Monday, June 30, 2014

The March of The Effluent Society

From the New York TimesRecycled Water Is Critical by Melissa Meeker:
"One key reason that water reuse is not a bigger part of the nation’s water supply is that it is still characterized as a waste product in most places. In a progressive move, California recently enacted legislation that reclassifies recycled water as a water resource. The state government also recently streamlined the permitting process for using recycled water for irrigation and allocated $200 million in grants to encourage related projects.
There are success stories in other parts of the country as well. Communities in dry west Texas have used state-of-the-art technology to augment their drinking water supply with reused water; the governor of Oklahoma just signed a law to encourage water reuse; and Florida’s most recent water reuse report indicated that 719 million gallons of water is beneficially reused each day in 2013 — the largest amount in the country.
But the amount of water intentionally reused in America is still quite low and it will stay that way as long as the public regards reuse as an emergency measure. Americans have embraced “sustainability” in so many aspects of modern life, but not when it comes to water resources.
Conservation cannot meet future water demands alone and other measures that create new sources of water, like desalination, are still more expensive. Water reuse is the easiest and most economical fix. It should be included in the water supply portfolio of every community."

The Water Quality-Energy Nexus

From the AZDEQ Press Release:

"PHOENIX (June 24, 2014) – Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials
announced today that the agency has completed its first groundwater remediation project
using solar energy in an instrumental role and saved nearly $13,000 in energy-related
costs as a result.

Two solar-powered blowers were used as a power source in a process in which gas was
removed from wells at the Rainbow Valley Citrus Maintenance Yard in Goodyear. Soil
sampling collected during removal of two underground storage tanks earlier indicated
that petroleum hydrocarbons leaked from the tanks. The contamination eventually
reached the groundwater.

The State Lead Program of ADEQ’s Waste Programs Division began cleaning up the site
in 2012 and completed it on schedule last month. Two of the 10 onsite wells had gasoline
in them. Initially, the contaminants were removed from the two wells by using a vacuum
truck before the solar-powered air sparging process began.

“This is a big success story for our use of green energy in environmental cleanups,”
ADEQ Director Henry Darwin said. “This was a small project but it demonstrated that
this approach can be expanded into larger scale applications.”

The two solar-powered blowers were purchased for only $249 and installation and
maintenance costs were minimal. The solar power saved an estimated 20,000 kilowatt
hours in traditional electricity from the grid."

The Accidental Skyline

Example of a new tool that allows people to see development plans in their community.  From the website:

"Too often, New Yorkers are caught off guard by new development in their neighborhoods. The Accidental Skyline offers tools to help demystify the city planning process and bring the public into the conversation."

New Megacity to Include Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei With Population of 130 Million

New Megacity to Include Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei With Population of 130 Million

Aggie Drone

Concrete Usage Index (CUI)

Report from the UK Building and Construction Authority.

"Concrete Usage Index (CUI) is an indicator of the amount of concrete required to construct a superstructure which includes structural and non-structural elements. CUI is defined as volume of concrete in cubic metres to cast a square metre of constructed floor area"

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why the Tea Party Fears Houston

After our month long national fixation with World Cup soccer, Houston, Texas is probably second on the list of things keeping the Tea Party up at night.  Diversity that represents what the U.S. will look like in 2060, success in a global economy, a gay mayor, a highly educated workforce - - Houston has many problems, but their success on many different fronts will be our collective success if we embrace it.  Great article from NPR on the "Houston looks like our future" story line.

Census numbers show Houston's changing racial and ethnic diversity.

Engineers in the Front Office

Engineers are gaining a front office foothold in the post-Moneyball world.  Look at the Houston Astros:

  • General Manager Jeff Luhnow has undergraduate degrees from Penn in chemical engineering and economics and a M.B.A. from Northwestern.
  • Director of Decision Sciences (a perfect position for the VA that seems to struggle with the basic decision tree) Sig Mejdal has mechanical and aeronautical engineering degrees from UC Davis and two additional masters in operations research and cognitive psychology (the perfect degree for evaluating someone like A-Rod) from San Jose State.
Look at the current issue of Sports Illustrated and a wonderful story by Ben Reiter - - Astro-Matic.

