ruled for Oklahoma, including the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that the Red River Compact protects Oklahoma's water statutes from the legal challenge.
Legislation adopted by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2009 said no out-of-state water permit can prevent Oklahoma from meeting its obligations under compacts with other states. It also requires the Water Resources Board to consider in-state water shortages or needs when considering applications for out-of-state water sales."

The case is Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, 11-889.
From the Supreme Court Ruling (Link to the Supreme Court Ruling) -

"The Red River Compact does not pre-empt Oklahoma’s water statutes because the Compact creates nocross-border rights in its signatories for these statutes toinfringe. Nor do Oklahoma’s laws run afoul of the Commerce Clause. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

It is so ordered."
The view and commentary from the Dallas Morning News (Editorial: Supreme Court Deals North Texas Water Plans a Blow) -

"Call us confused in Texas.

Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana worked for more than 20 years to create a pact that governs water in the Red River. Those states then signed the Red River Compact, whose language tracks that of other interstate water compacts. Congress ratified the agreement in 1980. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against the Tarrant Regional Water District’s request to allow it to draw water from an Oklahoma basin covered under the agreement.

The more we think about this unanimous decision, the more confusing it becomes. The justices’ reasoning turned partly upon whether the compact explicitly granted Tarrant the right to apply for water from Oklahoma, and they clearly thought that right wasn’t explicit. But the compact talks about the states each possessing “equal rights” to excess water in one of the river’s sub-basins, as long as downstream concerns in Louisiana have been met.

The phrase equal rights struck us as clear. The U.S. government felt the same way, filing a brief supporting Tarrant’s request for a court hearing.

The Supreme Court’s ruling also hinged on the issue of sovereignty. We respect the rights of individual states, but sovereignty only goes so far when a state enters a compact with other states. Even Chief Justice John Roberts said as much during oral arguments.

But what’s done is done. We North Texans, including our water planners, must now turn to executing other parts of the region’s long-term water plan.

As the court’s opinion noted, we’re one of America’s fastest-growing regions, and our population could double over the next half-century. Without sufficient water supplies, North Texas cannot maintain its growth, much less care for those who already call this home.

What must happen next is for each North Texas voter to approve in November an amendment to the Texas Constitution that would authorize a new statewide water fund. That fund will help finance projects in this region’s water plan.

About 25 percent of North Texas’ future supplies will come through initiatives that promote conserving and reusing water. The region’s strategies also include hookups to existing water sources, such as Lake Tawakoni.

The Supreme Court’s decision increases the chances that this region will need to build the contested Marvin Nichols Reservoir in northeast Texas. Taking the Red River Compact out of the equation blows a hole in our water planning strategies, just as a 2010 Supreme Court ruling dealt a blow when it denied this region the right to build a future Lake Fastrill.

Another troubling and confusing decision is in our hands, and we now must turn to developing other water sources. We have no choice if we’re going to secure our future.

Challenges lie ahead

Why residents in the 16 counties of North Texas must worry about the region’s water supplies:
Approximately 26 percent of Texas’ population resided in this region as of the 2010 census.
The region’s population is expected to grow 96 percent by 2060, to 13 million people.
The region’s water demands are projected to grow 86 percent by 2060.
North Texas’ total water supply is predicted to decline by about 3 percent by 2060.
The total capital costs of the region’s water projects over the next 50 years will be $21.8 billion."

But the good news.  Texas is not Egypt.  As Thomas Friedman noted yesterday in his New York Times column (Egypt's Perilous Drift), water and war can be linked, but the option of a Texas invasion of Oklahoma is probably not in the cards.  Look for Texas to take aggressive positions in water conservation, desalination technology, new water sources, pricing strategies, etc. 

