Thursday, August 28, 2014

Resist, Delay, Store, and Discharge

If you are a consulting firm with a coastal engineering practice or a marine contractor, you need to be thinking in terms of helping your clients with resist, delay, store, and discharge (RDSD).  Coastal communities will be in need of comprehensive water strategies.  RDSD will deploy hard infrastructure (resist), slow stormwater runoff (delay), green infrastructure for excess stormwater (store), and pumping systems to support drainage and defense (discharge).  RDSD needs to be combined with public policies and practices associated with greater infrastructure and community resiliency.  RDSD should support day-to-day long-term sustainability practices and disaster events.  Under both scenarios, the end result must be preservation of social, economic, and environmental resources with the reduction of infrastructure.  Engineers need to become much more comfortable with multi-faceted design solutions while contractors need to be thinking innovation in terms of cheaper, faster, and better project delivery in a RDSD world.

How Efficiency Improvements Drive the AEC Market

From owners to contractors to contractors, the goal of being faster, better, cheaper drives basic strategic thinking.  A random sample

From the CH2M Hill website and their announcement of a new asset management practice leader:

"While at HDR, Scott also served as the project manager for Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) benchmarking and workplace efficiency project. He led the development of a prioritized plan to increase cost efficiencies in service level delivery to all of the utility’s customer accounts. The plan is helping the utility identify key improvements to reduce operating expenses and improve its business strategy and processes, as well as its use of information technology. During this time, Scott also worked with numerous other utilities, to develop business optimization plans - driving greater operational efficiency, as well as customer service."

From ENR and their article on global contracting:

"The global market is growing, but contractors are facing increased pressure from clients to deliver projects more economically. "Clients, globally, have become increasingly cost-conscious," says Atul Punj, chairman of India's Punj Lloyd. He says the key to success is technology. His firm has been able to succeed by providing value engineering and economically viable solutions at the outset of projects, he says.

"The contracting industry keeps getting more competitive and profit margins keep shrinking, mainly driven by changing procurement policies," says M. Sani Sener, CEO of Turkey's TAV Airports Holding. "In today's environment, firms have to be technically competent as well as being commercially competitive. No company can afford to charge a premium based on purely technical advantages," he says."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

With Projection Technology, a Couch Gets Countless Covers | MIT Technology Review

With Projection Technology, a Couch Gets Countless Covers | MIT Technology Review

Engineering needs to start viewing augmented reality in a new context and begin seeing the limitless possibilities.  This is a showroom/furniture example, but it could have been a building or water treatment plant control room.  Projecting virtual possibilities onto the real-world has huge opportunities this decade.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Graph of the Week

Don't Flush Your Pee in a Drought

The Best News on TV - HB0 Vice

HBO Vice is perfect for the world of hipster video screens.  Check out their series on ISIS - "The Islamic State."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Texas Tribune:
"Texas is reveling in unprecedented oil production, triggered by technological advances such as hydraulic fracturing. The state is producing more than 90 million barrels of oil each month. That’s easily more than twice the monthly oil production from three years ago, accounting for more than one-third of all U.S. production, according to federal data.
West Texas has played a starring role. Its Permian Basin, whose steady production before a 1980s price crash cemented Texas’ reputation as an oil-rich state, is now the most lucrative region in the U.S. Texas regulators are issuing more than twice the drilling permits there than they they did in 2007.
But producing that oil requires plenty of energy. And as operators connect rigs, pump jacks, compressors and other equipment to the energy grid, they suck more electricity.
From 2007 to 2012, energy consumption in West Texas increased by nearly 14 percent, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the grid covering ­­­­­­most of the state."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Drones Over Earthquake Damage

The No CEO Left Behind Column

From Forbes and their list of top ten mobile apps for CEO types.

N.Y. Green Bank

logoNew York wants to be a a global powerhouse in 21st-century clean-tech.  The state has rolled out the N.Y. Green Bank with a billion dollars of assets to transform their power system.  Public-private partnerships and securitization are two of the most important elements the bank could bring to the marketplace. Texas must take notice.  We should have the goal of becoming the global leader in desalination technology this century.  A combination of water resource challenges, a firm understanding of opportunities in the water-energy nexus, financial risk takers, great research universities, etc. puts Texas on the path for desalination greatness.  What about the TX Water Bank as a path to the desalination frontier?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Engineering and Texas High School Football

The Texas high school football season opens next Friday night and the defending Texas state champs Allen Eagles are without a home. Serious structural problems have closed the stadium for the season.  It appears the citizens of Allen received bad engineering, architectural services, and contracting all on the same project (It only takes one of the three to make a mess with public money - - three out of three with weak school district construction administrative experience and oversight is a disaster in the making.).

From the current issue of Texas Monthly on page 36:

"There's a joke to be made here about our {Texas} architects and engineers being too poorly educated to properly build a stadium because too much of our public funding does to building stadiums." 

Brooklyn Grange

Graph of the Week

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Ira Glass Works

Interesting - link.

Managing Gigaprograms

Increasing Voter Turnout for Your Next Bond Election

This might be the trick - story from LA:

"Los Angeles city leaders are considering a lottery system to reward citizens for casting a ballot in local elections, in a measure to combat low voter turnout that officials and outside observers say could be a first for any U.S. municipality.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted 3-0 on Thursday to recommend that members of the City Council move forward with the lottery idea, either by putting it before voters as a local initiative or by adopting it on their own, said commission president Nathan Hochman.