A Tale of Two Counties

From Bluegrass-State Blues by Anne Lowrey in the New York Times today.  Coal country is the most disadvantaged part of the United States - - even after periodic attempts to flood persistently poor counties with federal dollars in an effort to jump start the region into higher growth rates.  Geography still matters - - sometimes being poor in rural areas is because you are poor in rural areas.  The global economy is all about population density and synergy.  Small and spread out is a really, really bad combination in the knowledge economy - - and federal spending on the local wastewater treatment plant doesn't fix spread out or small.  It doesn't fix 7.4% of the population has a college degree.  It doesn't fix 11.7% receive Social Security disability payments.  It doesn't fix geography - - Ph.D.s next to the nuclear weapons program in New Mexico receive more opportunities directly supported by the federal government.  A tale of two counties was never going to be fair.  It will never be fair.

Median Household Income
Jobless Rate
Disability Rate
Life Expectancy
Obesity Rate
Los Alamos

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Corps Chief Calls for Private Investment in Water Infrastructure | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Corps Chief Calls for Private Investment in Water Infrastructure | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Engineering Consulting Is Not Taking Advantage of the Gifts the Internet Gives Us

Engineering consulting has been slow adapters in taking advantage of the many gifts embedded in the Internet.  In many respects we are still in love with the intimate, cohesive, and somewhat linear consumption of ideas and information embedded in the paper world.  Our ideas, thoughts, and abilities to communicate with clients and key stakeholders is still tied to the world of paper.  If we do venture digitally, it is usually with what we were comfortable with in the world of paper - - the 8 1/2 by 11 idea placed in PowerPoint.  We have low digital sensibility as a profession and industry in a world where high digital sensibility shapes almost every social and economic activity.

Check out The New York Times Upshot column on Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?  This is a good example of the new age of fully utilizing the power of the Internet to present and discuss information, ideas, and solutions.  It is the unique blend of content, design, and technology that engineering consulting has yet to master.  Study the new media news sites of Vox, Wonkblog, The Upshot, the Texas Tribune.  They have done excellent work building the new Internet-based "information exchanges" - - places where information is combined, connected, and constructed that produces increased value.

Engineering consulting needs to improve their digital sensibility to stay competitive in an Internet world increasingly geared toward the communication of ideas in new, exciting, and value-added ways.  Our infrastructure is in decline - - gets take advantage of the gifts the Internet gives us to better explain this to our clients, policy makers, and key stakeholders.

Not All Client Relationships are Created and Managed Equally

Engineering consulting firms historically have low relational intelligence (RI).  They don't understand the many different and complex ways you can relate to your clients.  Everyone needs to travel down the path of reorganizing marketing around client relationships.  Organizations are focused on moving to the "Trusted Adviser" relationship connection/model, but few are actively engaged in shifting clients toward these more profitable relationships. Engineers are not the best at understanding how relationships work (note - I think female engineers and managers get relationship management much better than their male counterparts - - and I think organization are beginning to understand this).  The focus on project delivery and execution sometimes over shadows what really is at stake - - the delivery of a successful relationship.  They don't understand how many different kinds of relationships your clients have with your organization and its brand. They don't understand that "marriage partners" and "best friends" are resource intensive - building them and maintaining them requires significant investments.  Try changing the terms or increasing your fees in a marriage relationship -- marriages don't like betrayal.  If you are a niche or specialty firm, most of your relationships might fall into the "One-Night Stand" category.  A key goal for strategic marketing should be thinking about how to reinforce profitable relationships and change unproductive ones.