"And the headline news in Cairo last week was Ethiopia’s construction of the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa, on the Blue Nile. As the reservoir behind the dam is filled up, the water supply to Egypt is likely to be reduced, and since Egypt’s 85 million people get 97 percent of their fresh water from the Nile, this has become a huge issue. Some senior Egyptian officials speak of possible military action to prevent the dam from being completed. President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, on Monday declared publicly of Ethiopia: “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security ... to be threatened.” Egypt, he said, will keep “all options open.” Ethiopia has responded with defiance, with its prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, saying “nothing and no one” would stop construction."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pandora's Promise

A Sundance Film Festival winner, Pandora's Promise, opened this week.  The film seeks to counter 40-years of negative sentiment regarding nuclear power.  The trailer - -

Interview with director Robert Stone - -

Peak Cars

Recently released report on our changing driving habits - - link.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Term of the Week - - Climate Justified Project

From ENR online - -

"CH2M Hill's Freas says, "The utility community is like any other community, so those that are really at risk …tend to be the leaders." The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is one of those out in front. Like southern Florida, San Francisco's wastewater and stormwater infrastructure has been affected by sea-level rise. Over the past four or five years, during high-tide storm events, saltwater has overwhelmed the combined-sewer overflow system and infiltrated the wastewater treatment plants. "We had a very high tide in December 2012, and we had pure saltwater pouring into our system," says Karen Kubick, SFPUC's wastewater enterprise capital program director. "That's a concern because it can really negatively affect the [wastewater treatment] plants" by wasting energy and compromising the biological organisms used for treatment.

SFPUC has identified 27 points where saline bay water is forecast to enter the combined-sewer/waste-water system over the next several years. SFPUC has committed $40 million for a combined-system backflow prevention project, the first phase of retrofits to the system's infrastructure. The project, now under design, is one of the first "climate-justified" projects in the country, says Kubick, meaning that if it were not for climate- change research, the project would not be built.

David Behar, climate program director at SFPUC, adds, "There are very few climate-justified projects that are currently funded and on people's capital plans in part because a lot of people are still catching up in terms of figuring out the vulnerability" of their assets.

Additionally, in the future, all projects SFPUC embarks on will consider climate change, Kubick says. New facilities will be sited to accommodate or adapt to an expected sea-level rise over their lifetime, and officials will evaluate existing infrastructure, she says.

At the other end of the spectrum, extreme drought conditions in the city of Midland, Texas, have caused two of the town's three surface reservoirs to go dry. A third is expected to run dry before the end of the year. In a public-to-public partnership, Midland teamed with the Midland County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 to address the water-supply shortage. The project—awarded for an undisclosed amount to a joint venture of Overland Park, Kan.-based Black & Veatch and Kansas City-based Garney Construction Inc.—involved drilling a new raw-water well field that has approximately 44 wells and building a 58-mile-long pipeline to convey the water from the well field to the city. The team completed the fast-track design-build project in less than a year. The project, which went on line in May 2013, can deliver 20 million gallons of water a day to Midland.

In California, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, currently in the planning stages, would provide, if built, a source of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta and San Francisco Bay—together known as the California Bay Delta—down to Southern California while striving to protect wildlife and fragile ecosystems. Further, that project is incorporating impacts of climate change related to sea-level rise and snowpack melt into some of its design parameters.
Finding alternative sources of water will become increasingly important as freshwater supplies become more scarce, notes Ben Chou, water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council."

Map of the Week

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bikes and Sewers

From the Atlantic Monthly post on stormwater management:

"In the Midwest, Indianapolis is leading the way. Stormwater planters and bioswales with native grasses run almost the entire length of the city’s Cultural Trail, a state-of-the-art bicycle and pedestrian route built over the past six years that wends its way for eight miles through the downtown streets of Indiana’s largest city.

Streetfilms took a look at the bioswales recently on a rainy day in Indy. The footage below offers a great look at how they work in action, with water filling up the trenches and then slowly draining off without ever entering the sewer system. The plantings also serve to separate bicycles from both car traffic and from pedestrians along the path. The project as a whole has added 500 trees and eight acres of green space to Indianapolis, and at the same time it's saving the city money in water treatment costs."

