Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Paragraph to Ponder

From The Atlantic - What Can a Popular Pope Do About Climate Change:

"Pope Francis has ambitious environmental plans for 2015. Come March, he will deliver a 50 to 60-page edict urging his 1.2 billion Catholic followers to take action against climate change. The Pontiff will make his announcement during his visit to the Philippian city of Tacloban, which was ravaged by typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands in 2013."

UCLA's Water Technology Research Center

Link to the site.

Asset Management and the System Leadership Crisis

The declining physical condition of our national infrastructure is well documented and debated.  Coupled with our physical decline and decay is a crisis of system leadership.  Among engineers, managers, and policy makers we have lost an understanding of how to catalyze and guide systemic change at a scale commensurate with the scale of the infrastructure problems we face.

As the interconnected nature of our core infrastructure challenges become increasingly evident, a growing number of people and organizations are trying to adapt a more systemic orientation.  This systemic orientation will require new and different systemic thinking in our infrastructure asset managers and leaders.  The idea of “One Water” – the integration of rethinking how we manage water, wastewater, and stormwater – is a perfect example.  New systemic leadership will require organizational self-interest to become more re-contextualized, as people discover that their and their organization’s success depends on creating well-being and sustainability within larger systems of which they are a part.

Future infrastructure leaders will need to develop three core capabilities to foster collective leadership in a complex and interconnected world.  The first is the ability to see the larger system within an infrastructure asset class.  In our current system, as with most complex systems, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point.  This usually results in engineers, managers, and key stakeholders arguing about who has the right perspective on the problem.  Helping people and organizations see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems.  This understanding enables collaborating organizations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the long-term sustainability of the whole system rather than just pure symptomatic fixes to individual pierces of the infrastructure puzzle.

The second capability involves asset managers fostering reflection and more generative conversations.  Reflection means thinking about our thinking, holding up the mirror to see the taken-for-granted assumptions we carry into any conversation and strategic approach and appreciating how our infrastructure mental models may limit us.  As the industry moves toward more “green” infrastructure and less “grey” infrastructure, deep, shared reflection is a critical step in enabling groups of organizations and individuals to actually “hear” a point of view from their own.  A key issue looking forward to new ways of managing public infrastructure will be how to manage trust.  Reflection is the essential doorway for building stakeholder trust where distrust had prevailed and for fostering collective creativity.

The third capability centers on shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future.  The current world of infrastructure management is too often one of reactive versus proactive problem solving with managing to a failure point an all too common risky proposition.  Change often starts with conditions that are undesirable (a quick review of the ASCE national infrastructure report card illustrates how undesirable our current state is), but artful infrastructure leaders help people move beyond just reacting to these problems to building positive visions of the future.  This typically happens gradually as leaders help people articulate their deeper aspirations and build confidence based on tangible accomplishments achieved together.  This shift involves not just building inspiring visions but facing difficult truths (i.e, what condition is the wastewater collection system in, how long will it last, what is the current funding gap, what are the risks associated with capital planning, financing, and setting rates?) about the present reality and learning how to use the tension between vision and reality to inspire truly new approaches.

The real question today is, Is there any realistic hope that a sufficient number of skilled infrastructure system leaders will emerge in time to help us face our daunting infrastructure systemic challenges?  I believe there are reasons that engineers and asset managers should be optimist.  Real interest in robust asset management points toward a new area in which key stakeholders want real change.  The public has widespread suspicion that the strategies being used today to solve our most difficult infrastructure problems are too superficial to get at the deeper sources of those problems.  This real change is producing a technological revolution of tools for the asset manager of the 21st century.  During the last ten years there has been an extraordinary expansion in the tools to support system leaders.  They not only help asset managers develop answers, but they have also produced an environment in which asset managers have the tools to ask the correct questions.   Finally, as the interconnected nature of core societal and infrastructure challenges becomes more evident, a growing number of people are trying to adapt a systemic orientation.  Though we have not yet reached a critical mass of engineers and managers capable of seeing that a systemic approach and collective leadership are two sides of the same coin, a foundation of practical know-how is being built.

A New Look at Cleaning Up Wastewater With Algae

From the Algal Scientific Corporation website:

Our Hypertrophic™ process for treating high strength water from food and beverage industries relies on microorganisms to consume organic material and nutrients, resulting in clean water and a valuable biomass useful as a fertilizer. While our process uses open tanks and equipment common to other water treatment technologies that use bacteria, our process is superior when the levels of organic matter (measured as biological oxygen demand, or BOD) are high and variable, and when the goal is to also remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Using a patented process that controls the liquid environment, we can target a unique subset of microbes that are the best at consuming and retaining nutrients. Unlike traditional bacteria-based systems, ours is designed to handle very high strength water (it's proven on BOD over 30,000 mg/l), can handle wide variations in loading, and produces fertilizer solids. In contrast to algae-based treatment technologies that rely on photosynthesis, which require sunlight and massive amounts of land for ponds, we use deep, unlit tanks, and require a minimal footprint.