Jill Avery, Susan Fournier, and John Wittenbraker cover this topic in the current issue of Harvard Business Review - Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships.  They plot a list of relationship types in a graph with Price Premium on the Y-axis and Market Share on the X-axis.  Read the list of relationships - it is obvious which are in the high Price Premium - High Market Share quadrant.  Think about your existing relationships and how you might label them -- then think about how to change "Buddies" to "Star-Groupie" and a new approach to relating.

  • Online Friends
  • Love-Hate
  • Close Siblings
  • One-Night Stand
  • Complete Strangers
  • Fling
  • Secret Affair
  • Marriage Partners
  • Marriage-On-The-Rocks
  • Stalker-Prey
  • Dealer-Addict
  • Guru-Disciple
  • Teacher-Student
  • Next-Door Neighbors
  • Best Friends
  • Teammates
  • Buddies
  • Ex-Friends
  • Fleeting Acquaintances
  • Enemies
  • Star-Groupie
  • Annoying Acquaintances
  • Former Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Old Friends
  • Casual Acquaintances

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Dallas Morning News yesterday, Editorial Page - Thirsting for Reform: Water rights dispute shows need for new policy:

"In 2012, the 8,000-employee Dow plant [Dow Chemical plant at Freeport, Texas] consumed 155 million gallons of river water daily [Brazos River], far exceeding the 143 million gallons used daily by 1.3 million Dallas residents.  From 2009 to 2012, Dow used more than 1 trillion gallons of Brazos water."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Infrastructure Resilience and a Sesmic Upgrade

Infrastructure Spending and the Republicans

From the current issue of the Economist - Bridging the Gap: For a country where everyone drives, America has shoddy roads.  Think about a infomercial ASCE could put together - ask foreign vacationers about the sad state of our public infrastruction.  Get someone like a Ricky Gervais in a Mini with a camera and have him put some miles on our highways.  Log the really bad miles and then have him stop by for a sit down at the state capital.  Maybe he is wearing a "Show Us You Mean It" t-shirt.

"Because the problem is so big, people assume that the federal government must be responsible, says Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. In fact, he argues, other levels of government are going to have to find the money required. This is starting to happen. Some states add their own petrol taxes to the federal government’s one. Eight of them, including some deep-red places such as Wyoming, put them up last year. Virginia has increased its sales tax to pay for infrastructure. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, proposed raising taxes to spend an additional $1 billion a year on infrastructure. When voters are asked about infrastructure projects in ballot initiatives they back them about 75% of the time, according to the Centre for Transportation Excellence, which keeps count.

For more of this to happen, Republicans—who control most statehouses and governorships—will have to stay their urge to shrink government and cut taxes. The party often argues that the federal government should spend less and let the states make more decisions about how to tax and spend. On infrastructure at least they have got their wish. Now is the time for them to show that they mean it."

A Generalized Project Finance Structure

The diagram provides a generalized view of the project financing arrangement for a toll project.  The key to the new world of public-private-partnerships (P3s) is a firm understanding of project finance.  Project finance in the context of infrastructure projects is the off-balance sheet financing of a project via a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with a network of contractual agreements with key counterparts (contractors, purchasers, suppliers, operator agents, etc.).  Key points:
  • The borrower of funds in a project company set up on an ad hoc basis that is financially and legally independent from the sponsors (separate incorporation).
  • All economic consequences generated by the initiative are attributed to the SPV that is designated to secure cash receipts and payments (lenders finance a venture, not an operating firm).
  • The assets of the SPV are the only collateral available to lenders together with the cash flow from the initiative (no-recourse financing).
  • Approval of the financing is a function of the project's ability to generate cash flows to repay the debt contracted and also remunerate capital invested at a rate consistent with the degree of risk inherent to the venture concerned.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Looking at Energy-Water Flows

Source - Aquanomics.