Check out the video on the project at the Streetfilms link.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Super Sewer

From the DesignBuild Source - -
"Following submission of a 50,000 page development consent application, the public now has the opportunity to give input on the $4 billion Thames Tideway Tunnel, the UK’s largest privately funded engineering project.
Thames Water says the ‘super sewer’ is necessary to prevent millions of litres of untreated sewage being pumped into the river each year.
London’s sewerage system dates back to the 19th Century and was designed as a combined system. This means a single pipe carries both foul water from homes and businesses and rainwater run-off from streets, roofs and parks to sewage works for processing before being discharged into the River Thames.
The system was designed to overflow into the Thames so that peoples’ homes and streets are not flooded with untreated sewage. Although built to last and in good condition, the existing Victorian sewerage network is now too small after rainfall to transfer all London’s sewage to the Thames Water treatment works for processing.
As a result, 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage flushes into the Thames in a typical year, enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 450 times over. Both the volume and frequency contravene the European Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

Thames Water has worked with the Environment Agency to identify the most polluting combined sewer overflows (CSOs) – the ones that cause unacceptable environmental impacts because of the frequency or volume of the overflow, or because they discharge into an environmentally sensitive part of the river.
The new Thames Tideway Tunnel will follow the route of the River Thames so that it can be connected to the combined sewer overflows (CSOs) that are located along the riverbanks. It also allows the river itself to be used to transport materials and minimise the number of existing buildings and structures that the tunnel will pass beneath.
The tunnel is expected to be between 6.5 and 7.2 metres in diameter, 66 metres underground at its deepest point and 25.1 kilometres long, making it one of the largest and deepest under London.
“After several years of gathering information, design and consultation, we are one step closer to creating a cleaner, healthier River Thames for current and future generations to enjoy,” said Phil Stride, head of the ."



The Three Questions of Hurricane Sandy?

From NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency - - a good overview of the three key questions regarding Hurricane Sandy.  The questions are as follows:
  1. What happened during Sandy and why?
  2. What could happen in the future?
  3. How should the City address climate risks?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Computer Art of the Week

The method?  Was done in the MS Excel Spreadsheet style.

Additional information at this link.

Por qué el estado de Ohio tiene un futuro limitante?

Demographics is destiny.  Changing demographics can create both opportunities and hardships.  The rapidly changing statistics of the Hispanic population in the U.S.provides a great illustration of this phenomena.

More than half of the growth in the total population of the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Hispanic population.  Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43%, which was four times the growth in the total population at 10 percent.  In 2010, people of Mexican origin comprised the largest Hispanic group. representing 63% of the total Hispanic population.

Understanding the geographic distribution of the Hispanic group is important.  More than three-quarters of the Hispanic population lived in the West or South based on information from the 2010 census.  Over half of the Hispanic population in the United States resided in just three states: California, Texas, and Florida.  Hispanics were the majority in 51 counties in Texas.  A quick rundown of the total population versus Hispanic or Latino population from 2010 for several Texas cities:
  • Houston - 2,098,451 / 913,668
  • San Antonio - 1,327,407 / 838,952
  • El Paso - 649,121 / 523,721
  • Dallas - 1,197,816 / 507,309
Given the uneven growth of the Hispanic population and potential, some states and areas have the potential to be  much bigger losers than others.  The Cinco de Mayo Scorecard from various states will be interesting to keep tabs on.  Consider the case of Texas and Ohio.  Key metrics in the scorecard include the following:
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, % of total State (2011) - - 38.1 / 3.2 (Texas / Ohio)
  • Hispanic-owned firms, % of total State (2007) - - 20.7 / 1.1
  • Population change, total, % 2000-2010 - - 20.6 / 1.6
  • Population change, Hispanic, % 2000-2010 - - 41.8 / 63.4

The "demographics as destiny" part of the equation will have significant impacts in the United States during this century.  Consider the following from the Huffington Post:

"By 2060, multiracial people are projected to more than triple, from 7.5 million to 26.7 million – rising even faster and rendering notions of race labels increasingly irrelevant, experts say, if lingering stigma over being mixed-race can fully fade.

The non-Hispanic white population, now at 197.8 million, is projected to peak at 200 million in 2024, before entering a steady decline in absolute numbers as the massive baby boomer generation enters its golden years. Four years after that, racial and ethnic minorities will become a majority among adults 18-29 and wield an even greater impact on the "youth vote" in presidential elections, census projects.

