Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Cross-Sector Conversation on the Water-Energy Nexus

If the water sector could talk to the power sector, what would that conversation be like?  Charting New Waters and their very good report hints at what should be the major discussion themes, Building Resilient Utilities: How Water and Electric Utilities Can Co-Create Their Futures (link).  A table from the report: 

Water Sector Questions for the Electric Power Sector
Electric Power Sector Messages for the Water Sector
Which stakeholders in your sector are essential to facilitating cross-sector integration?
The electric power sector is extremely complex and must be understood locally, regionally, and nationally, particularly in terms of its regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
How and to what extent is water factored into your long-term planning?
Use caution in emulating rate structures from the power sector, and only adopt proven methods.
How can we help you address the water challenges you face?
There is real potential for the water sector to help have peak electricity demand.
What challenges does distributed generation pose to your business model?
There is significant unmet potential for the use of reclaimed water for thermoelectric power plant cooling.
How can interconnection and rate-setting processes be streamlined?
Power plant waste heat could be a useful resource for wastewater treatment plants.
What would it take to achieve the co-location of water and power generation facilities?
Conduct careful analysis of the economics of scale for distributed energy generation.
How Can we coordinate to minimize deleterious impacts to air, water, and land resources?
A coordinated cross-sector research and development agenda could help prevent unintended consequences.
How can we work together to eliminate the flaring of usable gas?


Trailer for Particle Fever

The Water Constrainted Future of the Southwest

I read this twice to let it all sink in - Day of reckoning for the parched Southwest: technology and conservation won’t be enough (link).  People are not prepared or preparing for this.  From the article: 

"But conservation isn’t bringing water use into balance with available supply – the water deficit remains. Take Arizona, often lauded for its water-saving efforts. Since 1980, the state has had a groundwater management act that, in theory, permits residential construction only if builders can demonstrate the existence of a 100-year water supply and show how they will “recharge” what future homeowners draw from local aquifers. That program is what Spencer Kamps, a spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, pointed to when he told Remapping Debate, “We’re in a sustainable model for many years … We don’t have a water problem in Arizona.”

Yet Arizona’s Department of Water Resources released a report last month, “A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability,” which concluded: “Although the State has an existing solid water management foundation, water demands driven by future economic development are anticipated to outstrip existing supplies.”

By how much? “When we looked at some of the studies that were done for Arizona,” says Sandra Fabritz-Whitney, the department’s director, “what we found is our imbalance in a hundred years could be 3 million acre-feet” – in other words, roughly the same deficit that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects for all seven Basin states by 2060."

The Online World of Civil Engineering Education


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Your Local TV News Station Would Like to Buy a Drone

Your Local TV News Station Would Like to Buy a Drone

The 7 1/2 Questions of Asset Management

This is my attempt at the key questions of infrastructure asset management:
  1. What do we own?
  2. What is it worth?
  3. What condition is it in?
  4. What is the average remaining service life?
  5. What do we spend and what should we be investing?
  6. What is the infrastructure gap?
  7. How do we get sustainable infrastructure?
I also think we are halfway to a #8 - "How resilient is the infrastructure?"

The Convergence of the Car as "The" Innovation Platform

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Blackphone

Six Sigma and the Irving, Texas Truck Maintenance Project

John Wooden - Civil Engineer

From Wooden: A Coach's Life:

"Wooden, however, was not going to let basketball dictate his decision.  He aspired to be a civil engineer, and one of the few state universities that had a civil engineering program was Purdue.  The school also had an excellent basketball team, and though Wooden had never visited the campus, several of his friends who were Purdue students recommended that he go there.  As the summer of 1928 concluded, he decided to head for West Lafayette."

Wooden probably would have ended up a civil engineer except for the summer camp requirement for civil engineering students.  His $70 per semester tuition required him to work in the summers.

Giving a Speech Like TED

The art of persuasion is a learned and practiced endeavor.  A TED talk is a great place to watch and learn the art of public speaking (church is also a great place to learn public speaking and the art of persuasion).

Sam Leith has a good columen on talking like a TEDer in the Financial Times On public speaking column on February 18, 2014 - Lessons on how to talk like TED.  I love the nine aspects of public speaking outlined in the column:
  1. Be passionate about your topic.
  2. Engage the audience by telling stories (Engineers need to get much better at this - - ministers learn this in Theology 101).
  3. Treat your speach like a conversation.
  4. Tell the audience something it doesn't know.
  5. Include a few jaw-droppers.
  6. Use humour (Engineering 101 needs to include going to see improvisational comedy).
  7. Keep it brief.
  8. Engage all the senses by painting word pictures (Words yes - - but we live in a world of incrediable visualization technology - - sometimes just let the picture or graph or chart tell the story - - let the graph be the stunning jaw-dropper).
  9. Be authentic.