What If Don Draper Worked on the ASCE infrastructure Report Cards

The 2014 Pennsylvania version of the ASCE Infrastructure Card was recently published.  The opening paragraph of the drinking water (which received a grade of D) portion of the report is highlighted below: 

Drinking water infrastructure in Pennsylvania faces a required investment of $13.9 billion over the next 20 years to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations. Although waterborne outbreaks are low, the number of incidents has been on the rise. Encouragingly, the number of drinking water systems in violation of clean water regulations has seen improvement. Funding research into new water treatment technology as well as reducing waste and consumption will help reduce costs, but construction and repair of drinking water facilities will require a steady source of funding. Drinking water systems must adopt full-cost pricing in water billing to reflect operational and maintenance costs as well as raising funds for eventual replacement. If funding needs are not met, the state risks reversing the public health, environmental and economic gains that have been made over the past three decades.
As with all the themes of the various ASCE report cards written-by-engineers-for-public-consumption-as-best-they-can, it is a slapdish world of facts and figures.  The engineer as rational actor possessed of perfect information in search of a public engaged in utility-maximizing behaviors.  I hate to break this to ASCE, but human beings do not always make decisions that serve their own long-term self-interest.  They have more of a problem with collective-interest.  It is one group (the engineers and contractors), who perceive the world in objective ways, attempting to motivate the un-real world of Main Street to do one thing.  Read all the report cards on the various parts of the infrastructure matrix and you see the one same thing.  The one thing is simple - we want Main Street to depart with some of their money.  The cover of the book is the same - the call for a collective social good and collective economic benefit.  But the chapters all read the same - none of this collective social and economic good happens without a departure of Main Street's money.

If we recognize this is what it is (departing with money on Main Street), ASCE needs to be thinking more like Mad Men's Don Draper.  The advertising industry is full of incredibly cunning people, highly experienced at getting Main Street to depart with their money.  Yes, advertising is full of evil people (have you seen Mad Men?), but so is the AEC industry (have you seen traffic control on LBJ in Dallas?).  Evil people can work with other evil people.  Getting people to depart with their money is about understanding behavioral economics and recognizing the competition.  Raising the $3.25/1,000 gallons monthly water rate by 25% puts the local water utility and AEC community in competition with the likes of Starbucks.  In business you've just got to be less stupid, less wrong than your competition.  In the case of ASCE, they are being much more stupid and wrong than Starbucks.

Read the opening paragraph of the report card and explain to me how that screams out "D" and you need to depart with some of your money?  At least have Draper look at it (He would probably say, "Our worst fears lie in anticipation.").  It will probably take a tall glass of his bourbon.  The things Draper could do with a three or four minute YouTube video minimizing the economic transaction part of this by focusing on other factors.  Imagine a family in the kitchen.  The mother is getting a drink of tap water for their young son.  Voice over - -  "Have we lost the capacity to make the right decisions?"  Run the fancy water system decline graphics and cut to workers in a trench laying a water line.  Voice over - - "We seemed to have forgotten how to do this."  The things Draper could to do to improve our chances of getting people to depart with their money!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How a Wastewater Engineer Watches World Cup Soccer


Requiring a Master of Engineering for Professional Registration in the U.S.?

The United Kingdom has established the minimum requirement for gaining chartered engineer status (similar to the United States P.E.) is a master of engineering.  Should U.S. civil engineers be subject to a similar advanced education requirement to be competitive in the global marketplace?

A poll is at Survey Monkey for those that would like to respond to the question.

"Really Good at Not Being Bad"

Two mission statements/objectives that I think are good and should be studied by the AEC community.  The first is from ESPN.  Their mission:

"To serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about, or played."

When ESPN inserted "discussing and debating sports" they make sports a social experience - - by doing this, ESPN acquires a very distinct reputation.  CBS broadcasts great golf and FOX does football - - but ESPN is thinking beyond this in terms of a conversational voice combined with cross-platform execution.  Look at how ESPN tells its stories - - they want their readers, viewers, and Web site visitors to have an "experience" from their storytelling.  There are many good lessons for the AEC industry in the ESPN mission + media engagement story.