Removing nutrients from wastewater has never been more important. Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients found in many types of process water being discharged from the food and beverage industries. These contribute to algal blooms in our waterways, which in turn create dead zones where oxygen levels fall below the level required to support fish and other aquatic species. At the same time, the algae can be toxic and a hazard to health, not to mention that algal blooms can detract from property values and public recreation.

Now, state and federal regulations are requiring that the discharge of nutrients must be reduced from prior standards. The problem is that traditional water treatment processes aren't very effective at removing nutrients, requiring add on systems that are expensive to build and operate and are energy intensive. These regulations can have a huge impact on industry. Our target customers include companies that discharge their process water to a municipal authority where they have to pay surcharges ranging up to millions of dollars per year.
Our Hypertrophic process is environmentally friendly, effective, and economic. We are able to reduce BOD and nutrients in a single step to below most surcharge limits. We use less energy in our process, have lower investment and operating costs, and produce a biomass that adds value when used as a fertilizer.

Beta glucan is a thoroughly researched compound with scientifically proven benefits. The problem is that it has been historically produced by extracting a very small portion from yeast cell walls in an expensive and difficult process that can cause variations in quality and effectiveness. Our process can produce a highly digestible and effective form of beta glucan at a fraction of the cost and with higher quality. This opens up applications that before weren't economic. The most significant of these is in animal feed where supporting immune health without the overuse of antibiotics is a worldwide goal.

The Rise of the Bridge Park

Graph of the Week

Monday, December 29, 2014

Project Management Soft Skill Tip #1

One of the key goals of any project manager is to motivate team members to complete tasks within a certain budget and time period.  They have six months and 1,000 hours to complete design XYZ is a typical example.  What is the best way for a project manager to motivate an individual to complete the task? 

One simple and small change could improve how an individual focuses their attention.  Behavioral psychology and the "small-area hypothesis" provides a good starting point.  The research suggests that a project manager can increase the chance of success by, in the early stages of the project, having team members focus on the small amount of progress that has already been made rather than on the larger amount that remains. 

One reason for this is because in the early stages of a task, such as designing the footings for a bridge, focusing on the small number appeals to the human desire to behave as efficiently as possible.  An action on your project that moves a project engineer from 20% completion of a task on the WBS to 40% completion has doubled their progress.  This seems huge compared from 60% completion to 80% completion - which is the same 20% completion rate.

Drop the "we're 85% of the way to go" and go with the "you're 15% of your quarterly target."

What happens when you hit the 50% mark on your project?  Drop the "You are 80% of the way to achieving your goal" and go with "You only have 20% left to achieve your final design goal."

In many respects, project coaching and mentoring is about highlighting the smaller area of attainment achieved or remaining.  We all seem to like small-area signals.

Barbie Engineer More Than Barbie Architect

TV White Space

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Wall Street Journal today - San Antonio Weighs Expansion by Nathan Koppel:

"San Antonio is moving ahead with plans to annex an much as 66 square miles around it, a land grab that would add as many as 200,000 people to the city and potentially make it the nation's fifth-largest metropolis."

The Nicaragua Canal

This will be interesting to follow - from Bloomberg:
"President Daniel Ortega and executives from the Hong Kong-based HKND Group, which is building the canal, will attend an inauguration ceremony in the capital of Managua, according to Telemaco Talavera, a spokesman for the project’s development commission. A separate ceremony will be held in Rivas, a town between the Pacific coast and Lake Nicaragua, he said.
At an estimated cost more than four times the size of Nicaragua’s $11 billion economy, the project has raised doubts among analysts who point to HKND’s lack of experience in major infrastructure projects and question the need for another Central American canal. Panama is planning to complete a $5.25 billion expansion of its waterway next year."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Civil Engineering Needs to Focus More on Systems Engineering

In a world of "smarter" solutions and breaking down discipline silos, civil engineers need to have a better understanding of basic and advanced systems engineering.  Consider the following from Meeting of the Minds:

Sadly, cities often frame their infrastructure needs independently. How cities prescribe and procure solutions is, frankly, anachronistic. It leaves the cities (and other participants in the “urban ecosystem”) at a significant disadvantage, at a time when we need each other the most.
Consider what’s happening with water treatment. There are approximately 30,000 of these systems in the USA. Let’s assume we want to make these water treatment systems become “smarter”. There’s currently no standard to determine what “smarter” means. This makes it hard to know if a water system is technologically in Kindergarten or if it has a Master’s degree. If a particular water system is second grade, it’s unclear if that system needs a high school education or a doctorate to accomplish the long-term goals. How to procure the solutions needed to increase “smartness”?
Solving this problem requires a formal “requirements framework” which outlines the needs for each major infrastructure segment (water, mobility, buildings, energy). And then imagine that this “requirements framework” was jointly agreed and developed by a critical mass of key public and private constituents. The framework would, ideally, recognize the variance in the maturity/capability of different urban infrastructures. The framework would take into account the fact that different maturity/capability levels are needed in order to reach city goals.
In addition to the framework, a useful measurement system would help to verify and iterate progress. Many of the KPI’s used today to measure city sustainability address the results derived from sustainable practices (i.e. air and water quality). Once a common standard is in place it becomes possible to augment these measures. The goal is to improve the technological maturity of each urban infrastructure system (e.g., water, rail, energy). Technology is a key driver that determines how fast and how far a city will get on the road toward achieving sustainability. There are additional drivers, of course. Two of the important ones are fiscal feasibility and the political will to change.

Attacking Drones

Influencing, Motivating, and Persuading In 2015

One New Year's resolution that engineering project managers should focus on in 2015 are the "soft" skill sets of management.  One of my goals this year is to cover more of the recent research from social psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience.  Project managers and engineers need a greater understanding of how influencing, motivating, and persuading skill sets impact their projects.

In the case of influencing, the research is clear that managers and organizations stand to benefit by actively seeking out opportunities to provide explicit thanks.  The principle of reciprocation is important for project managers - the act of giving first is an especially great tool when seeking to develop new relationships, create engagement across teams, and develop long-term partnerships and opportunities with others.  The power of a simple e-mail, "I am very grateful for your hard work.  We sincerely appreciate your contribution to the project team.", should not be underestimated by a project manager.

The small act of communicating your appreciation for efforts made on your project  has huge positive impacts.  Keep in mind that the mechanical "Thanks" via e-mail it not truly showing how really grateful you are.  Going with just "Thanks" is a missed opportunity - engineers need to get much better at communicating genuine appreciation.  In terms of influence - those project managers that can create a heighten culture of communicating explicit thanks will have greater influence and more successful project teams.

ASCE Needs to Start Working the Phones

From the New York Times today, Cheaper Oil, Fatter Wallets and a National Opportunity by Jeff Sommer:

"The national gas tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, hasn't increased since 1993.  With falling gas prices, a tax increase would barely be noticeable at the pump.  Such measures would make a great of economic sense, if politics didn't get in the way."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

BIM 4D Construction Animation

The ASCE versus Walt Disney View of US Infrastructure Decline and Renewal

Two articles worth reading:

  • The purported claim by New Geography regarding the American Society of Civil Engineers and their self-serving infrastructure report cards - link.
  • From Al Jazeera and why the U.S. should approach infrastructure investment more like Mickey Mouse - "The Walt Disney Co. invests in infrastructure because it makes the company money." - link.

Working in a World of Real-Time Virtual Plan Reviews

The Winners and Losers of Climate Change

A fascinating article on the historic winners and losers in the context of climate change.  Interesting that for every loser you have winner - climate change is a classic zero sum game.  Engineering will play a key role in ensuring that we have a balance between winners and losers.

Russia With Love

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Asset Management In a Green-Blue Water World

Communities around the world are racing to break down the silos of how we have traditionally viewed water management.  In the past, potable water, wastewater, and stormwater were each viewed as separate quantities.  The notion of “One Water” is increasingly gaining traction in many parts of the globe.  In Texas and other parts of the Southwest and California, a multi-year drought and concerns regarding climate change are forcing public officials and managers to rethink their reliance on imported water sources.

Cities are expanding their efforts to further integrate water strategies that encompass groundwater remediation, stormwater capture and storage, recycled water, and conservation.  The idea of “One Water” is interfacing with the world of grey/green infrastructure and green/blue water.  As illustrated on the attached graphics, the worlds of grey/green and green/blue water are increasingly interconnected.  These interconnections produce opportunities (i.e., recycling wastewater) along with risks (i.e., a gasoline spill on a highway can potentially contaminate stormwater capture and storage infrastructure used for park and athletic field irrigation). 

The key to successful management in this new interconnected world is the willingness to embrace “Whole System Approach” asset management.   The world of green-blue infrastructure is notably one of regional and distributed stormwater harvesting systems based on integrated planning efforts.  The cornerstone of these types of integrated planning efforts must be an approach to asset management that looks at all the systems and their interconnections.

In recent decades, concerns over poor service performance (often only highlighted during high profile failure of infrastructure) and unnecessary loss of asset value (arising from inadequate maintenance and capital renewal) has driven governments across the globe to demand improvements in infrastructure management practice in the public sector.  All of these concerns currently persist, but new asset management concerns wait on the horizon as we reduce silos and develop more fully integrated infrastructure.