"The fast-growing demographic today is now the children of immigrants," said Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a global expert on immigration and dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, describing the rate of minority growth in the U.S. as dipping from "overdrive" to "drive." Even with slowing immigration, Suarez-Orozco says, the "die has been cast" for strong minority growth from births.

As recently as 1960, whites made up 85 percent of the U.S., but that share has steadily dropped after a 1965 overhaul of U.S. immigration laws opened doors to waves of new immigrants from Mexico, Latin America and Asia. By 2000, the percentage of U.S. whites had slid to 69 percent; it now stands at nearly 64 percent.

"Moving forward, the U.S. will become the first major post-industrial society in the world where minorities will be the majority," Suarez-Orozco said. With the white baby boomer population now leaving the workforce, the big challenge will be educating the new immigrants, he said.

The U.S. has nearly 315 million people today. According to the projections released Wednesday, the U.S. population is projected to cross the 400 million mark in 2051, 12 years later than previously projected. The population will hit 420.3 million a half century from now in 2060.

By then, whites will drop to 43 percent of the U.S. Blacks will make up 14.7 percent, up slightly from today. Hispanics, currently 17 percent of the population, will more than double in absolute number, making up 31 percent, or nearly 1 in 3 residents, according to the projections. Asians are expected to increase from 5 percent of the population to 8 percent.

Among children, the point when minorities become the majority is expected to arrive much sooner, by 2018 or so. Last year, racial and ethnic minorities became a majority among babies under age 1 for the first time in U.S. history.

At the same time, the U.S. population as a whole is aging, driven by 78 million mostly white baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. By 2030, roughly 1 in 5 residents will be 65 and older. Over the next half century, the "oldest old" – those ages 85 and older – will more than triple to 18.2 million, reaching 4 percent of the U.S. population.

The actual shift in demographics will be shaped by a host of factors that can't always be accurately pinpointed – the pace of the economic recovery, cultural changes, natural or manmade disasters, as well as an overhaul of immigration law, which is expected to be debated in Congress early next year.

"The next half century marks key points in continuing trends – the U.S. will become a plurality nation, where the non-Hispanic white population remains the largest single group, but no group is in the majority," said acting Census Bureau Director Thomas Mesenbourg."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Will the Zhang Wei Lock compete with the Gaillard Cut?

This is interesting from The Guardian - - link.  Per the article - -

Nicaragua gives Chinese firm contract to build alternative to Panama Canal

"Project will reinforce China's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over a key shipping route

Nicaragua has awarded a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal, in a step that looks set to have profound geopolitical ramifications.

The president of the country's national assembly, Rene Nuñez, announced the $40bn (£26bn) project, which will reinforce Beijing's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The name of the company and other details have yet to be released, but the opposition congressman Luis Callejas said the government planned to grant a 100-year lease to the Chinese operator.
The national assembly will debate two bills on the project, including an outline for an environmental impact assessment, on Friday.

Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, said recently that the new channel would be built through the waters of Lake Nicaragua.

The new route will be a higher-capacity alternative to the 99-year-old Panama Canal, which is currently being widened at the cost of $5.2bn.

Last year, the Nicaraguan government noted that the new canal should be able to allow passage for mega-container ships with a dead weight of up to 250,000 tonnes. This is more than double the size of the vessels that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal after its expansion, it said.

According to a bill submitted to congress last year, Nicaragua's canal will be 22 metres deep and 286 km (178 miles) long - bigger than Panama and Suez in all dimensions.

Under the initial plans for the project, the government was expected to be the majority shareholder, with construction taking 10 years and the first ship passing through the canal within six years. It is unclear if this is still the case.

Two former Colombian officials recently accused China of influencing the international court of justice to secure the territorial waters that Nicaragua needs for the project.

In an op-ed piece for the magazine Semana, Noemí Sanín, a former Colombian foreign secretary, and Miguel Ceballos, a former vice-minister of justice, said a Chinese judge had settled in Nicaragua's favour on a 13-year-old dispute over 75,000 square kilometres of sea.