The second is McDonald's.  I recently "dined" in a local McDonald's and I remember this great line about McDonald's that came from Rory Sutherland, the Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman of OgilvyOne in London.  According to Mr. Sutherland, the "mission" of McDonald's can be described as:

"Whatever you think about McDonald's - it's really, really good at not being bad."  And he has a great point - people pick McDonald's because it's pretty good and definitely isn't awful.  Per Sutherland:

"Why do we go to McDonald's?  Is it the best food in town?  Probably not.  The search cost of finding the best place to eat in town, given that we've only got one shot at having a meal in a strange town, would be pretty high.  But also when you go into McDonald's you know you're not going to be ripped off, you're almost certainly not going to be ill."

Some of this applies to the AEC industry.  The SOQ process has somewhat of a minimax approach.  Clients engaging in defensive decision making; the old line about "No one ever got fired buying IBM" - - our clients will always use different heuristics in order to make decisions.  No group of clients will ever behave in an identical or predictable way, nor will they always maintain those behaviors or proxies for a long time.  Remember that some will be thinking quarter pound cheeseburger during your next selection presentation. They are thinking consistency - the same "non-awful" performance on every project.

This is an interesting dilemma for the AEC industry - - the cost, time, and intellectual energy going into being like ESPN and helping your clients with the "make me smarter experience" knowing that many of our clients just want you to be really, really good at not being bad.

Monday, June 23, 2014


How the AEC Industry Should Think About Content

The following Apple ad does an excellent job of making the connection from Brand to Content to Engagement and Relationship and back to Brand.  Remember that all content creates user experience (how your clients feel, think, and act about you and your organziation). What experiences do you want your clients to have when they read or view your content?  Do you want them to be smarter?  Do you want them to take a particular action?  What is your thematic storyline?  What do you want your clients to feel about you (OMG - engineers are going to have to think about and understand feelings!!!)?

Do Terror Groups Have Better Engineers?

From Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy by Barry R. Posen (Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of the Security Studies at MIT):

"Though military analysts believe that the Vietnamese were much more competent militarily than the Iraqi insurgents, the Iraqi insurgents appear to be twice as efficient killers.  In Vietnam roughly 50,000 Americans and 250,000 South Vietnamese troops died versus 1.1 million communist troops.  The United States suffered about 4,400 dead in Iraq, and Iraqi security forces around 9,300 versus as many as 25,000 insurgents.  The exchange rate has deteriorated from 4:1 to 2:1, largely due to the cunning employment of command-detonated IED's to kill Americans and their allies without having to expose oneself to counterfire. Since Vietnam, the United States has invested heavily in military technology, which significantly lowered the personnel costs of the Iraq war relative to Vietnam and probably forced Iraqi insurgents to avoid the pitched battles with Americans that the Vietnamese sought.  The Iraqi insurgents countered with their own technology - the improvised explosive device - and engaged in a seesaw innovation battle with U.S. detection and jamming gear."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Where Does the Civil Engineer Rank to Nurse Midwife?

See the Vox post on the salary rankings of 820 occupations from 2013 - all in one graph!

Is Texas Moving Closer to the Cleveland Browns?

View image on Twitter

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Dallas Morning News today - Nightly drain on your wallet.  The overall trend is greater and greater energy efficiency.  But we still have a nasty habit of saving energy in one area and consuming it in another.  Yes, you just purchased a new high efficiency dryer - but with your savings you added a new TV and cable box.  You probably saved overall - but who really knows and how much are lost questions.

"A set-top box with a digital recorder can consume as much as 35 watts of power, costing about $8 a month for a typical Southern California consumer.  The devices use nearly as much power turned off as they do when they are turned on."