The commission discussed a number of possible ways for the lottery to work, including the use of $100,000 to be split into four prizes of $25,000, or 100 pots of $1,000 for lucky voters who win the drawing, Hochman said."

In Praise of Retreat

Good move buying out coastal homeowners - paying money today to save money in the future - story.

Algae Systems

Could be the company for the Age of Algae - - Algae Systems.  The Toledo's of the world might want to take notice.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Which Is Easier - Federal Funding for a Wastewater Treatment Plant or an Armored Tactical Vehicle?

Asset Management and the Black & Veatch Right Theory

The "right" way to view asset management from Black & Veatch.  From their website:

"Asset management programs focus on replacing the right infrastructure or assets in the right way and at the right time. This year’s survey provides a baseline for the current basis of repair and replacement decisions among U.S. utilities. As expected, staff knowledge of assets and the condition of each is used by more than 85 percent of all utilities in developing repair and replacement programs.

“It is encouraging to see that more than half of respondents in each size demographic also use detailed condition assessments and risk assessments to provide analytical support to these important financial decisions,” said James Strayer, Black & Veatch Department Manager for Infrastructure Planning and Asset Management. “However, deterioration modeling is only used by 15.5 percent of all respondents – a small number – which is likely a reflection of the lack of understanding or awareness of this capability. Deterioration models are powerful tools for forecasting risks and impacts on service levels.”

Justifying capital expenditure and customer rates is a top issue nationally. Deterioration models will help utility leaders demonstrate the need for specific investments and quantify the potential consequences of inaction, Strayer noted.

As greater levels of intelligence and data collection are implemented across the utility enterprise, such as advanced distribution programs and sensors, obtaining data on asset performance and condition over time will enable the development of deterioration models. 

“This appears to be an area of growth and opportunity for the industry,” Strayer said. Approximately 30 percent of respondents stated they are using or planning to improve or implement deterioration models, although this is much greater among large utilities."

Engineering for Healthier Outcomes

From a report in the Journal of Transport & Health:
"What is the influence of street network design on public health? While the literature linking the built environment to health outcomes is vast, it glosses over the role that specific street network characteristics play. The three fundamental elements of street networks are: street network density, connectivity, and configuration. Without sufficient attention being paid to these individual elements of street network design, building a community for health remains a guessing game. Our previous study found more compact and connected street networks highly correlated with increased walking, biking, and transit usage; while these trends suggest a health benefit, this study seeks to strengthen that connection.
Using a multilevel, hierarchical statistical model, this research seeks to fill this gap in the literature through a more robust accounting of street network design. Specifically, we ask the following: what is the influence of the three fundamental measures of street networks on obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma? We answer this question by examining 24 California cities exhibiting a range a street network typologies using health data from the California Health Interview Survey.
We control for the food environment, land uses, commuting time, socioeconomic status, and street design. The results suggest that more compact and connected street networks with fewer lanes on the major roads are correlated with reduced rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease among residents. Given the cross-sectional nature of our study, proving causation is not feasible but should be examined in future research. Nevertheless, the outcome is a novel assessment of streets networks and public health that has not yet been seen but will be of benefit to planners and policy-makers."

The Monetization of Infrastructure

In Toronto, one hydrant stands above the rest. People are fined so often for parking in front of it that on Google’s Street View, a white Toyota can be seen with a yellow slip under its wiper blade as a parking-enforcement officer walks away.
Since 2008, cars that parked too close to the hydrant at 393 University Ave. have been ticketed 2,962 times. Those fines add up to $289,620 —more than any other hydrant in the city.

From the Marginal Revolution.

Better Information = Better Decision Making

"ARCADIA, CA, August 15, 2014 -- In an effort to address reduced water supplies made worse by continuing droughtconditions, the state of California has announced a new reporting requirement for water production and water consumption.
According to the State Water Resources Control Board, the emergency regulatory action is meant to "ensure that urban water suppliers implement drought response plans to limit outdoor irrigation and other wasteful water practices."
In addition to having to impose mandatory restrictions on the use of potable water for certain outdoor uses, suppliers must also provide a monitoring report by the 15th of every month, beginning in August 2014. The report must detail the amount of potable water produced or purchased and the number of customers served.
Additional residential per capita consumption reports will be required starting on October 15th, 2014.
Water utilities and suppliers can address this emergency reporting requirement through automated production reports available through Sedaru, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution provided by IDModeling, Inc., a global provider of smart water network software and services.
In support of the Emergency Regulations for Water Conservation, Sedaru delivers automated water production and consumption reports. This automation can source data directly from existing SCADA, AMI/AMR systems, or from daily facility inspection rounds collected digitally within Sedaru. This data is then summarized, aggregated and analyzed to meet the utility's specifications."