Barnett Shale Water Use Facts

From the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology:

1.2 million gallons per vertical well
3 to 3.5 million gallons per horizontal well
8.5 billion gallons water used in 2011
22,000 acre-feet average annual use 2007 to 2025
417,000 acre-feet projections for water use 2007 to 2025
55 billion gallons total consumed from 1981 to 2011

Global Warming's Six Americas

A Website That Wants to Help Republicans Win in Cities

A Website That Wants to Help Republicans Win in Cities

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Big Eight of City Smarts

From the Urban Sustainability Blog (link).  What is interesting is the linkage among the eight - #4 impacts #2, #2 and #3 impact one another, #5 impacts #2, #1 and #2 are really one system, #6 and #7 can be considered together, #7 and #8 - - - systems thinking is the key to understanding the eight.

1. Smart transportation. Most citizens put traffic at the top of the list of things they want solved. According to some studies, congestion reduces a city’s gross domestic product by somewhere between 1-3%. Smart transportation may not result in fare decreases. But it almost always rewards citizens with lower congestion and shorter travel times.
2. Energy efficiency. Energy efficiency programs can get underway without large expenditures. Many gains are possible through simple behavior changes – for instance, learning ways to save water, substituting more efficient light bulbs or learning to postpone non-essential electric use to non-peak times. What’s more, many energy services contractors will undertake work for no upfront costs. Instead, they take a portion of the savings.
3. Smart grids. The payback from a smart grid is not necessarily in lower electric rates. Rather, it may come in the form of reduced outages and greater reliability against storms and sabotage. City governments can gain great approval if they improve reliability and resiliency.
4. Smart water networks. By one estimate, 30% of all the water pumped worldwide does not reach its destination. A smart water network can pinpoint leaks and theft, gaining a quick payback in regions where water is costly.
5. Smart street lights. LED lighting makes possible big savings in energy costs. And same LEDs that save energy also save on “truck rolls.” They last much longer, so maintenance crews don’t have to spend as much time replacing lamps. What’s more, by networking the street lights – adding communications to each one – a city can gain a “canopy network” for the whole city that is paid for by the savings in energy and maintenance. And then you can use that network for other smart city applications.
6. Smart policing. Smart policing can have a dramatic impact on crime rates and public confidence. By feeding current and past crime statistics into analytical programs, cities can predict where crime is most likely to occur. And by equipping officers with cameras, laptops, tablets or smartphones, they can reduce the time spent on paperwork and increase the time on patrol.
7. Digital government services. You can often get a quick win by converting a government service from “manual” operation to a more convenient online or smartphone version. Done well, such projects can save money for the city while simultaneously improving citizen satisfaction (no more standing in line). There are dozens if not hundreds of possibilities, including licenses, permits, registration for social services, purchase of fare cards, reporting potholes and many, many more.
8. Smart payments: Payback from smarter payments can be quick – and significant. Cash and checks create huge costs for city administrations. By digitalizing all disbursements and collections, a city can generate significant savings and increase its operational efficiency. For example, when Toronto switched its social benefits payments to prepaid cards, it saved $2.5 million annually by eliminating the cost of issuing checks. The program was rolled out in less than a year.

Final Report for the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange

Report from Ch2MHill - ink.

The Complexities of the Water-Energy Nexus

The Heard on the Street Column of The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday illustrated the challenges of managing both the water and energy sectors during periods of interconnected system stress (California Power Market Gets Freeze-Dried).

Problems in the water-energy nexus are enormously complex.  The continuing drought in California highlights the challenges and interconnections between water and energy.  The Wall Street Journal highlighted this in a recent article.
“More than half of California is classified as being in a state of extreme drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Recent storms have brought some snow to parched slopes – including Tahoe’s – but they come very late: California’s snowpack is just 10% of normal levels, according to Citigroup.  The problem extends up the coast, with the Northwest River Forecast Center earlier this month reporting lower-than-normal precipitation in the region this season.

This matters because almost half of U.S. hydroelectric lies in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.  California, the country’s second-largest electricity market after Texas, got 17% of its power this way in the decade ending 2012.
So if rivers are low, the state has a problem – even more so when other sources of energy are stressed as well.”

Extreme winter weather and constraints in the water-energy nexus forced natural gas prices entering California up to $15 a million BTUs in late January from $4.19 at the end of 2013.  From the Wall Street Journal article:
“Adding to this is the fierce cold and snow battering New York a host of other places across the U.S.  Natural-gas-fired power plants make up more than 60% of California’s capacity, so these take the strain when the rivers run dry.  The problem is when the rest of the country needs gas for heat, supplies can be constrained.”


No stagnation in water innovation - - MoreAqua.  Story in the SF Chronicle - Drought Remedy: Thin barrier could save water in reserviors.