Batteries Coming to Texas

"Now Oncor, Texas’ largest power transmission company, is joining the ranks investing in battery technology as the industry’s next big thing.
The Dallas-based company plans to install five refrigerator-size batteries in residential neighborhoods in South Dallas to see how the equipment performs as a backup during power outages. Made from lithium, the same material used to charge cellphones and electric cars, they store enough electricity to keep three or four homes running for an hour.
The investment is minuscule, $1 million including a sixth battery to be installed at an Oncor facility. The company's capital budget exceeded $1 billion last year. But CEO Bob Shapard described the move as Oncor’s first step into a technology he believes could one day revolutionize how electricity is generated and used.
“The math isn’t there yet, but the companies know they all need to get there,” he said. “We’re probably five years away” from wide-scale adoption. “It sounds like a long time, but for our business that’s pretty quick.”
The so-called holy grail of battery storage is to reach the critical mass where technologies like wind and solar power can supply the majority of the power on the grid.
Right now both play a limited role because of the inconsistency of sunlight and wind. But if there were a way to economically store electricity, then the so-called variability problem becomes irrelevant. And the grid, which now relies on a near perfect harmony of generation and consumption, would be turned on its head."

Trinity Skyline Trail

Texas cities are slowly embracing their rivers.  Dallas is one example.  Along the Trinity River, Dallas is embarking on the largest public works project it has ever undertaken.  Called the Trinity River Corridor Project, it's a $2 billion project covering flood control, recreation, and transportation.  This is a huge cultural shift for Dallas - from turning its back to turning toward the Trinity.

The Trinity Skyline Trail recently opened.  From the City of Dallas website:

The Trinity Skyline Trail is the first trail to bring visitors close to the Trinity River in the Dallas Floodway with views of downtown Dallas. The 4.6 mile hard surface trail is perfect for hiking and biking. This new outdoor trail will connect to the Santa Fe Trail after 2017 when the TxDOT Horseshoe Project is complete at I-30 and I-35. It will also connect to the Trinity Strand Trail upon its completion.

Trinity Skyline Trail

Changing Texas Water Rules

Call the 83rd session in Austin the Water Session.  House Bill 4 was big and got the most press - the bill allocates $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund toward a new State Water Implementation Fund.  Other important water bills included:
  • HB 857 by Rep. Eddie Lucip requires water utilities to conduct annual water loss audits.
  • HB 1461 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock requires customer notification of audit results.
  • HB 3605 by Rep. Lon Burnam requires utilities to use a portion of state financial assistance funds to repair municipal water main leaks (the Texas estimate is 20 billion gallons annually).
  • SB 198 by Sen. Kirk Watson makes it illegal for homeowners associations to prohibit members from utilizing xeriscaping and drought-resistant landscaping (changing plants by 2020 could save 14 billion gallons).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mapping a Changing Drought

Drought report

The AEC Industry Will Have a Chair Force

Commercial droning has potentially years of legal and privacy hurdles.  But a time will come when drones are considered a value resource for infrastructure inspection, environmental studies, emergency response, and construction observation.  Civil engineers will see the value in utilizing drones.  The company drone pilots be an important part of a firms "chair force" - - those watchers of the build world.

Never forget the power of a 13-year old and their embrace of new technology (future generations get this - the constant nature of technological change and the power associated with it) .  Your future civil engineer just took a "dronie" of his or her high school graduation class.