Financial Sharing Models for Watershed Protection

Report from the Environmental Finance Center:

"The Environmental Finance Center carried out a series of educational and research activities for the Conservation Trust for North Carolina to assess alternative finance and cost sharing models available to North Carolina communities and watershed organizations to support increased watershed protection and conservation work.
As part of the research, the EFC reviewed the underlying legal authority behind the most prevalent and promising multi-jurisdictional models. This report identifies examples of existing water resource programs that rely on some type of multi-jurisdiction partnership or institutional model within or nearby the Upper Neuse River Basin. Each model was examined to identify key distinguishing factors between the different models. This inventory research was integrated into a series of informal interviews and structured educational events with local water resource leaders, many of who are directly involved with existing multi-jurisdiction water resource efforts. During these events, leaders exchanged views about models and factors critical to each model’s success."

Defining Project Success

Thursday, August 14, 2014


From their website:

LONGMONT, CO--(Marketwired - Aug 13, 2014) - DigitalGlobe (NYSEDGI), a leading provider of commercial high-resolution earth observation and advanced geospatial solutions, today announced the successful launch of WorldView-3, the company's sixth and most advanced super-spectral, high-resolution commercial satellite. The satellite launched on a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
"The successful launch of WorldView-3 extends DigitalGlobe's commanding technological lead and will enable us to help our customers see through smoke, peer beneath the ocean's surface and determine the mineral and moisture content of the earth below -- all with unprecedented clarity," said Jeffrey R. Tarr, Chief Executive Officer of DigitalGlobe. "We'd like to thank our customers, partners, team members and investors for their support in bringing to the world the new capabilities made possible with this success."
WorldView-3 will collect super-spectral imagery at 0.31 meter resolution -- delivering 5 times the clarity of the company's nearest competitor. In addition WorldView-3 will offer the most spectral diversity available commercially and will be the first to offer multiple shortwave infrared (SWIR) bands that allow for accurate imaging through haze, fog, dust, smoke and other air-born particulates. The satellite is also the only satellite to offer CAVIS, a cloud, aerosol, water vapor, ice and snow atmospheric correction instrument, which monitors the atmosphere and corrects data for an unprecedented level of consistency.
"The unmatched abilities that WorldView-3 brings to our constellation will enable us to provide our customers with information and insight never before possible and advance our efforts to create a living digital inventory of the earth," said Tarr.
The satellite and atmospheric monitoring instrument called CAVIS were built by Ball Aerospace (NYSEBLL). Exelis (NYSEXLS) built the integrated, super-spectral payload consisting of a telescope, sensor and shortwave infrared system, making WorldView-3 the first commercial satellite to carry such capabilities. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle provided by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services (LMCLS) delivered the satellite in orbit.
To learn more about WorldView-3, please visit

Thermal Imagining Coming to Your iPhone

Tracking Twitter

Water Meters in the News

Austin versus Akron

From the August 13th Financial Times - Battle Scars: US Housing (An improvement in the sector is crucial to economic recovery but is being jeopardized by a weak jobs market and wary buyers):


"Home sales jumped almost 20 percent in 2013 compared with the previous year while average prices increased almost 10 percent to above $200,000, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.  Some worry that Austin will tread the same path as New York or San Francisco, where affordable housing is in short supply."  Median home price/annual income - $200,000/$47,000.  Employment since 2000 - +21%.


""You don't build houses in the city if there aren't any jobs or if confidence isn't there.  It's as simple as that," says Carmine Torio of a regional housebuilders' association.  "The number of young families are not forming like they used to."  Median home price/annual income - $87,000/$32,000.  Employment since 2000 - -16%.

Drawing Bike Lanes Where They Belong

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cities Say New Meters Help Residents Monitor Water Usage « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Cities Say New Meters Help Residents Monitor Water Usage « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Moving Water Around Texas

Investing In Pipe Suppliers

From the Texas Tribune - San Antonio Mulls $3 Billion Water Supply Project.  The era of large water pipeline projects is fast approaching.

"For decades, the city has searched for a water supply beyond the dwindling Edwards Aquifer. And now officials at San Antonio Water System, the city's water utility, are negotiating with two private companies — the Austin-based Central Texas water supplier BlueWater and the Spanish company Abengoa — to pipe in 16 billion gallons of water a year from Burleson County in Central Texas. The utility estimates that the project would cost $3 billion over 30 years and boost its water supply by about 20 percent starting in 2019.

Berto Guerra, chairman of the SAWS board, said the project would be key in ensuring the city remains a good place to do business in the coming decades.

“Somebody will say, someone way back 20 years ago had the courage and had the vision to do what was right,” he said Tuesday at the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Antonio, at the first of a series of public forums the utility will have about the project."

Aquifers Depleted in Colorado River Basin

Aquifers Depleted in Colorado River Basin

Graph of the Week

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sea Chair

Sea Chair from Studio Swine on Vimeo.

The 114 Billion Gallon Question

A greater focus on water sustainability concerns and better asset management are needed in critical parts of the west and southwest.  The idea of not knowing where 114 billion gallons of your product is borders on the collective incompetent.  Investment in innovative metering, sensors, and water loss algorithms needs to be an entrepreneurial focus.  If you are thinking about how to make your next million dollars - - I would recommend taking a hard look at water!!!  Start in Texas.

From The Examiner, Leaks contribute to drought, but conservation to be "new normal" for California:   

"California's water-conservation challenge could be nearly solved if the pipes, water mains and aqueducts that carry the state's drinking water didn't leak."