Energy Consumption and Big Box Stores

Very interesting paper from Matthew Kahn and Nils Kok - - - Big-Box Retailers and Urban Carbon Emissions: The Case of Wal-Mart (link):
"The commercial real estate sector is responsible for a large share of a city’s overall carbon footprint.  An ongoing trend in this sector has been the entry of big-box stores such as Wal-Mart. Using a unique monthly panel data set for every Wal-Mart store in California from 2006 through 2011, we document three main findings about the environmental performance of big-box retailers. First, Wal-Mart’s stores exhibit very little store-to-store variation in electricity consumption relative to a control group of similar size and vintage retail stores. Second, Wal-Mart’s store’s electricity consumption is lower in higher priced utilities and is independent of the store’s ownership versus leased status. Third, unlike other commercial businesses, Wal-Mart’s newer buildings consume less electricity. Together, these results highlight the key roles that corporate size and centralization of management play in determining a key indicator of a firm’s overall environmental performance."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

You Are Subsidizing a Fancy Beach House That'll Be Destroyed in a Flood

You Are Subsidizing a Fancy Beach House That'll Be Destroyed in a Flood

The Collapse of Complex Societies

Interesting post from Judge Posner - link.  From the post:

"Competition between organizations is an important control on the divergence (which economists refer to as “agency costs”—the costs created by the fact that the employees of an organization have their own goals that often conflict with those of their employer). But nations do not feel the same competitive pressures as corporations. Even a small, miserable, effectively bankrupt nation like Greece does not disappear, as large corporations not infrequently do, because of its inefficiency. Because corporations are simpler and smaller and also more constrained by competition than nations, we can expect them to be managed more efficiently, and specifically to adopt an organizational structure that minimizes agency costs. So let’s glance at the structure of the typical large corporation and compare it to our federal government structure. There will be a board of directors to exercise a general but loose supervision over the corporation (and in turn subject to very loose control by the shareholders), intervening decisively only in crisis situations or where there is vacancy in the office of the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO will be the dominant figure in the corporation, exercising something close to dictatorial power, assisted by a small personal staff. Often he will overshadow the chairman of the board of directors—he may even double as chairman and CEO. There will be a Chief Operating Officer, exercising day to day management, while the CEO, as the public face of the corporation, will formulate policy, provide overall guidance, inspiration, and “vision,” appoint the major subordinate corporate officials (general counsel, chief information officer, chief financial officer, etc.), and maintain personal relations with important investors, customers, competitors, and regulatory officials. The corporation will have several or many operating divisions, reporting to the COO or CEO, each headed by a vice president or equivalent. The employees in each division will serve at the pleasure of their superiors; no one will have fixed tenure. 
Compare the federal government. The closest to a board of directors is the Congress, but it differs mainly in having a good deal of policy responsibility, and, since it does not appoint and is not appointed by the President (corresponding to a corporate CEO), there is no presumption that its policy preferences will coincide with the President’s. The President’s exercise of his own policymaking powers will often work at cross-purposes with Congress’s exercise of its powers; nor can he appoint senior officials without the concurrence of a division of the Congress, namely the Senate. A further dilution of presidential power results form the existence of an independent federal judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court. Federal judges and Justices have lifetime tenure, can invalidate legislative and executive action both federal and state, and rarely (because of that tenure) will a President be able to appoint a majority of the Supreme Court Justices or other federal judges." 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Climate change and wildfires

Study from the Forest Service - Link.  Smokey The Bear ugly by 2050 - 50 to 100 percent increases depending on where you live.

Managing the disaster cycle

Great idea of disaster cycle management that CDM Smith is advocating - the era of extreme weather will place a premium on the engineer as disaster cycle manager - Link.

Fort Worth watering limits could become permanent | Fort Worth | News from Fort Worth, D...

Fort Worth watering limits could become permanent | Fort Worth | News from Fort Worth, D...

PS - Check out the Freese & Nichols ad next to the story.  The Googlefication of ad placement comes to the world of engineering consulting - the purchase of Internet ad space for targeted stories.

Update on the Califorina Drought

Great summary from National Geographic Water Currents - link.

Thirsty Energy

Good article from Forbes on the increasing importance of the water-energy nexus - link.

Will Drones Transform Surveying?

Good discussion on the topic - link.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Infrastructure Status Report

This is a great example from the City of Calgary - Link.

Fracking infrastructure? Not in my backyard, says Exxon CEO

Fracking infrastructure? Not in my backyard, says Exxon CEO

What's Up With Electricity Supply?

Two similar stories from two different continents.  A looming shortage of generation capacity.  When you have the Financial Times and Texas Monthly writing about the same thing two days apart - - engineering needs to be following the issues.

From the Financial Times yesterday - Power Down -

"Britian's power problems are symptomatic of a global industry undergoing wrenching change.  Traditional thermal generation is under pressure from climate change policies, volatile commodity markets and the rise of renewables.  All of Europe's incumbent power providers are facing what Peter Terium, chief executive of RWE, the German utiltiy has described as the "worst structural crisis in the history of energy supply".

To the other side of the global you have Texas Monthly and Generation Gap.   From the article:

"Unfortunately, more generators won’t necessarily lead to additional power plants. With gas prices so low and retail contracts sold mostly on an annual basis, generators can’t get financing to pay for new construction because they can’t predict their revenue stream more than a year or two out. “There’s no method for compensating anyone in the market for building new generation,” Hirs says. Without more plants, the chance of blackouts keeps rising.