Texas Water Technology Accelerator

Texas needs something like the AccelerateH20 initiative.  We have a unique opportunity to become a global water hub for research, development, venture capital, and commercialization of everything water.  The perfect storm of water needs has entered the Texas landscape.  Climate change potential and rapid development has the whole state thinking water.  We are the perfect state to take advantage of this perfect storm. Our advantages include the following:

  • The need - a state with a growing population that is in need of additional water resources.  Water resources is tracking to be the biggest impediment to our future growth and economic opportunities.
  • The academics - a state with two universities (University of Texas and Texas A&M) well positioned to take advantage of research opportunities.  Texas understands how to utilize our academic resources to solve problems and develop new business opportunities.
  • The money - big problems need big checkbooks.  Texas is state with big checkbooks.  We get risk and opportunity and reward and venture capital.  We get the potential of water becoming the new oil.
  • The energy-water nexus - water and energy are tightly linked.  New sources of water (i.e., desalination of sea and brackish water) will require new sources of energy.  The state is a leader in natural gas development and solar/wind resources.  No state understands the combination of water and energy issues better than Texas.
  • The public-private-partnership water matrix - water opportunities will require the public and private sectors working together.  What P3s have done for our transportation problems and funding constraints, P3s can also do for the water sector.  We understand that when a part of the infrastructure matrix has the language and revenue of a business - - you need to look at turning it into a business.
  • The hub mindset - Houston is the global leader in the oil services sector.  We understand the benefits and responsibilities associated with being the center of an industry.  Our culture is about being the center of attention!!  We think bigger than everyone else.
  • The political mindset - when we go after something, we really go all out.  Low taxes, low housing costs, an entrepreneurial friendly business climate - - we will do what it takes to be the global water hub. 

How We Spend the Money

From a report by the Migration Policy Institute.  So rounding up children at the border has a greater fiscal priority than catching the ten most wanted.

"The US government spends more on its immigration enforcement agencies than on all of its principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies combined. In FY 2012, spending for CBP, ICE and US-Visit reached nearly $18 billion. This amount exceeds by nearly 24% total spending by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012."


Working and Playing Hard in West Virginia


Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazon Firefly Technology and Infrastructure Asset Management

The new Amazon Fire phone was demonstrated yesterday.  The Firefly software embedded in the Fire phone has huge potential for asset management.  Take a picture of a pump at a lift station and the software recognizes the pump.  You could then access the operations manual.  Or take a picture of a manhole, it knows the particular manhole, and up comes the asset registry associated with manhole.  It has the ability to greatly improve linking the visual nature of asset management (i.e., a picture of a fire hydrant) with critical information (i.e., age, manufacturer, maintenance history).

Amazon sees the Firefly technology in the context of an improved shopping experience.  The technology also has much broader capabilities - including infrastructure asset management - which could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how you manage the physical world.

Texas Central Railway

Leading In The 21st Century

Why the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card Deserves an F

From CNBC and a poll from the LA Times.  If only 16% say they are impacted by the recent drought, you have to really wonder how many would say they are impacted by their declining water treatement/distribution system?  ASCE needs to fundamentally rethink how it strategically communicates with the public regarding our declining infrastructure.  When you give the water system a grade of D year-after-year - - what does that mean to the average citizen and customer that jumps in the shower each morning (no problems!!), drinks four glasses of tap water per day (no problems!!), has a nice green lawn (no problems!!), enjoys 25,000 gallons of swimming pool water on the weekends (no problems!!), and all of this at $3.50/1,000 gallons (absolutely no problems!!).  How does that translate into a grade of D that is explainable to the people on Main Street?

Link to the story:

"The severe drought parching states in the Southwest and West is undoubtedly causing hardships:The list includes higher prices for food and water, water-use restrictions, blazing wildfires and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

But most people seem to be taking it in stride—even within drought states. A recent poll by the Los Angeles Times indicated that only 16 percent of those surveyed in California say it has personally affected them in a measurable way. That's despite the Golden State being in its third year of drought and in a state of emergency since January."

Paying for Less Carbon

From Bloomberg:

"Americans are willing to bear the costs of combating climate change, and most are more likely to support a candidate seeking to address the issue.

By an almost two-to-one margin, 62 percent to 33 percent, Americans say they would pay more for energy if it would mean a reduction in pollution from carbon emissions, according to the Bloomberg National Poll."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

#2 But Moving Up

New report from the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center - Wasting Our Waterways.