Engineering Consulting and Prostitution

The current issue of the Economist has a fascinating cover story on the the oldest profession - The Sex Business: How technology is liberating the world's oldest profession.  When you read the article, certain themes keep coming up that point out how close the two professions are becoming (The old saying is that consulting and prostitution share two issues - (1.) what position the client wants you in, and (2.) how much money).  Is prostitution becoming more like consulting or is consulting becoming more like prostitution?  It looks like prostitution is thinking about many of the things all businesses and organizations are wrestling with.  To set the record straight - a fifth of the
commercial-sex workforce is male.

Interesting points form the article:

"Customers knew little about the nature and quality of the services on offer. Now specialist websites and apps are allowing information to flow between buyer and seller."

"Prostitutes' personal characteristics and the services they offer influence the prices they charge."

"Niche services attract a premium."

"The cost of an hour with an escort in Cleveland, Ohio, where unemployment peaked at 12.5% in 2010, has tumbled."

"Inexperience is another reason newcomers to prostitution may underprice themselves."

"Twenty years ago most prostitutes in Norway were locals who all aimed to charge about the same . . . growing numbers of sex workers from the Baltic states and central Europe, as well as Nigerians and Thais, such unofficial price controls are harder to sustain."

"Meanwhile, broader social change may reduce demand - and, thus, prices."

"Appearance matters a great deal."

"A prostitute's rates also vary according to ethnicity and nationality."

"Local markets have other quirks."

"Governments should seize the moment to rethink their policies."

"For prostitutes, the internet fulfills many of functions of a workplace."

"The freelancers, part-timers and temps the internet is bringing to the sex trade are likely to help absorb demand shocks."

"Online forums allow prostitutes to share tips about how to stay safe and avoid tangling with the law."

"It also means more time, effort and expertise put into marketing."

"But overall, sex workers will profit.  The internet has disrupted many industries.  The oldest one is no exception."

Global Parliament of Mayors: Can Cities Change the World?

Very interesting proposal for a new model of global problem solving.

IBM Water Management System

Personalized Cancer Avatars Offer Clues to Treatment | MIT Technology Review

Personalized Cancer Avatars Offer Clues to Treatment | MIT Technology Review

Monday, August 11, 2014

Loving the Resiliency and Disaster Recovery Entrepreneurs - Phillips & Jordan

Phillips & Jordan  has the perfect construction niche for this century - emergency response and disaster cleanup from hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

ENR (Tough Cleanup Missions Never Impossible) had a profile of P&J several weeks ago.  They know the disaster response business well and are strategically committed to innovation in the context of improvement in performance and efficiency.  Smart companies are always in search of smarter tools. Smart employees want to work for employers engaged in the process of making them smarter - - you end up with layers of the organization always thinking in terms of becoming smarter..  Linking layers of "smart" goals and technology is increasingly important in the AEC industry.  Consider the following from the article:

"In 2011, P&J created and implemented an in-house automated debris-management system called STORM, or "strategic tracking of recovery material," for emergency-response work.  It streamlines project tracking, reporting and reconciliation using web-based software system that is compatible with smart-phones and handheld devices; the software system captures, records and measures data such as time and date, worker and subcontractor, equipment and trucks, and type and quantity of waste.  STORM relies upon photos, bar-code scans and satellite tracking for accurate, real-time progress reports, with data easily exported into spreadsheets."

Best Bike Lane in the World

Why Driving is so Hard

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Apple University

New York Times story on the internal Apple training program - highly recommended.

The Climate Change - Religion Interface

Loving the Water Entrepreneur - Bosque Systems, LLC

I love the world and work of the water entrepreneur.  Fort Worth-based Bosque Systems is a great example of the new water world of reclaim, recycle, and reuse.  As the Dallas Morning News pointed out today, in places like the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin, 10 to 20% of water for fracking now comes from recycling. This number is expected to double over the next decade.  That is a whole lot of opportunities for the budding water entrepreneurs of the world.  Supply and demand are on your side.  Groundwater levels around San Antonio have fallen 70-feet and water prices tripling in New Mexico - - you have to love the basic operating economics of the water entrepreneur.

Look into the mirror Mr. or Ms. Water Utility Operator - - your "wastewater" is just plan old water.  You are a water entrepreneur.  You are in a buyers market and supply is rapidly constraining.  Demand is headed up and supply is headed down.  The slope of the water supply curve is changing - the world of a flat supply curve is rapidly becoming steeper.  Welcome to the world of water entrepreneurship!

Asset Management and Keeping Track of Equipment - The Power of Geoforce

Coppell, Texas based Geoforce gets at one of the toughest logistical questions in the asset management business - "Where is my stuff?"  Geoforce currently is focused on tracking the world of frac tanks, pumps, and generators for the energy industry.  Big construction and energy projects are always chaotic adventures in terms of knowing where equipment is located in real-time.  I am thinking Geoforce in terms of asset management for large urban environments.  Knowing where critical equipment is located gets at the bigger efficiency and effectiveness improvement goals of asset management - from water utilities to transportation.  In a world focused on better resiliency and emergency coordination and response actions, also image the power of Geoforce and the ability to monitor logistical management.  We are talking about better logistical management having the ability to save lives.