On a typical day, power on the wholesale market sells for between $30 and $100 per megawatt hour.* But during January’s cold snap, prices spiked to $5,000. At times like that, generators make big money, which creates an incentive to withhold power from the market. “They know if they hold back and get into real shortages, they will reap tremendous rewards,” Hirs says. Electricity traders have raised questions about suspicious activity that suggests withholding has been going on, but no one has proved anything. What we do know is that the free market isn’t responding the way the architects of deregulation expected. The market doesn’t care if your AC isn’t running in August."

What a Drone Service Company Might Look Like

This is one example - link.

How Wolves Change Rivers

We are Terrible at Science because we are Terrible at Science

The results are pretty grim - link.

Engineering in the Century of Slow Growth

Abstract from a paper by Rober Gordon of Northwestern University - - The Demise of U.S, Economic Growth: Restatement, Rebuttal, and Reflections:
The United States achieved a 2.0 percent average annual growth rate of real GDP per capita between 1891 and 2007. This paper predicts that growth in the 25 to 40 years after 2007 will be much slower, particularly for the great majority of the population. Future growth will be 1.3 percent per annum for labor productivity in the total economy, 0.9 percent for output per capita, 0.4 percent for real income per capita of the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution, and 0.2 percent for the real disposable income of that group.

The primary cause of this growth slowdown is a set of four headwinds, all of them widely recognized and uncontroversial. Demographic shifts will reduce hours worked per capita, due not just to the retirement of the baby boom generation but also as a result of an exit from the labor force both of youth and prime-age adults. Educational attainment, a central driver of growth over the past century, stagnates at a plateau as the U.S. sinks lower in the world league tables of high school and college completion rates. Inequality continues to increase, resulting in real income growth for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution that is fully half a point per year below the average growth of all incomes. A projected long-term increase in the ratio of debt to GDP at all levels of government will inevitably lead to more rapid growth in tax revenues and/or slower growth in transfer payments at some point within the next several decades.

There is no need to forecast any slowdown in the pace of future innovation for this gloomy forecast to come true, because that slowdown already occurred four decades ago. In the eight decades before 1972 labor productivity grew at an average rate 0.8 percent per year faster than in the four decades since 1972. While no forecast of a future slowdown of innovation is needed, skepticism is offered here, particularly about the techno-optimists who currently believe that we are at a point of inflection leading to faster technological change. The paper offers several historical examples showing that the future of technology can be forecast 50 or even 100 years in advance and assesses widely discussed innovations anticipated to occur over the next few decades, including medical research, small robots, 3-D printing, big data, driverless vehicles, and oil-gas fracking.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How Vancouver's Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit

How Vancouver's Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit

Good P3 article!!!

Engineers, Social Physics and the Future of People Analytics

The Sustainable Dance Club

No technological stagnation on the dance floor - where the power of the dancer's footwork kept the lights on - link.

The Delta Alliance

About the Delta Alliance:

Delta Alliance is an international knowledge-driven network organization with the mission of improving the resilience of the world’s deltas. With increasing pressure from population growth, industrialization and a changing climate, it is more important than ever that these valuable and vulnerable locations increase their resilience to changing conditions. Delta Alliance brings people together who live and work in deltas. They can benefit from each other’s experience and expertise and as such contribute to an increased resilience of their delta region.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Talking Wastewater Treatment on the Radio

pCell Technology

The Coming Problem With Electric Cars--How to Charge Them All | MIT Technology Review

The Coming Problem With Electric Cars--How to Charge Them All | MIT Technology Review

U.K. Water Industry Research

A good site for the latest on water research information - link.

New Job Title - Engineer and Conservation Technologist

Check out the bio on this guy from National Geographic - Link.  From his post on

"So I am an engineer and part of the National Geographic Explorers program, based on some work I have been doing for a number of years now on identifying technological solutions for ocean protection, namely in stopping overfishing, illegal fishing, and poaching of our seas. You can see my profile here. I work on bringing modern technology and open source approaches to dealing with ocean protection. This work started in graduate school at Stanford University and I have gone on to work with a number of nonprofits and organizations since then. Most the stuff I focus on involved the development of hardware (low cost sensors, etc) and data management solutions (smartphone apps, online databases, etc.), as well as the identification of innovative approaches and technologies that work within the constraints of a certain community.

I am familiar with the great work done by the Conservation Drones organization, as well as some of the pilot projects that have taken place to prove the use of UAS as a means of combatting illegal poaching. We wanted to build on this work, with a focus on our oceans. So we started a project called SoarOcean that is operating under a small grant by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. The focus will be on coastal communities where lack of resources have caused issues in protection of their waters and how inexpensive UAV platforms can change that (and allow them to document what is happening). The initial testing and development is happening (under a NOAA permit) in the marine protected areas off the coast of California, but evolving into some pilot opportunities in the Caribbean, Central America, and Western Africa. Progress will be posted on here, the National Geographic website, and the project webpage. You can also follow the project on twitter, at @SoarOcean."