They said this took place soon after Nicaraguan officials signed a memorandum of understanding last September with Wang Jing, the chairman of Xinwei Telecom and president of the newly established Hong Kong firm HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company, to build and operate the canal.

Nicaragua has accused Colombia and Costa Rica, which has a claim on territory likely to be used by the new canal, of trying to prevent the project going ahead."



Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Growth in Security Engineering - Knowing the Borats from Bombers

Security engineering has a rich future.  Adam Gopnik points this out in his New Yorker column on the "rise and rise" of Florida crime fiction (In the Back Cabana).  The article gives a rundown on crime writer - reporter - Florida observer Carl Hiassen.  The following comments could be the introduction to a strategic plan for security engineering services:

"One need think only of the recently concluded story of the Tsarnaev brothers, fifteen hundred miles from Miami, to recognize this truth: the causal passage from dormitory weed to mass murder, the citywide lockdown that begins after the terrorists find themselves, completely by chance, in a 7-Eleven, that some other thugs have casually decided to rob.  Hiaasen's commentary on American violence underlines this: "These days, anybody with a laptop and a grudge can arrange a massacre on a shoestring budget.  You don't need special training.  You don't even need to be very smart.  All you need is the one dark impulse."

To imagine contemporary American horrors, you need an imagination that can take in the trivial and the terrible in one glance, finding the dark impulse turns Borats into bombers.  From night cities of sinister conspiracies to a sunlit country of grotesque coincidences.  It sounds like home."

How Not To Do Presentation Slides!!

My reaction to the release of the PRISM powerpoint slides was the same - - only a bunch of engineers could have come up a slide deck that looked this dreadful.  The multi-logo at the header - - really bad.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Financial Times today - Rebirth of the U.S. City by Edward Luce:

"In 2011, for the first time in more than 90 years, America's largest cities registered higher population growth than their combined suburbs."

Also - -

"In 2010, for the first time in U.S. history, the number of poor living in the suburbs exceeded those living in the cities."

And - in the context of the suburbs, retail shopping, and online retailing - -

"According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, at least a tenth of America's remaining 1,000 enclosed mails will shut in the next seven years, mostly because of the internet."

This is interesting - -

"American cities are becoming more and more European in their sensibilities."  Which means higher density living, more public transportation, while embracing the new drivers of urbanism - - technology, tolerance, and talent.

Finally - -

"The suburbs were created to house the new middle class in the 20th century.  But the economy they were built around is vanishing." 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Who Is (and Will) Pay for Climate Change?

This is a very interesting report from the NRDC on who is playing for the impacts of climate change - link.  From day one, climate change was always going to be the ultimate example of private profits (i.e., the discharge of carbon dioxide) ending up as public liabilities.  The system of unlinking profit profits and public liabilities works quite well - - up to the point that the person living on the beautiful beach or next to the national forest runs out of others people's money after their house washes away or burns down.

From the report:

"Despite the lengthy debate on the federal budget in Congress, climate change rarely gets mentioned as a deficit driver. Yet paying for climate disruption was one of the largest non-defense discretionary budget items in 2012. Indeed, when all federal spending on last year's droughts, storms, floods, and forest fires are added up, the U.S. Climate Disruption Budget was nearly $100 billion.

The startling reality:
  • America's taxpayers paid three times what private insurers paid out to cover losses from extreme weather.
  • The federal government spent more taxpayer money on the consequences of 2012 extreme weather than on education or transportation.
Overall, the insurance industry estimates that 2012 was the second costliest year in U.S. history for climate-related disasters, with more than $139 billion in damages. But private insurers themselves only covered about 25 percent of these costs ($33 billion), leaving the federal government and its public insurance enterprises to pay for the majority of the remaining claims.

In fact, the U.S. government paid more than three times as much as private insurers paid for climate-related disasters in 2012."