True innovation comes when you can take an idea geared toward one application and industry and apply it to many others.  Geoforce seems to have a world of applications.

What's Up With Texas Impact Fees?

From the New York Times today by Eli Okun - Growing Cities Opting to Rely On Impact Fees:

"That debate drew significant attention recently in San Antonio when the City Council raised several rates, including the water supply impact fees for each new home by about 116 percent - to $2,796 from $1,297 - by next June."

"Opponents said the increase would give San Antonio some of the state's highest impact fees, hurting growth. By next year, the average total impact fees, including water and sewer, in San Antonio will rise to $7,044 from $5,279 per house."

3D Object Manipulation

Saturday, August 9, 2014

BurroHappold Engineering

Conservation With Financial Stability

From an e-mail I received from Ceres.  

"California and Texas are not alone in their water challenges. Across the country, municipalities are facing intense pressures due to drought and underinvestment in aging infrastructure. And these aren't just water problems - they translate into major financial risks.

You see, in most American cities, water utilities have an incentive to sell us as much water as possible. This is traditionally how they made sure they could pay operating costs and re-invest in aging infrastructure. But now, when the imperative to conserve water is front and center in the public debate, the cracks in this business model are really starting to show.

A new approach is needed that promotes conservation and financial stability."

Engineering Consulting Firms Struggle With Feeding Professional Appetites

Engineering consulting constantly struggles with how best to feed the appetites of their professional staff in terms of self-development and knowledge transfer.  Some of this comes from the nature of the AEC industry.  But more importantly it is a deep cultural problems with engineering - - we struggle with the ideas embedded in a collaborative culture.  It is bad now and unfortunately it will get worse if not fixed.  So many of our important problems will need large multi-disciplinary teams - - engineers working with urban planners working with economists working with social scientists working attorneys working with contractors working with political leaders working with community activists working with owners.  The ability to leverage interdisciplinary knowledge advancement (i.e., "Hey Mr. Engineer, design-build is a key delivery model for the future and you need to learn how a contractor thinks," and "Hey Ms. Engineer, we need to better understand the economic models that drive success in our client's operating environment.") on virtual e-learning type platforms will be a huge thing looking into the future.

I thought this was interesting in the August issue of ENR - Taking WSP to The Next Level:

"WSP also is honing its internal and external branding and social-media strategies as it pushes recruitment.  In its 2013 annual report, the firm said that 55% of its staff was aged 40 and under.  WSP is expanding its task-force initiatives, in which a group of eight to 12 employees with less than five years of experience must develop solutions for a management problem, such as retention and sustainability, and present their findings to leadership.  "This allows us to really see the potential in the company," says Seguin {vice-president of human resources for WSP}, who adds that a new e-learning global platform will be launched next month a "boot camp" on key company issues will be held in the fourth quarter.  "We want to be the first choice for talented people in the market." he told investors"

WestWater Research

This is one type of firm made for the era of climate change and our changing relationships with water. WestWater Research provides services in some of the most critical and fastest growing parts of the water market - water economics, water rights, water transactions, and water investment.  California has a century-old rights system - "first in time, first in right." Water prices in CA are heading up - in 2009, senior water rights holders sold $95 million worth of water.  This year the number is projected to hit $208 million.

Why Does Engineering Rock?

Smart Water Networks (SWAN)

The Death of El Nino?

This is not good news for Texas and the Southwest.  From SFGate:

"The reason for the more pessimistic outlook, said climate scientist Michelle L'Heureux, is that warmer-than-usual surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific measured this spring have since cooled.
The same underwater swell that pushed heat to the surface, known as a Kelvin Wave, is having its normal counter-effect, but that effect has been much stronger than usual and has moved more cold water up farther than expected, L'Heureux said.
"We're still banking on seeing a reinvigoration of El Niño," she said. "But with that said, we wanted to lower our projections because there are structural weaknesses that have made this El Niño less likely."
The federal forecast calls for the El Niño to be weak or moderate. The consensus earlier this year was that the event would be at least of moderate strength.
San Francisco's wettest rainy season in the last century came during the strong El Niño of 1997-98. Weak and moderate El Niños, however, have sometimes been associated with abnormally dry years in Northern California, even while bringing more rain to Southern California.
The absence of a strong El Niño doesn't sentence Northern California to a dry winter. Warm equatorial surface waters are just one harbinger of wet weather, and any number of factors could trigger rain in the months ahead."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Plan B Engineering and Our 5 Big Challenges and Opportunities this Century

Looking into a future of climate change and the opportunities and challenges that engineers will face should be one of those things we reflect more on.  The key will be adaptation in the face of new realities.  I will start with the five below:

  1. Summer Heat - The assumption is that keeping people cool in places like Houston will be given the most attention.  This will be a big challenge.  But also think in terms of opportunities in other places.  If it gets too hot, the Norther latitudes start to look very livable.  Canada could become the place to move.  Get out the atlas and start planning ahead.  Building new infrastructure in cooler geographies will provide growth opportunities.
  2. Drought - Water and wastewater resource management is the ultimate in inefficient public policy and economics.  We basically give water away and have a political mandate to continue this practice.  No rain will force new efficiency reforms and better ways of thinking.  Engineering will have opportunities in Big Data, smart metering, and greater real time information management that allows for customer behavioral change.
  3. Coastal Flooding - On your next vacation to the beach in Florida, take a look at coastal housing. What you see are families and businesses that want their "cake and eat it to."  They want their views, but they also want their risk spread across the whole country.  This could be the biggest climate change market - - helping people manage their "cake and eat it to" proposition in the face of increasing costs, risks, and uncertainty of coastal living.
  4. Storm Intensity - Resiliency increasingly becomes key in the context of our real estate stock and infrastructure matrix.  Bad things are going to happen more often this century.  Engineers that can manage effectively in the world of "bad things are going to happen more often" will be in big demand.
  5. Famine - The first four opportunities and challenges generate the famine concern.  This century will need a new revolution in agricultural innovation.  Population demands will demand increasing yields while climate change will put pressure in the opposite direction.  This complex problem will be a big test for engineering across the globe.

Data Analytics + Asset Management

Moving Downtown With Kids

Rebranding the Effluent Society

We need to drop the "toilet to tap" language - - think more like a southern Californian.  More "showers to flowers" type images.


Why What is Important After a Disaster


Graph of the Week


Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Water-Energy-Conflict Nexus

From the New York Times today - Jihadists Rout Kurds in North and Seize Strategic Dam:

 "The dam, on the Tigris River about 30 miles northwest of Mosul, provides electricity to Mosul and controls the water supply for a large area. A report published in 2007 by the United States government, which had been involved with work on the dam and spent nearly $30 million on repairs, warned that should it fail, a 65-foot wave of water would be unleashed across areas of northern Iraq. Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the former special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, who oversaw the 2007 report on the dam, said ISIS could certainly use the dam as a weapon of war, but that it could also use it as a means of finance, by extorting money in exchange for water or electricity. ISIS has already used Iraq’s water supply as a weapon. Earlier this year it seized control of the Falluja Dam, in Anbar Province, and flooded a vast area that sent thousands of refugees fleeing, submerged hundreds of homes and several schools and interrupted the water supply to southern Iraq."

Are Engineers Learning "Sophisticated" Interpersonal Skills?

A paragraph to ponder from the WSJ:

"The findings largely echo what employers are saying about the evolution of the entry-level job, as noted in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Automation and technology are replacing or reducing the menial tasks once associated with typical entry-level roles – those jobs that act as the first rung on a career ladder – so employers are raising the skills bar for their newest hires. Companies want those employees to arrive with sophisticated interpersonal skills, able to collaborate skillfully with colleagues and immediately interact with clients."

Texas Infrastructure Now

Texas Infrastructure Now POL. ADV. authorized by Texas Infrastructure Now, 1122 Colorado Suite 300, Austin, TX 78701, Karen Rove, Treasurer Organization that supports Proposition One (link).  From their website - "Texas Infrastructure Now was formed to educate Texans across the state about the importance of taking care of our state’s road and water infrastructure needs. Infrastructure is the very foundation upon which the Texas economy balances. Our infrastructure must be maintained and upgraded so we do not degrade the wealth of investment epitomized by our highway and water systems. The effort was launched by the Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association and supported by organizations and concerned citizens across the state interested in fostering safer communities, promoting job creation, sustaining economic prosperity and minimizing transit time from work to home through responsible infrastructure investments."

Bill Cunningham New York

I recently watched the full documentary on legendary NYT On The Street photographer Bill Cunningham.  A fascinating professional - - you will be truly inspired by his work, passion, ethics, and humanity.

Finding Your Engineering Dandelions

In an innovation-oriented economy, it can be good for consulting firms to hire people who think differently. It's no secret that great achievers, Steve Jobs is a perfect example, rarely fit into conventional molds.  Rarely do we think in terms of designing jobs to maximize potential for particular individuals to created value.  We hate the idea of variance-widening - hiring people with "differences" - we get into the non-innovative habit of only seeing value in the types of people we are accustom to seeing.  
Consider the following from Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne in the Summer issue of MIT Sloan - The Dandelion Principle: Redesigning Work for the Innovation Economy:

"But innovation calls for organizational capabilities different than efficiency.  Efficiency requires getting people and machines to mesh more smoothly; the emphasis is on parts fitting in and reducing variations around averages [this makes me think AECOM+URS].  Innovation, by contrast involves finding new and better ideas and using new processes.  Managing innovation is less about averages more about understanding outliers.  The emphasis is on increasing interesting variation, then identifying value in some of the variants."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Will Higher Water Prices Cut Consumption?

From the Contra Costa Times:
"Since May 1, every residential property has been allotted a monthly ration: 10 units of water, or 7,480 gallons, for a family of four, to cover all uses, including lawn watering. Each unit averages about $3. But for people who go much above the limit, the cost skyrockets to $50 per unit, meaning monthly water bills can easily top $500 for families who don't conserve.
"It is a large deterrent," said Toby Goddard, administrative services manager for the Santa Cruz Water Department.
"But people are responding well," he said. "They are getting by. It's not like there's been a dramatic quality-of-life drop. People understand we're in a drought and things have been very dry."
The goal is to make sure the city has enough water next year in case the drought drags on, he said.
So far the tough rules appear to be working. Lawns everywhere are brown, and 92 percent of households lived within their rationed amount the first month.
When the Santa Cruz City Council approved the plan this spring, the goal was a 25 percent overall reduction in city water use, compared with the 2012-13 average. In July, citywide water use was down 26 percent. By comparison, Gov. Jerry Brown asked all Californians in January to cut water use 20 percent when he declared a drought emergency, but in May statewide use was actually up 1 percent."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How Vulnerable Are Water Utilities to Falling Revenue?