The Channel 4 News Drone and U.K. Flooding

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Getting Prepared for a New Texas

If you are a demographics junkie like me, you need to get a copy of Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge by Steve Murdock.  Here are the facts that Texas will be facing this century - - and the future should be rather obvious as you read down the list:
  • The average age of a non-Hispanic white (NHW) woman in TX is 42.  The average age of a Hispanic woman in TX is 28.  One group on the downside of the fertility curve and the other group on the upside.  Demographics is destiny.
  • Projecting to the next generation - NHWs will contribute 2% toward population growth, while Hispanics will contribute 70%.
  • NHWs make up 2/3 of workers in TX with bachelor's degrees.  By 2050, Hispanic workers will outnumber NHWs 3 to 1. 
  • By 2050 Hispanic households will outnumber NHWs 2 to 1.
  • The downward-mobility-spiral looks like this - - Hispanics currently aren't generating enough college graduates to fill the demographic/retirement shift, which means lower quality jobs, which means lower median incomes, which means reduced consumer spending, which means a lower tax base and less tax revenue, which means less tax revenue at a time you have a rapidly aging population that needs public support, which means taxes will need to be increased, which means . . . . Texas necesita una fuerza de trabajo educada joven y la universidad para tener √©xito.

March Madness!!!!!!!!!

A German Ping-Pong champion will play an industrial robot next month - -

The Pump "Ecademy"

Check out the Gundfos "Ecademy"  - - look for more and more equipment manufacturers to develop online training platforms - - link.

Maplecroft's Climate Change Vulnerability Index

See who is at the top and bottom of the index - link.

Drought Buster?

The WaterFX Project

The Brackish Water Revolution meets the water-energy nexus in The WaterFX Project - link.  From the company blog:

"There has been a lot of discussion on the topic of desalination in California lately as a source of water to combat drought (see News10 ABC “drought buster”) and it’s apropos to the ongoing dialogue about the environmental consequences typically associated with desalination, namely what to do with the salt?

It’s important to first point out the recent technology advances at play for desalination, as well as the growing opportunity to handle and even monetize the salt and mineral byproducts, between conventional seawater desalination and the type of solar desalination being demonstrated by WaterFX at the Panoche Water & Drainage District. Seawater desalination most commonly relies on reverse osmosis (RO), which requires high pressure to drive freshwater through a membrane. Up to 1,000 psi of driving force is required to overcome the natural osmotic pressure of ocean water. Because of this, the practical limit for RO seawater desalination is 50% water recovery – for every 100 gallons of water processed, 50 gallons of freshwater are recovered and 50 gallons of brine are disposed. To exceed 50% recovery requires increasing the pressure of the system, which from a practical standpoint makes the equipment too costly and substantially increases the electricity consumption. The result is a large volume of high salinity brine that must be sent back to the ocean and as many environmentalists correctly point out, this can have negative consequences to the local marine ecosystem.

Solar desalination, like the Aqua4™ Concentrated Solar Still in use today at California’s Panoche Water District, does not use RO to desalinate seawater and instead uses evaporation (referred to as multi-effect distillation) to clean brackish drainage water. As a result, rather than only 50% recovery, the process achieves greater than 93% recovery. This means that for 100 gallons of water treated, only 7 gallons of salt brine are produced. In addition, the concentration of this brine is greater than 200,000 ppm of total dissolved solids (20% salt by weight). With this high concentration, solids can then be precipitated out of solution using salt separators and processed for a variety of uses. This is something that is not economically feasible with RO seawater desalination due to the high volume of brine. It is also important to note that agricultural drainage water has an inherent disposal cost, so there is substantially more economic incentive to treat this water in its entirety.

In phase two of the solar desalination project with Panoche (to be completed in September 2014), we plan to demonstrate the types of solid byproducts that can be produced and sold into the market without harming the environment. For instance, gypsum (a calcium based salt) is one example of a valuable compound that can be recovered. It is used to make drywall and plaster, so with a concerted effort, the Central Valley could use a portion of the salts as locally sourced raw material for the built environment. Magnesium salts are also present in the drainage water and compounds such as magnesium sulfate (epsom salt) are used in the medical industry to treat pain and complications during pregnancy. It is also true there are naturally occurring materials like selenium that in high concentration are toxic, but if dried and separated, selenium is a highly valuable commodity. It is a health supplement (critical for life in animals), it is a semiconductor for photo-sensors and it is also a key ingredient for glass making. There are nitrates present in drainage water that can be recycled back into fertilizer for growers and calcium compounds that can be used to make cement. Boron is another highly valuable material present at 50 mg/L in drainage water and if extracted sells for $5,000/kg. For a small solar desalination plant this could generate $2.1M per day of revenue. As for motor oil and antifreeze, we have not observed these compounds in the drainage water specifically, but many natural water bodies will contain trace amounts of a variety of these commonly used chemicals.