Song Lyrics of the Week

From the Pistol Annies - -

"Being Pretty Ain't Pretty"

I fought it all for a while
But I went out of style again
I don't read the magazines
And I can't keep up with the trends

The red on my nails keeps chipping off
The pink on my lips just adds to the flaws
I ain't good at fake lashes
Every time I wear high heels I fall

Being pretty ain't pretty, it takes all day long
You spend all your money just to wipe it all off
You spray on your perfume, you spray on your tan
Get up in the morning, do it over again
Being pretty ain't pretty at all

Mama was simple
Sweet as the day is long
Daddy always said she looked better
With no makeup on

She wouldn't be caught dead
Bleaching her reds
But I'd spend the house
Claiming on new cowboy boots
How the hell did the apple
Fall so damn far from the tree

Being pretty ain't pretty, it takes all day long
You spend all your money just to wipe it all off
You spray on your perfume, you spray on your tan
Get up in the morning, do it over again
Being pretty ain't pretty at all

Being pretty ain't pretty, it takes all day long
You spend all your money just to wipe it all off
You spray on your perfume, you spray on your tan
Get up in the morning, do it over again
Being pretty ain't pretty at all
Being pretty ain't pretty...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The 12 Axioms of Urban Resilience

From The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster (edited by Lawrence Vale and Thomas Campanella):
  1. Narratives of Resilience Are a Political Necessity - The ubiquity of urban rebuilding after disaster results from, among other things, a political need to demonstrate resilience.
  2. Disasters Reveal the Resilience of Governments - In the aftermath of disaster, the very legitimacy of government is at stake.
  3. Narratives of Resilience Are Always Contested - The rhetoric of resilience is never free from politics, self-interest, or contention.
  4. Local Resilience Is Linked to National Renewal - A major traumatic event affecting a particular city often projects itself into the national arena.
  5. Resilience Is Underwritten by Outsiders - Increasingly, the resilience of cities depends on political and financial influences exercised from well outside the city limits.
  6. Urban Rebuilding Symbolizes Human Resilience - Each human lives a life that is centered on the well being of self, family, and friends - all of which can be suddenly and totally shattered by a single cataclysmic event or the more protracted horrors of war.  By contrast, urban reconstruction is a highly visible enterprise that conveys an almost heroic sense of renewal and well-being.
  7. Remembrance Drives Resilience - Urban resilience, at least in its American form, is inextricably linked to the process of memorializaton.
  8. Resilience Benefits from Inertia fo Prior Investment - In most cases, even substantial devastation of urban areas has not led to visionary new city plans aimed at correcting long-endured deficience or limiting the risk of future destruction in the event of a recurrence.
  9. Resilience Exploits the Power of Place - The immutability of policy-making organizations and the resilience of land planning are also linked to the great attachment many people have to particular places, even after such places have been substantially destroyed.
  10. Resilience Casts Opportunism as Opportunity - There is a fine line between capializing on an unexpected traumatic disruption to the fabric of a city as an opportunity to pursue some much-needed upgrading of infrastructure and facilities and the more dubious practice of using devastation as a cover for more opportunistic agendas yielding less obvious public benefits.
  11. Resilience, Like Disaster, Is Site-Specific - All disasters, not only earthquakes, have epicenters.  Those who are victimized by traumatic episodes experience resilience differently, based on their distance from the epicenter.
  12. Resilience Entails More than Rebuilding - The process of rebuilding is a necesary but, by itself, insufficient condition for enabling recovery and resilience.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Way to Produce an Engineer

David Brooks had an excellent column yesterday in The New York Times - - The Way to Produce a Person.  The article examines your "gap" - - the difference between your daily conduct and your core commitment.  Engineering is a profession with a high dream factor and a high doing something to change and better civilization.  Way too often, the business of engineering turns people into a means rather than an end. 

Engineering does a very good job of producing many a specialist without spirit.  The engineer that is great at logic but has no wisdom.  This is unfortunate.  Engineering, like medicine, can be the place and profession "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  It should be a profession, not detached from society, but one that should arouse passion for the sake of serving.