Enhanced watershed management plans will require more robust full spectrum asset management.  Projects involving watershed management improvement will involve code changes, public education/outreach, eliminating illegal discharges, carrying out inspections, cleaning storm drains, and sweeping streets.  All of this will require systems and management structures that reduce and eliminate barriers between department and systems.  Capturing and treating stormwater from parking lots in municipal and recreational areas is an example of another watershed enhancement program.  Bioswales can be installed to direct dry-weather flows from parking lots to constructed wetlands.  The ability to connect the dots between and among distributed infrastructure systems will be a key management attribute for asset management engineers in the coming years.

Asset management provides many tools and opportunities for asset managers to see system interconnections and value chains.  The infrastructure asset management policy objective and principles of any organization needs to incorporate the “Whole System Approach” into the principles of sustainable service delivery, social/economic development, custodianship, transparency, and cost effectiveness/efficiency.  Specific requirements for a “Whole System Approach” to asset management must consider the following:

·       Information and Data Collection – An asset register must cover all the infrastructure assets and provide data to support effective systems integration and coordination.  An organization must adopt simple and robust processes that allow for information transfer and exchange.  The more critical the infrastructure – the greater the focus on detail.

·       Asset Knowledge – A system must be in place that links information from the asset registry.  A GIS platform is the simplest and best methodology to illustrate and manage interconnections between systems in the green/blue world.

·       Level of Service – Linking customer service levels and satisfaction is critical.  Measures must be easy to implement and manageable.  Performance in one system must be viewed in the context of the other interfacing systems.

·       Demand – Increased resource demands and reductions will place demands throughout interconnected systems.  Something like housing starts will place asset management demands on all parts of the green/blue world.

·       Risk Management – Linking the performance of one system to another produces risk.  Understanding risk and consequences is much easier with a holistic asset management system.

·       Life-Cycle Plan – Financial and cash flow modeling of integrated systems is easier with a robust asset management program.  Understanding condition assessments and the time-to-failure of an infrastructure asset produces more realistic financial plans.  This is especially true in a world of interconnections.

·       Practice Improvement Plan – Monitoring the distributed and interconnected systems of the green/blue world will produce opportunities for evaluation and improvement.  A fully developed asset management system provides data and information for more proactive, preventive, and predictive decision making and continuous improvement.

The world is increasingly moving toward “closed looped” systems.  Communities want to prevent stormwater from leaving the city, capture and cleanse the water, and use it on-site or allow it to infiltrate into the ground wherever possible.  At the same time, cities are moving to recycle as much wastewater as possible as cost-effectively as possible for nonpotable uses or indirect possible use.  Communities will be increasingly focused on balancing the demands of greater and greater system interconnections with opportunities and advantages of the “Whole System Approach” to asset management.

B&N News: Milton-Madison Bridge Named “Best Project” at National ABC Conference

B&N News: Milton-Madison Bridge Named “Best Project” at National ABC Conference

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Master of Science in Disaster Resilience Leadership

From Tulane - this could be an excellent MS program  for the civil engineering undergraduates that would like to focus more on infrastructure resiliency planning and disaster relief.

Construction Productivity on a Warming Planet

From an NBER document - - this could be an interesting topic for construction management professionals to look at.

"It is widely hypothesized that incomes in wealthy countries are insulated from environmental conditions because individuals have the resources needed to adapt to their environment. We test this idea in the wealthiest economy in human history. Using within-county variation in weather, we estimate the effect of daily temperature on annual income in United States counties over a 40-year period. We find that this single environmental parameter continues to play a large role in overall economic performance: productivity of individual days declines roughly 1.7% for each 1°C (1.8°F) increase in daily average temperature above 15°C (59°F). A weekday above 30°C (86°F) costs an average county $20 per person. Hot weekends have little effect. These estimates are net of many forms of adaptation, such as factor reallocation, defensive investments, transfers, and price changes. Because the effect of temperature has not changed since 1969, we infer that recent uptake or innovation in adaptation measures have been limited. The non-linearity of the effect on different components of income suggest that temperature matters because it reduces the productivity of the economy's basic elements, such as workers and crops. If counties could choose daily temperatures to maximize output, rather than accepting their geographically- determined endowment, we estimate that annual income growth would rise by 1.7 percentage points. Applying our estimates to a distribution of "business as usual" climate change projections indicates that warmer daily temperatures will lower annual growth by 0.06-0.16 percentage points in the United States unless populations engage in new forms of adaptation."

Short By 11 Trillion Gallons

News on the drought deficit from San Francisco.

Always Listen to Really Smart People

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Graph of the Week


Smart Rocks

The latest in bridge scour protection - smart is coming to rocks.

Qlik Sense

Boston's Innovation District

Link to their website.

Engineers vs. Farmers

From a review of the movie Intersteller:

Cooper, along with his son, are told even though they are smart they can't be engineers anymore cause the world has too many engineers and not enough farmers.