While the Central Valley is not currently a source of these raw materials, there is no reason to think it can’t be. In Canada, potash (potassium carbonate) and soda-ash (sodium carbonate) salts are refined directly from naturally occurring brines and sold into the fertilizer and chemical industries, which support over $7B per year of exports to countries like China. In Israel, over 2 million tons of salts are produced every year from the Dead Sea. A new industry can be created in the Central Valley that not only removes salt from some of the most pristine farmland in the world, but also creates thousands of new jobs.

Solar desalination, if implemented thoughtfully, serves as a new source of water in California, and can alleviate the salt accumulation that is causing thousands of acres of valuable farmland to be fallowed every year. But why hasn’t this “feature” of desalination been implemented before? The answer lies in the electricity consumption required to separate salt from water. Electricity is a costly source of energy for desalination and even more costly if salts are to be fully processed into solid form. Running a desalination plant at high recovery (> 90%), reliably and in a way that doesn’t require significant upfront pretreatment is the key to unlocking the salt removal. By removing all of the recoverable water the cost of post-processing salts is economical. But it is uneconomical if the cost of the energy source is expensive and this is where solar desalination (pun) shines. Using solar energy as the primary fuel source relaxes the total energy requirements for desalination and enables robust, high recovery thermal technologies like distillation to be used. Without tapping into widely available solar energy, scaling up desalination as a solution to the water problem in California could require over 5,000 MW of additional electric power. Conversely, by efficiently harnessing solar energy, we can return hundreds if not thousands of megawatts back to the grid by displacing freshwater imports delivered through energy-intensive pumping stations. As solar desalination scales up, the cost will continue to fall with improvements in process technology and manufacturing.

This transformation won’t happen overnight and it is not without its challenges. But Californians don’t need to look very far to find incredible examples of industries that have sprung up seemingly overnight. In the midst of the worst drought in recorded history we should give renewable desalination a chance and apply the same innovative thinking to our water shortage that has produced so many disruptive industries throughout California’s history."

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Bobsled Engineers

The story of our bobsledding engineers - link.

How People Use Technology

One of the most important tasks many organizations have is getting a feel for how existing and potential customers/clients utilize technology.  In the age of smart whatever, Internet of things, robotic/AI interfaces, driverless cars, etc., trying to understand what the customer/client wants is "The" design function.  This is not just limited to the technology gizmos - - it also relates to our complex systems, especially those in the public sector.  Someone needs to be at the bus stop and on the bus as the world of public transportation becomes more about the app on the smartphone detailing schedules and the smart messaging board at the kiosk.

The New York Times had a profile of that someone yesterday - The Watchful Lab of Dr. Bell.  Dr. Geneview Bell is the corporate anthropologist at Intel and has the title of director of user experience research at Intel Labs (the department has 100 social scientists and designers that have really nice frequent flier accounts).  This notion of blending anthropology and engineering/design is an important one.  Sensing the market and identifying the emerging signals in the context of what really matters to the customer/client is job #1 in any organization.

I love the following paragraph from the article:

"At Intel, Dr. Bell started taking research trips around the world to see how consumers used technology in their kitchens and living rooms, at sports events and religious observances.  After she and her colleagues returned, they printed posters with the photographs and comments of people they had interviewed, posting them around Intel's offices.  Employees were so interested in the images, she recalls, that there were bottlenecks in the hallways."


Annual Household Energy In Gallons of Gas Consumed for Electricity, Water, Waste, Travel, and Heating Fuel
New York

EnergyPoints has come up with a very important methodology to make sure we are all on the same sustainability page.  Whether we are talking about electricity, water, waste, or heating fuel the complexity is often getting everyone on an understandable and equivalent energy scale.  Green and sustainable are the trendy adjectives that have lacked historically a meaningful measurement number.  At some level green and sustainable is about behavior modification - where getting people to think in terms of kilowatt-hours, or BTUs, or LEED scores, or gallons per person per day across the entire water-energy-waste-transportation matrix is a challenge.

What EnergyPoints does with their analytics and algorithms is get all the numbers to an energy equivalence - - in this case gallons of gasoline.  Fortune has a great article on the company and process in this month's issue - Measuring Energy.  Organizations are coming up with sustainability goals, like the Massachusetts Department of Transportation GreenDot program, where they want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2020.  Someone like a EnergyPoints, that is good at data mining and mathematical modeling will be in the drivers seat to help people and organizations capture and understand their energy and carbon numbers over a broad range of systems.

The table at the top is from the article - Texas leads the way on energy consumption.  I ran my TXU electricity bill (850 kWh) for January through my algorithm yielding an energy equivalence of 25 gallons of gasoline. 

Global Rescue

If you are a U.S. field engineer working in one of the bad R.O.W. (rest of the world) places, check out Global Rescue.  The world of international evacuations is being outsourced to well qualified organizations.