From the article: 

"But a human life is not just a means to produce outcomes, it is an end in itself. When we evaluate our friends, we don’t just measure the consequences of their lives. We measure who they intrinsically are. We don’t merely want to know if they have done good. We want to know if they are good.
That’s why when most people pick a vocation, they don’t only want one that will be externally useful. They want one that they will enjoy, and that will make them a better person. They want to find that place, as the novelist Frederick Buechner put it, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
If you are smart, hard-working, careful and lucky you might even be able to find a job that is both productive and internally ennobling. Taking a job just to make money, on the other hand, is probably going to be corrosive, even if you use the money for charity rather than sports cars.
We live in a relentlessly commercial culture, so it’s natural that many people would organize their lives in utilitarian and consequentialist terms. But it’s possible to get carried away with this kind of thinking — to have logic but no wisdom, to become a specialist without spirit.
Making yourself is different than producing a product or an external outcome, requiring different logic and different means. I’d think you would be more likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the things that engaged you most seriously. If your profoundest interest is dying children in Africa or Bangladesh, it’s probably best to go to Africa or Bangladesh, not to Wall Street."

Update on the Global Water Industry

An update from Reuters on the Asian water markets.

Falling Bridges and the Slide Rule

The is a great article in the Babbage blog on the Economist.  The intersection of bridge failure, indeterminate structural analysis/design, and the slide rule.  The present and future are always more important to the public and political class.  But to an engineer, the past is also important - - our future always had a past.  From historical rainfall data to calculations in 1965, history may be for historians, put history also belongs to engineers and engineering.

"BY ALL accounts, the four-lane bridge over the River Skagit in Washington state, along Interstate 5 between Seattle and the Canadian border, was in pretty good shape for a 58-year-old structure. It had been inspected for cracks as recently as last November, and was not even on the state’s list of bridges judged “structurally deficient”. Yet when, on May 23rd, a cross-member of the bridge’s superstructure was damaged by a passing flatbed truck carrying an oversize load, the whole span promptly collapsed. The truck made it across, but two cars on the bridge plunged into the river below. Thankfully, no one was killed.

The Skagit Valley Bridge, which carried some 71,000 vehicles a day, was part of the main route between California and Canada. Diversions are expected to last for several weeks while a temporary fix is prepared. A more lasting repair will not be ready until autumn. Beyond that, questions are now being raised about what, in the immediate future, can be done about the thousands of other bridges in America that are technically similar.

Much of the country's original 42,000-mile (67,500km) Interstate Highway System was built in a rush during the Cold War, from 1956 onwards—ostensibly so people could be evacuated in case of a nuclear attack, and for the armed forces to move around the country swiftly. The system was championed by President Dwight Eisenhower, who had seen at first hand how effective Germany's autobahns (unlike its more vulnerable railways) had been at moving men and materiel during the second world war.

Today, America has nearly 4m miles of public roads, including now over 47,000 miles of Interstate highways and 115,000 miles of freeways and other roads built to similar standards. Of the 607,000 bridges in the country, the Interstates alone account for more than 55,000—two-thirds of which were built during the 1950s and 1960s.

Their age is one concern. In some cases, however, their design is an even bigger problem. Most bridges built during the early years of Interstate construction used trusses that had just enough structural members to maintain their rigidity. In other words, they had no redundancy. Knock out one tensioned member, and the rigid structure would become a floppy mechanism. Engineers call such a design “fracture-critical”.

At its simplest, bridge-building is all about stringing triangles of structural cross-members together to form of a truss that transfers the various loads acting on it to the ground. Imagine a pair of triangles in the form of a square in the vertical plane—ie, four structural members connecting the four corners, and a fifth joining one pair of diagonally opposite corners. For simplicity, assume there are pin-joints at each corner. Then, no matter how much any corner is pushed, the frame will (more or less) maintain its square shape. But remove, say, the one diagonal member, and the whole frame instantly collapses. It is no longer a structure capable of carrying loads, but a mechanism that cannot even support its own weight.