The Show and Tell Of Interstellar

One of the basic cannons of Show and Tell is to lead with a story and understanding will follow. Engineering is all about telling the story with pictures - lead with the eye and the mind will follow. More of our brain is dedicated to vision than to any other thing that we do.  A general
rule of thumb that engineers can follow - photos are good, graphics are great, drawings are best.

Interstellar explained in one simple timeline [Warning: SPOILERS]

DOLL Living Lab

The Urban Water Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington

Link to the institute.  From their website:

Located at the University of Texas at Arlington in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the Urban Water Institute has for mission to transform water-related challenges into opportunities for North Texas. Its vision is to develop innovative triple-bottom-line sustainable solutions that encompass the economy, people and environment. Its goals are to
  1. bring together interdisciplinary educators, researchers, agencies, industries and regulators;
  2. innovate and educate in multidisciplinary strategies and sustainable solutions for water and energy; and
  3. help build public-private partnerships

122 Things Engineers Need to Understand When Signing Up for Their 401(k)

Attached  is a great list that should help guide you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Engineering In a World of City-States

Forget the world of Nation-States, federalism, and strong central governments.  We may be a witness to the rise of City-States - - where the city maintains dominate political and economic influence.

From an article in the Atlantic.

Are Engineers Human?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Whole System Approach - Integrating Holistic Asset Management with Green Infrastructure

We have collectively arrived at an infrastructure crossroads.  The implementation of full spectrum public infrastructure asset management will be one of the dominating themes this century.  Designing, constructing, and managing highly complex public infrastructure in a resource constrained world has collided head on into a world of limited fiscal resources.  Greater attention and focus will be required in the context of the efficiency and effectiveness of our public infrastructure management systems. 

The demand for better asset management is also taking place under a global desire and need for innovative and comprehensive green infrastructure policies.  The environmental, economic, and social benefits of green infrastructure have become broadly understood and accepted.  Public concerns regarding a more sustainable world have produced a need for planners, engineers, and asset managers to have a broader and more holistic view of our national infrastructure.  In many ways, the questions of green infrastructure (How to protect and preserve existing natural resources, Where to direct development in the community, and How to develop on individual sites?) have collided with the key questions of asset management (What do we own, Where is it located, What condition is it in, and How long will it last?).  A new paradigm is emerging that will require linking the management philosophy of asset management with the goals of a greener and more sustainable future. 

We live and work in a highly complex world of systems, yet don’t always see the whole of systems and interfaces in the context of public and private infrastructure.  We rarely ask questions in the context of infrastructure systems and behavior – from the full range of technical issues to social concerns to economic constraints to environmental sustainability.  This new paradigm will require public officials and managers to have the ability to identify and understand the critical infrastructure interdependencies that exist in a broad spectrum of public and private infrastructure systems.  We have a collective imperative to reimagine our public infrastructure systems with the goal of breaking through institutional silos and finding innovation that connects systems for the greatest community wide benefit for the long term.

Driving along any highway or road in the United States illustrates the problem of how we have heavily invested in many infrastructure systems, which for the most part are managed separately and are uncoordinated.  Roughly 30% of any community is covered by streets and sidewalks.  Much of this property in the public right-of-way is the most valuable real estate.  Beneath the highway pavement you have an assortment of critical infrastructure – sanitary sewer, water, stormwater, natural gas, electricity, and telecommunications.  If one organization or business entity owned this entire infrastructure, it would be unthinkably poor management not to closely coordinate maintenance and replacement activities across business lines. 

Yet that is exactly what happens.  Under the public’s wealth of high value real estate is a collection of multi-agency ownership driven by multi-purposes with their own mandates, budgets, planning, and work cultures.  Thinking in terms of system asset management is the exception rather than the rule.  The “whole-system approach” revolves around the idea that systems are best understood in the context of how these parts and people from relationships with each other and with other systems and not as the working of individuals and independent components.

The idea of a more sustainable and green stormwater solution highlights the challenges and opportunities embedded in a broader and more comprehensive view of asset management.  The “greening” of stormwater management provides an excellent case study on the need to bridge the divides and link the silos of asset management and green infrastructure policies.  As previously mentioned, city and county government have limited financial resources to allocate to the many demands under local control.  This includes stormwater management and the costs for implementing and enforcing the expensive Clean Water Act requirements.  With decreased funding from the federal government to pay for operations and maintenance of existing public stormwater systems as well as the costs associated with implementing long-term control plans, local governments and citizens must identify and select the most cost-effective solutions to meet regulatory requirements.

In light of these predicted costs for stormwater, sanitary, and combined sewer systems, using green infrastructure as a form of asset management is a major driver behind the shift towards establishing a hybrid system of grey, piped infrastructure and green vegetated infrastructure.  By using green infrastructure to divert flow from sewer systems, grey infrastructure costs can be reduced in terms of operations and maintenance costs and future systems can be smaller in size.