Mining Sewers for Energy

The Neighborhood Energy Utility (NEU) was the first utility in North America to use waste heat recovery from untreated wastewater (link).  Sewage heat recovery supplies approximately 70% of the utility's annual demand.  The wastewater-energy nexus.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

LiDAR Coming to Drones

See link for the story.  From the website:

"The innovative sensor was designed to meet the challenges of emerging surveying solutions by UAS, gyrocopters, and ultra-light aircraft, both in measurement performance and in system integration. The VUX-1 is an ultra lightweight LiDAR sensor with less than 4 kilograms (less than 9 pounds) overall weight, that can easily be mounted onto professional UAS/RPAS. It has a 300 degree field of view and produces the extremely high quality LiDAR data users expect from a RIEGL product. Internal storage offers the ability to collect data for several hours at altitudes/ ranges up to more than 1,000 ft. Scanner applications include, but are not limited to: Agricultural and Forestry, Defense, Wide Area Mapping, Flood Zone Mapping, Glacier and Snowfield Mapping, Topography and Mining, and the Academic Markets."


Crowdpilot is the perfect app for the introverted engineering crowd.  Are you uncomfortable making conversation with your clients and customers?  Tongue tied on dates?  Maybe just plain old boring?

Check out the crowdsourcing conversation advantages of Crowdpilot.

Austin Water Utility - Climate Program Coordinator

Good slide presentation from the Austin Water Utility - link.  It will be interesting to see how much of the water-energy industry has someone called a "Climate Program Coordinator" -- might just be the job title of the century.

Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) Modeling

USDA's Inherent Land Quality Assessment

Investors will look at this assessment and come to the same conclusion - - we need to buying the green splotches.  Or, and this is important, how will climate change impact this map and where will the future agricultural real estate investments be located?  Link to the map.

The Water Funds

Keep an eye on the global water traders, hedge funds and financial wizards:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Mathematics of 401(k) Fee Management

The managerial aristocracy and investment community make a very basic assumption of the human condition - we don't like mathematics.  And if we occasionally pretend to like it, we really don't understand it.  And we especially don't understand it in the context of compounding.

From The Atlantic - - The Crushingly Expensive Mistake Killing Your Retirement:

"This 1.25 percent difference in annual fees adds up to a six-figure difference in lifetime earnings. That's because you don't just lose the money you pay in fees. You lose the returns you could have had on the money you pay in fees, too. As you can see in the chart below, this compounding effect doesn't matter much for the first 20 years or so, but really accelerates after that. If you chose the lowest-cost index fund, you'd have $15,000 more at age 45, $55,000 more at 55, and $159,000 more at 65. That would balloon to $257,000 more if you waited to retire at 70."

Why We Should be Worried About the Rapid Growth in Global Households

Why We Should be Worried About the Rapid Growth in Global Households

What is Riverbank Filtration?

A Planet of Builders

On average, each person on Earth owns 86 Lego bricks.

Droning Comes to Civil Engineering

These are just the start of many.  The first is transportation with an eye on asset management (link).  The second is geotechnical.  Check out the video on the sinkhole investigation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Methane Leaks Undercut the Climate Benefits of Natural Gas | MIT Technology Review

Methane Leaks Undercut the Climate Benefits of Natural Gas | MIT Technology Review

Attacking the Water Treatment Plant

Our infrastructure systems are more vulnerable to bullets, bad guys, and PhD Russian computer science experts than people are willing to admit.  If Target has trouble (and they have a huge motivations to avoid trouble), just how safe are the energy and water systems from a well coordinated attack?  The Internet of Things will have many doors and windows - people and organizations will have plenty of motivation and the correct skill sets to find all these openings.  

From WaterWorld:

"DENVER, CO, Feb. 12, 2014 -- Today, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) announced the release of expert guidance on how water and wastewater utilities can reduce their cyber vulnerabilities, in light of growing cyber-attacks that pose a threat to critical infrastructure systems.

This guidance, "Process Control System Security Guidance for the Water Sector," was prepared to provide water utility managers with a concise set of best practices and standards. Further, it applies a transparent and repeatable process for evaluating a utility's process control system. In order to provide the widest benefit, the guidance and tool are free and publicly available.

"Our water systems are essential to the health and safety of our communities and citizens," said AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance. "AWWA's new cybersecurity guidance and tool can help the nation's water utilities mitigate potential risks introduced by today's advanced technologies."

Cybersecurity is the top threat facing business and critical infrastructure in the United States, according to reports and testimony from the National Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. On Feb. 12, 2013, President Obama issued Executive Order 13636 - Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, which directed the National Institute of Standards and Technology to work with stakeholders to develop a voluntary framework for reducing cyber risks. AWWA's new program is a product of that effort.

Supporting the guidance is the Cybersecurity Use-Case Tool, which offers an efficient approach to evaluating the security of cyber systems and networks of water utilities. Both the tool and guidance were prepared with leadership from AWWA's Water Utility Council. Additional background and a demonstration of the use-case tool will be the focus of a webinar, "An Action Plan for Process Control System Security," on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014."