Excellent introduction to the issue by Ceres and the Environmental Finance Center - Assessing Water System Revenue Risk.

Oilfield Water Logistics (OWL)

Oilfield Water Logistics is the new breed of water companies capitalizing on the need for additional water resource management in support of fracking activities (link).

As OWL outlines on their website - the water management big four of modern oil and gas exploration that James Dean would hardly recognize (but as a Texan would understand).

Water Supply
OWL provides water supply services including water rights acquisitions, water well management, and general water sourcing for companies. OWL owns multiple freshwater and brine stations and is able to coordinate water and brine supply logistics across basins.

Water Transport

OWL provides water transport services for companies by building temporary or permanent water pipelines and gathering infrastructure, as well as coordinating third-party trucking where necessary. OWL builds supply and disposal lines, and reclamation infrastructure where appropriate in between, to maximize efficiency and minimize costs for our customers.

Water Reclamation

OWL has access to the latest water reclamation technology for our customers, including chemical treatment, electrocoagulation (EC), ceramic filtration and distillation. OWL has the knowledge and relationships to find effective water reclamation and recycling solutions for differing needs across basins.

Water Disposal

OWL has a network of saltwater disposal wells to handle produced water, flowback and mud. OWL owns facilities [hyperlink] in the Permian and has relationships throughout the industry to handle customers' needs in any region. OWL is a proven leader in the disposal business with state-of-the-art operations and a commitment to the environment.

Why Public Sector Engineering and Construction Is Still Down?

From the Upshot Column of the New York Times yesterday - - Why Is The Economy Still Weak?  Blame These Five Sectors:

"State and local governments spent the years after the crisis cutting employees and trimming costs. The result: a $189 billion gap between what they were actually spending this spring versus what would be expected based on their historical share of the economy.

Federal government spending is $118 billion below the level one would expect given longer-term trends. The spending cuts that were part of deals to trim expenditures emanating from the 2011 debt ceiling deal, combined with the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mean that federal spending was 6.8 percent of potential G.D.P., down from 7.4 percent of actual G.D.P. from 1993 to 2013.

Housing is the biggest and least surprising, accounting for $239 billion in missing economic output. We examined this sector’s continued underperformance earlier in the year, but the short version is this: Even years after the housing bust, the United States is building far fewer houses than would be expected given demographic trends. It may be that a broader shift is underway in the desire and ability of young adults to get homes of their own. Regardless, it is holding back construction and home sales activity."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ohio Water Crisis is a Warning for Texas

A report from the Texas Tribune that relates to the Toledo water/algae issues.

More Water Woes

Notice from the City of Toledo.  Not a good week for water systems in the United States.  The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card gives water infrastructure a grade of D.  As the report card points out, we are basically in a battle with time.  The infrastructure matrix, including water systems, will not last forever without significant investment.  Time will always win - - even with a highly professional and dedicate group of water utility professionals doing their very best day in and day out - - time is not on their side.  Our water woes would be a good topic for John Oliver to cover in his HBO show, Last Week Tonight.

"At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare."

Urgent water notice!



Chemists testing water at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant had two sample readings for microcystin in excess of the recommended “DO NOT DRINK” 1 microgram per liter standard.  This notice applies to ALL customers of Toledo water.

Most importantly, water should not be consumed until an all clear is issued. It is important to state that this drinking water alert does NOT recommend boiling, and in fact, boiling water can worsen the situation. Water should not be given to pets.

Additional information as to where to obtain water will be forthcoming, steps will be taken to provide drinkable water if necessary.

What should you do?

DO NOT DRINK THE WATER.  Alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth and preparing food.  Pets should not drink the water.

DO NOT BOIL THE WATER.  Boiling the water will not destroy the toxins – it will increase the concentration of the toxins.

Consuming water containing algal toxins may result in abnormal liver function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness.  Seek medical attention if you feel you have been exposed to algal toxins and are having adverse health effects.   Contact a veterinarian immediately if pets or livestock show signs of illness.

What happened?  What is being done?

Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for the Toledo water system may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom (HAB).  These organisms are capable of producing a number of toxins that may pose a risk to human and animal health.  HABs occur when excess nitrogen and phosphorus are present in lakes and streams.  Such nutrients can come from runoff of over-fertilized fields and lawns, from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens.

Additional monitoring is being conducted and we will let you know when the situation has been resolved or if additional precautions should be taken.  The water system is running additional tests to verify the severity of the microcystin levels in our water supply.
Steps are being taken to restock water supplies and to set up water distribution points.  Please stay tuned to local media for updates. 
Please call 419-936-2020 if you need additional information. 

Do Water Departments Face Negligence Claims Over Aging Infrastructure?