Many communities are passing green infrastructure policies as a means for better managing existing infrastructure assets and avoiding future operations and maintenance costs.  The menu of green infrastructure assets in terms of stormwater includes bioswales, rain gardens, infiltration practices, street trees, and porous paving materials.  For most capital and transportation projects, green infrastructure assets constitute a small percentage of the total funding requirements.  The real challenge is the integration of what is known regarding the existing infrastructure assets with the proposed green infrastructure.

Integrating green projects into the infrastructure matrix seems the perfect time and opportunity to examine a more holistic view of asset management.  The introduction of porous pavement, underground storage reservoirs, stormwater bump-outs, and infiltration trenches will require communities and leaders to examine all the infrastructure components that interface and produce interdependencies with existing assets.  Knowing the location, condition, and projected life of existing water and sanitary sewer utilities under a roadway is critical when designing infiltration trenches and storage reservoirs.  It makes little sense to focus on roadway and green assets without an understanding of the condition and projected service life of utilities that directly interface with the project site.  In terms of afford, resilient, sustainable, and integrated management practices, it also makes little sense to design green infiltration points near critical infrastructure – such as high volume telecommunication vaults.

If you have to dig up a street in a more sustainable world – it is important to have an asset management operating philosophy that supports the goal of digging it up once.  The “digging it up once” mentality in the world of holistic asset management and expanding green infrastructure policies will require leaders and managers to have a new and more robust set of tools and platforms.  These tools will include the development of asset registers in a GIS platform that facilities more comprehensive planning and analysis.  It will include a greater need and focus on asset condition assessment for renewal and replacement planning.   It will include the development of strategic plans that better integrate the worlds of grey and green infrastructure.  It will include a greater reliance on computerized maintenance management systems to better track the benefits of green infrastructure policy implementation.  It will allow public officials and leaders the opportunity to better optimize the balancing between O&M and CIP investments and grey and green.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mind the Risk

Report from Swiss Re.

There Will Be Blood

What Would Lucas "Luke" Jackson Think of This?

The Shaky Foundation of Our Future

Another excellent article on the rise of the machines and the impact on humans:

"The risk is that workers in high-skilled, blue-collar manufacturing jobs will be displaced by machines before the dust settles at the end of the Third Industrial Revolution. We may be heading toward a future where factories consist of one highly skilled engineer running hundreds of machines—with one worker left sweeping the floor.

In fact, the person who sweeps the floor may soon lose that job to a faster, better, cheaper, industrial strength Roomba Robot!"

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the New York Times - Los Angeles, City of Water:

"One sign of Los Angeles’s earnestness is its success in conservation: The city now consumes less water than it did in 1970, while its population has grown by more than a third, to 3.9 million people from 2.8 million. Two projects — a nine-acre water-treating wetland constructed in a former bus maintenance yard and a water management plan devised for a flood-prone district of 80,000 people — won awards this year from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. The city itself won one of the first water sustainability awards given by the U.S. Water Alliance, in 2011."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Water Meter Will Just Keep Getting Smarter

From the WaterWorld website:

COOPER CITY, FL, Dec. 9, 2014 -- Cooper City, Fla., has invested in a new water conservation technology that will benefit customers and the environment for years to come. Acquired in 2012, the Innov8 water meter, provided by Transparent Technologies, Inc., uses the Verizon Wireless network to send meter data to utility workstations via the cloud.
The data is provided to LeakerSeeker, Inc., which uses proprietary software to check for anomalies in the data (largerwater flows, irregular patterns, unusual usage times, and other inconsistencies). When these irregularities are found, the system generates a letter informing the customer about the issue, amount of use and cost per month of the use.
Three years ago, the city's award-winning "You Win ­- We All Win" conservation program included rebates for toilets, alternative supplies and a competitive program that provided an opportunity for homeowner associations to compete to see who could save the most water.
Cooper City's goal was to reach sustainability -- that is, to use the water already allocated as the community grows and redevelops. To do that, the city needed to reduce water use by 5 percent in three years. In fact, it saved 10 percent in half that time.
"In the old days, if we needed more water, we applied for it, built new treatment plants to prepare it for customers and built new lines to deliver it to them," said Mike Bailey, P.E. utilities director for Cooper City. "But, today, things are different."
With a recognition that water resources are limited, the competition for limited resources is growing along with the cost to treat and deliver water to customers. "We constantly look for ways to save customers money and to manage our rates," Bailey said. "Conservation has done a lot for us already, but it can do more."
System testing ended in May, 2014. In June, nearly 1,400 readings were processed with more than 30 letters generated to customers. "Since testing began, the largest leak we've found amounted $127 per month additional cost for the customer," said Bailey. "The average savings will be somewhere less than $50.
"This new system saves us much more than that in staff time, processing by hand and letter generation," he added. "There is an investment cost for this system, but it's a fraction of the cost of fighting for additional allocation and building new treatment facilities."