As a fledgling aeronautical engineer, Babbage learned to distinguish between static structures and dynamic mechanisms by means of a simple rule. Doubling the number of joints and subtracting three gave the number of load-carrying members needed to prevent a structure reverting to a mechanism and collapsing. For instance, the above square frame with four corner joints requires five members (two times four minus three equals five). A truss with 14 joints needs 25 members, and so on.

The photograph of the bridge over the Skagit River (above) shows that the trusses on either side of the roadbed each have 14 joints and 25 load-bearing members—the minimum required for rigidity. The vertical trusses are connected at the top by a horizontal lattice that itself has little or no redundancy. The bridge itself is a “through-truss” design, meaning traffic travels through the structure rather than over it, increasing the chance of contact with passing vehicles.

Unfortunately, apart from being a fracture-critical structure and a through-truss design, the bridge over the Skagit River is what is known as “functionally obsolete”. This does not necessarily mean it is unsafe, but simply that it was built to standards that are not used today. Lane widths, shoulder widths and vertical clearances are inadequate by current standards. In the event, the oversize load that caused the span to collapse caught a cross-member of the bridge’s lower-than-normal superstructure.

More than 84,000 bridges in America are classified as functionally obsolete. Another 66,000 are deemed structurally deficient, meaning they need to be repaired or replaced. In the meantime, they can remain open to traffic provided certain restrictions are applied—such as reduced weight limits or speed restrictions. Together, these two problematic classes account for a quarter of all bridges in the country. Of these, some 18,000 are fracture-critical designs.

Which raises the question of why they were built in the first place. The short answer is that they are cost-effective. Embodying only as many members as absolutely necessary makes them extremely efficient. And by saving material, they are among the quickest and cheapest to build. Also, despite their lack of redundancy, they have had a reasonable record for safety—though the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis that suddenly collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others, was a fracture-critical design.

Decades ago, engineers favoured such bridge designs for another reason, too. Having no redundant components, calculating the forces carried by the various members, the deflections they cause, the shear stresses involved and the bending moments around their joints could be be done by applying simple Newtonian mechanics. Adding reinforcements to the structure (ie, increasing the redundancy) made the design "statically indeterminate" and the calculations horribly complicated.

Or so it did until the late 1960s, when digital computers and numerical techniques, such as finite-element analysis, began to take the grunt-work out of such calculations. Few fracture-critical bridges have been built since. Nor have any through-truss designs been adopted for road use, though they are still used occasionally for railways. Besides, finite-element analysis—devised originally for calculating the stresses in aircraft fuselages and wings—has allowed exquisite thin-shell structures to be built in concrete to carry loads over previously unimagined distances. Bridge-building today is as much architecture as it is structural engineering.

In his state-of-the-union address earlier this year, President Obama proposed a “Fix-It-First” programme to put people to work as soon as possible on America’s most urgently needed repairs. He specifically mentioned the “nearly 70,000” structurally deficient bridges across the country. But the $50 billion needed for the whole Fix-It-First endeavour is proving hard to come by.

Not counting the country's functionally obsolete bridges, the putative cost of the current backlog of work waiting to be done on the National Highway System’s bridge rehabilitation and replacement programme is more than $32 billion (in 2004 dollars). It would take over $5 billion a year for 20 years to catch up. Doing so at a pace President Obama had in mind would require at least $20 billion a year.

The trouble is that the Highway Trust Fund, which receives money from fuel taxes to pay for repairing bridges and other infrastructure, is expected to go broke next year. Revenue from fuel taxes has declined steadily as Americans have switched to more efficient cars, and also started driving less as a result of persistently high unemployment and the anaemic economy. Meanwhile, the chance of raising federal taxes on petrol and diesel, which have not seen an increase since 1993, is effectively zero—given the present gridlock in Congress.

Babbage hesitates even to suggest it, but he believes the only answer is for individual states and local authorities to introduce tolls for bridges and other pieces of infrastructure that have fallen into disrepair. In principle, given that road and fuel taxes are inevitable, motorists should not have to pay twice for the right to use public highways and crossings. But if tolls offer the only means for rehabilitating the country's crumbling and troublesome infrastructure, then reluctantly so be it."