An interesting case to aggressively pursue asset management practices and condition assessments is to reduce the risk of LA Water/UCLA type water main ruptures.  Proper risk management practice is one of the cornerstones of effective asset management that water departments should be focused on.  With GIS + big data + water risk analytics, it seems very straightforward and practical to map out "risk corridors" associated with high risk water transmission lines (i.e., mapping out a damage flood way associated with the 100-year old line on the UCLA campus - - a major leak or break probably would have shown a potential liability of $200 million).  Two things seem important - (1.) the ability to combine and manage multiple data bases from numerous sources, i.e., property appraisal data + transmission main condition assessment data, and (2.) the ability to manage and think along infrastructure connectedness, i.e., when a major transmission main ruptures it impacts everything from transportation to telecommunications to educational resources.

The other side of effective asset asset management is managerial and political action.  Preventative, proactive, and predictability are the points you want to get to, but if you identify high risk lines and don't take action, and a court can show you should have taken action, you are probably at risk for negligence claims. From a story by Fox News:

"DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said people who suffered damage from the flooding can file claims with the agency, which will work with UCLA on settling losses.
If a claim ends up in court, a plaintiff would have to show negligence on the part of the agency to establish liability, said Loyola Law School law professor John Nockleby. For example, if someone could show the aging steel pipe should have been replaced long ago "that could be an indicator something should have been done about it."
The 30-inch steel main that burst Tuesday on Sunset Boulevard shot a 30-foot geyser into the air that sent water down storm drains and onto campus.
The nearly century-old pipe was still gushing 1,000 gallons a minute Wednesday before it was shut off completely in the evening. Repairs were expected to take until Friday night or Saturday morning.
At its peak, water was streaming out of the break at a rate of 75,000 gallons a minute. The amount of water spilled could serve more than 100,000 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers for a day.
The rupture points to the risks and expense many cities face with miles of water lines installed generations ago. And it occurred in the midst of California's worst drought in decades and as tough new state fines took effect for residents who waste water by hosing down driveways or using a hose without a nozzle to wash their car."

The Potential of Urintricity

Engineering is increasingly focused on the idea of one water - a holistic view of water, wastewater, stormwater, etc.  Viewing our water infrastructure as one system allows for greater efficiency and sustainability insights.  Water is water will be an important management philosophy this century as we tackle climate change and sustainability concerns.
But at the same time water is viewed in the singular, wastewater is increasingly viewed as a plural. Wastewater has a great many recoverable resources, urine is a perfect example, that can and should be thought of separately in a more decentralized manner. Wastewater is not wastewater - wastewater is urine, nutrients, energy, etc. that should be viewed separately.  Can they be utilized separately at decentralized locations?  Can we take advantage of the "power" of urine in the coming decades?  How do we separate our "combined thinking" when it comes to taking advantage of the resources embedded in wastewater. 
The BBC recently covered the potential of "Pee Power" - - powering your smart phone with a smart toilet by the ultimate renewal resource - - urine.  From the article:
"Today, over seven billion people populate our planet, which means on average around 10.5 billion litres (2.8 billion gallons) of human urine is produced and wasted each day. It’s the equivalent of 4,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, if anyone was counting. In fact, some scientists are – and if they have their way, our human waste will be wasted no more.
With around one-seventh of the population lacking access to basic electricity, and as our global supply of oil slowly dwindles and coal continues to add to mounting greenhouse gases, scientists have rushed to find solutions to power the world in more renewable and sustainable ways. One answer could lie in methods being developed to generate power from perhaps an unlikely source.
Last year, a group of researchers at Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK proved they could power a mobile phone with human urine. Their device uses what’s known as microbial fuel cells, or MFCs, to generate enough energy for a smartphone to text, browse the internet and make short phone calls. But they believe, in time, it could eventually help power houses, buildings, and maybe even entire off-grid villages.
A microbial fuel cell is essentially an energy converter, which uses bacteria found in nature to breakdown organic matter, and in turn produce electrons that are converted into energy. It’s a self-renewing system, because the more waste the microbes eat, the more energy the system can generate and for longer.
MFCs hold such promise because they are currently one of the most efficient means of converting waste to energy. According to Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founder of Sanergy, a start-up that converts human waste to energy and fertiliser in Kenya’s slums, common biogas digesters (which convert waste into mostly methane gas) are around 35% efficient in terms of capturing energy inside the waste. It’s claimed MFCs have upwards of 85% efficiency."

Boyhood - Best Movie of the Summer

Image result for boyhoodTime is an important variable that impacts us all.  From engineering to medicine to law - change over time is the most challenging variable we have to consider and work with in our professional lives.  Boyhood, filmed over a 12-year period with the same actors, is the only film that I have seen that visually engages you in the notion of time and change.  Time is a human creation that allows us to deal with a very abstract concept.  Film is historically a two or three dimension platform that struggles with adding time as the fourth dimension.  Engineering has several wonderful tools available to explain and educate key stakeholders regarding the complexity and abstract idea of time as the fourth dimension - - the time lapsed video of a bridge being constructed over a three year period is one of the most insightful and entertaining videos we can produce in the Era of Screens.  In the debate over our declining infrastructure, explaining and illustrating time (and how time is not a friendly variable) could be the most important service we provide to the voting public.

Image result for boyhood