Drones in Dallas 12/9/14

On Leadership

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The American Society of Civil Engineers is Failing Again

With a period of falling gasoline prices, now is the time to be a strong advocate for raising the gas tax.  We are still too focused on writing report cards and generating PDHs.  Every professional society serves one basic role - protecting the economic interests of their members.  The American Society of Civil Engineers should focus on two main themes - - those activities that regulate the supply of civil engineers (i.e., their efforts on requiring a Master's for professional registration has a been a long and dismal failure - the AMA is so much smarter than ASCE) and those activities that actually increase the demand for engineering and engineering services & construction (i.e., other than advocates for report cards - what is ASCE actually advocating in terms of a fiscal solution to our infrastructure disaster).

Why is ASCE setting on their hands during a period of falling gasoline prices and our historical energy transformation?

"In theory, advocates of an infusion of spending to fix the nation's crumbling roads and bridges have found the perfect political moment.

Fuel prices are plunging to their lowest level in years. The Highway Trust Fund is broke, and Congress faces a spring deadline to replenish it. The obvious answer—the only answer, according to many in Washington—is to raise the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which hasn't gone up in more than 20 years. Since prices at the pump have dropped more than a dollar per gallon in some areas, drivers would barely notice the extra nickel they'd be forced initially to pay as a result of the tax hike. That wasn't true until recently: For years, the pocketbook punch of the Great Recession combined with gas prices that peaked above $4 made an increase both politically and economically untenable."

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the San Jose Mercury News:

"Analyzing tree rings that date back to 800 A.D. -- a time when Vikings were marauding Europe and the Chinese were inventing gunpowder -- there is no three-year period when California's rainfall has been as low and its temperatures as hot as they have been from 2012 to 2014, the researchers found."

Sick Of Football Rankings?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chart of the Week


The New Orleans Innovation Delivery Team

From an article in Fast Company:

"The innovation delivery method was developed by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Nesta, the U.K.’s innovation foundation, as one model to increase the ability of mayors to develop bigger ideas that address the major challenges facing many cities today. Modeled on the work of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as other cities around the world, it basically involves a team of in-house consultants at a City Hall tasked with analyzing data and bringing in global expertise to brainstorm and implement new approaches to tackling intransigent local problems. In 2011, Bloomberg Philanthropiesfunded five cities, including New Orleans, to trial the approach."


Accuas is a British Columbian fire that surveys infrastructure.

The Future of Assisted Living Design

What the future looks like during retirement.

Friday, December 5, 2014

STOPPLE Plugging System

I would be interested in seeing any water and wastewater applications of the STOPPLE technology.

Michael Lewis Needs to Write About the World of Megaprojects

Author Michael Lewis needs to take a break from Wall Street and focus on the world of megaprojects.  The New York Times did a cover story on the train station at the World Trade Center. The cost overruns on this look like Wall Street money, so Lewis should be right at home on this type of story.

MASH For The Middle East

The Rich Street Bridge

Turn Off the Weather Channel

Interesting post on which cities have the most unpredictable weather.

Graph of the Week

Embedded image permalink

STEM in the Pentagon

From a profile of the new Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, that was presented in a New York Times article:

"“In Ash you have a poster child for the guy who discovers that science and technology are the major drivers for some of the most important events in international affairs, and sometimes are the sources of the solutions,” said Graham Allison, who recruited Mr. Carter in the early 1980s to come to the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “Here was a guy with a physics background who was fascinated by ballistic missile defense.""

Innovation and the Golden Quarter

Good article on technological stagnation over the last 40 years.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Are Moving Toward a "Whole-System Approach" to Urban Sanitation

A new report from IRC.

Police Departments versus Public Works

Your local municipal government is on average much better funded for busting people for minor pot possessions than for fixing potholes.  As you watch the Eric Garner video for the 30th time - remember that police department utilizes 34% of the budget for the average city, 18% for fire protection, and 16% for public works.  The ASCE report card didn't see the need to point this out.

When almost 50% of your budget goes toward public safety, you can afford to bring down and kill citizens for rather minor violations.  Public safety has many faces - - one overlooked face is the safe and effective investments we need to make in our aging public infrastructure.  Our public infrastructure is the most important wheel in our economic cog and we are foolishly wasting money rounding up people for minor violations.  ASCE and many others have done a terrible job getting into the police versus public works department debate.  ASCE mainly wants to do report cards and take pictures of crumbling bridges - - they don't want any of the hard and difficult debates that go into an effective democracy.  The Garner video not only demonstrates the outrageous actions of some police officers and departments - - it also demonstrates how we have collectively mis-allocated public money away from fixing our national infrastructure tragedy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Graph of the Week

Good News About Climate Change Adaptation

From an NBER study:

"Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 200,000 homes and led to massive economic and physical dislocation. Using a panel of tax return data, we provide one of the first comprehensive analyses of the hurricane’s long-term economic impact on its victims. Katrina had large and persistent impacts on where people live; small and mostly transitory impacts on wage income, employment, total income, and marriage; and no impact on divorce or fertility. Within just a few years, Katrina victims’ incomes fully recover and even surpass that of controls from similar cities that were unaffected by the storm. The strong economic performance of Katrina victims is particularly remarkable given that the hurricane struck with essentially no warning. Our results suggest that, at least in this particular disaster, aid to cover destroyed assets and short-run income declines was sufficient to make victims financially whole. Our results provide some optimism regarding the costs of climate-change driven dislocation, especially when adverse events can be anticipated well in advance."