Not Finding Love in Columbus, Ohio

If you are a graduating engineer from The Ohio State University this semester and you are not impressed with the barren landscape of central Ohio, you might want to cast your eyes to Fort Worth next Valentine's Day.

The Wall Street Journal looked at geography and love (without the aid of GIS) on Thursday.  Two findings should be noted:
  1. Fort Worth ranks high in the "Highest likelihood of a relationship" - - #3.
  2. Fort Worth ranks high in the "Most single females per single male" - - #3.  This statistic is often overlooked, but supply and demand are critical metrics in the mating business.  If you are a female engineering  OSU graduate, San Francisco ranks highest in "Most single males per single female" - - which points out the importance of context in any statistical mating analysis.
My recommendation - focus on TCU.  I did.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Monitoring Biofilms in Real-Time

Important problem in the water distribution system - biofilm formation.  Potential real-time measurement of ATP - Real-Time Electrochemical Monitoring of Adenosine Triphosphate in the Picomolar to Micromolar Range Using Graphene-Modified Electrodes (link).  Abstract:
"We report on a competitive electrochemical detection system that is free of wash steps and enables the real-time monitoring of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in a quantitative manner over a five-log concentration range. The system utilizes a recognition surface based on ATP aptamer (ATPA) capture probes prebound to electroactive flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) molecules, and a signaling surface utilizing graphene (Gr) and gold nanoparticle (AuNP) modified carbon paste electrode (Gr–AuNP–CPE) that is optimized to enhance electron-transfer kinetics and signal sensitivity. Binding of ATP to ATPA at the recognition surface causes the release of an equivalent concentration of FAD that can be quantitatively monitored in real time at the signaling surface, thereby enabling a wide linear working range (1.14 × 10–10 to 3.0 × 10–5 M), a low detection limit (2.01 × 10–11 M using graphene and AuNP modified glassy carbon), and fast target binding kinetics (steady-state signal within 12 min at detection limit). Unlike assays based on capture probe-immobilized electrodes, this double-surface competitive assay offers the ability to speed up target binding kinetics by increasing the capture probe concentration, with no limitations due to intermolecular Coulombic interactions and nonspecific binding. We utilize the real-time monitoring capability to compute kinetic parameters for target binding and to make quantitative distinctions on degree of base-pair mismatch through monitoring target binding kinetics over a wide concentration range. On the basis of the simplicity of the assay chemistry and the quantitative detection of ATP within fruit and serum media, as demonstrated by comparison of ATP levels against those determined using a standard high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-UV absorbance method, we envision a versatile detection platform for applications requiring real-time monitoring over a wide target concentration range."

High Technology Potential in the Service Sector

We Are Building Better Risk Models

From the excellent Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk - -

In 1992, when category 5 Hurricane Andrew struck Florida and Louisiana, insurance companies paid out more than $23 billion in claims.  This was roughly $1.27 for every dollar of premium collected that year.

Fast forward to 2005 and Katrina, another category hurricane.  Insurance companies paid out more than $40 billion.  But this was only 71.5 cents per dollar collected.  The industry still made $49 billion in profits.

Welcome to Ice Pigging

Why water is not the new oil

From the Hell's Oasis blog - link.

What Happens When an Economist Rides the Train

Interesting post - link.

Arbitrage and the Forever Stamp

Link to the step by step guide - - be picking out the island in the Caribbean you have always wanted to buy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Weather for Data Geeks

WeatherSpark is the answer!!

A World Without Car Crashes

A World Without Car Crashes

New Desalination Technique Also Cleans and Disinfects Water | MIT Technology Review

New Desalination Technique Also Cleans and Disinfects Water | MIT Technology Review

Flooding in the United Kingdom

Interesting from Sky News:

Figures exclusively revealed to Sky News show that boreholes used to measure the height of the water table are overflowing in many areas, with the highest levels ever recorded.

According to the data from the British Geological Survey nine of the 14 boreholes in southern England are now showing "exceptionally high levels".

At Chilgrove House in Sussex the groundwater level at the end of January beat records going back 179 years.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Robo Plow

What Is a Program Manager?

Hedging Your Bets in a Dry World

The world of hedge funds is coming to the world of climate change - Hedge Fund Guy's New Best Friend in Wet, Wet, Wet.

Which Types of Traffic Signals Are the Safest?

Which Types of Traffic Signals Are the Safest?

Asset Management and the Structure of the Utility

Interesting paper by Janice Deecher - What matters to performance?  Structural and institutional dimensions of water utility governance - Link.

This is a great table from the paper.  The context is the mitigation effects of economic regulation.

Private Sector
Public Sector
Public Interest
Maximizing Returns
Controlling Prices
Balancing Interests
Prudent Investment
Equity Markets
Bond Market
Capital Structure
Efficient Pricing
Due Process