How A Londoner Views the US

 british people naming US states

I had to laugh at West Virginia - the global culture that is the Hunger Games.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

STEM In The Bundestag

The current issue of the New Yorker has a profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel by George Packer (The Quiet German).  Merkel is the rarity among public leaders - - the uber-STEM educational foundation.  She has a doctorate in quantum chemistry.

From the article:

"People who have followed her career point to Merkel's scientific habit of mind as a key to her political success.  "She is about the best analyst of any given situation that I could imagine," a senior official in her government said.  "She looks at various vectors, extrapolates, and says, "This is where I think it's going."  Trained to see the invisible world in terms of particles and waves, Merkel learned to approach problems methodically, drawing comparisons, running scenarios, weighing risks, anticipating reactions, and then, even after making a decision, letting it sit for a while before acting.  She once told a story from her childhood of standing on a diving board fro a full hour of a swimming lesion until, at the bell, she finally jumped."

Also from the article:

""She is a master of listening," the longtime political associate said.  "In a conversation, she speaks twenty per cent, you speak eighty per cent.  She gives everybody the feeling "I want to hear what you have . . .""

Flush Floods


The World of P3s Is Coming to Stormwater Management

Link to the press release from Corvias.

What a Farmer Can Teach Us in the 21st Century

The New York Times had an insightful article yesterday on Kip Torn, a seventh-generation family farmer - Working the Land and the Data: Technology Offers Some Family-Owned Farms a Chance To Thrive and Compete With Giant Agribusiness.  The article looked at the role technology plays in modern farming.  Several interesting quotes and observations from the article.  Regardless of the business or industry that you are in, the story of how technology changed and is changing the family farm is an important one to follow.  From the local water utility exploring the value of asset management to a construction company thinking about upgrading it's fleet of excavators - - you need to get "hooked on a drug of information and productivity."

From the article:
  • "I'm hooked on a drug of information and productivity."  Farmers are aggressively thinking in terms of their farms as computer networks.  The modern barn has a server room.
  • "Mr. Tom is as much a chief technology officer as he is a farmer."
  • The modern farm is a collection of sensors, GPS data from satellites, cellular modems on tractors, and iPhone apps for the irrigation system.
  • The modern tractor and combine is covered with sensors, computers, and communication equipment.
  • The investment in technology is producing growth in productivity.  Not just the work of computer and networks - - the world of biology and genetically modified crops is having an impact on productivity also.
  • Farmers want to incorporate drone technology into their toolboxes.
  • Farmers are thinking in terms of real-time data - - soil moisture, market prices, yield, crop stress areas, etc.
  • Look for self-driving tractors to be the first of the autonomous vehicles.
  • Tom thinks better uses of data analysis raised his ROI to 21.2%.
  • 4-H is still important - - but so is the local elementary school's robotics club.
  • Tom quote of the day - - "We're a business, and if you don't keep up, you get left behind for good." 

Monday, December 1, 2014

City Protocol

The City Worker App

From Boston:

"The city’s looking grimy? There’s an app for that.

Boston’s Public Works Department has launched a pilot program that gives smartphones loaded with a software program called City Worker to 45 highway and waste removal inspectors. The app is designed to alert the workers about trouble spots such as potholes, graffiti, or broken street lights, in their respective coverage zones.

The app also lets them manage their case loads remotely, and inform dispatchers when problems have been resolved.
City Worker is an extension of Citizen Connect, an app that the city unveiled in 2009. Citizen Connect gave smartphone-toting Bostonians the ability to use their phones to report nuisances throughout the city.

“This is really the other side of the coin,” said Eric Carlson, co-founder of Connected Bits, the Bedford, N.H., software company that designed the app. “It creates some immediacy that wasn’t available before.”

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement that the app will help city workers respond to problems faster, and communicate with residents more quickly. “This app is one more example of our city using the newest tools to tackle some of the oldest neighborhood challenges,” he said."

Smart Cities Research Center

From the University of California at Berkeley - link.

Smart Cities Research Center

Oil Sentence of the Day

I found this interesting - source:

"At the same time, analysts have also noted that for many shale producers, a large chunk of production costs — acquiring acreage, contracting wells, etc. — have already been spent. As a result, the more important figure might be “half-cycle” production costs. which analysts at Citi last week pegged at between $37 to $45 a barrel."