Most Water Utilities are in the Red

Link to an article from Breaking Energy News:

"The third annual report on the U.S. water industry found that 40 percent of utilities said they would need to enact 5 percent to 10 percent annual rate increases for the next decade just to cover costs. More than 20 percent said they would need yearly rate increases of more than 10 percent, which would double rates in about seven years."

"You've created a resource pricier than oil . . ."

From the current issue of Men's Journal  by Paul Solotaroff - Who Stole the Water: How Greed, Drought, and Rampant Overdevelopment Are Sucking Texas Dry:

"Depending on whom you ask, the price to deliver groundwater is five to 10 times greater than for surface water.  It costs $1 million per mile just to lay the pipes, not counting what you have to pay property owners for the right to raze their homes.  Then there's the cost to treat it for solids and condition it so it doesn't clog your pipes.  When you add in the fuel charges to pump it uphill, you've created a resource pricier than oil and surely in shorter supply.  In the crudest terms, there's a fortune to be made, and a new class of commodity kings are jockeying to get there first."

What is an "infrastructure provider" (IP)?

From the current issue of ENR:

While Thames Water is promoting the project through its subsidiary Thames Tideway Tunnel Ltd. (TTT), the government and the Water Services Regulation Authority—known as OFWAT—have agreed to have the scheme procured by a stand-alone "infrastructure provider" (IP).

If anyone has additional information on this particular procurement, I would appreciate it (i.e., links to the procurement announcement, other applications of IPs, typical organization/financial structures, etc..)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Are Older Engineers Blocking Younger Engineers?

From Richard Florida in The Atlantic (link);

"When it comes to higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs, the situation appears even worse for younger workers. EMSI and CareerBuilder tracked the growth rates for positions in computer and math jobs for these two cohorts from 2007 to 2013. In part, the vast differences are a result of different baselines—millennials make up 32 percent of computer and math workers, while boomers make up 11 percent of these occupational categories. Yet the number of computer and math jobs increased just 2 percent for millennials over this period, compared to a whopping 20 percent for their boomer parents. This suggests that millennials may be increasingly blocked off from some of the very best and highest-paying knowledge economy jobs."

The Rising Price of Easements

From the Texas Tribune:
"A natural gas pipeline company argued earlier this year that it should pay about $80,000 for the right to lay pipe across a mile of vacant land south of Fort Worth. The landowner countered, and a Johnson County jury agreed, that the price should be higher.
A lot higher. In March, the jury awarded about $1.6 million, plus interest, to the landowner, more than 20 times the amount that Midland-based Peregrine Pipeline Co. had offered.
The award, which Peregrine has said it will appeal, is the latest in a series of recent jury verdicts in eminent domain cases that experts say reflect an upward trend in the cost of building oil and gas pipelines in Texas."

Where the Smart People are Moving

From Richard Florida (link) -

A Paragraph to Ponder

From NYT Upshot yesterday:

"Average hourly earnings for private-sector American workers rose about 49 cents an hour over the last year, to $24.38 in May. But that wasn’t enough to cover inflation over the year, so in “real” or inflation adjusted terms, hourly worker pay fell 0.1 percent over the last 12 months. Weekly pay shows the same story, also falling 0.1 percent in the year ended in May."

Enabling Sustainability in an Interconnected World

Report from the Council of Canadian Academies:

"Information and communication technologies (ICT) are more than just gadgets meant to entertain. They are devices, systems, and platforms that are transforming how people live, work, and communicate with one another. Interconnected ICT opportunities have the potential to expand access to information, generate economic benefits, and improve Canada’s environmental performance. The opportunities for ICT to support sustainability are endless; the challenge lies in identifying and implementing those that have the greatest potential to benefit Canada.

This report comes at the request of Environment Canada, which asked the Council to assemble a multidisciplinary expert panel to assess the existing or potential opportunities for ICT to contribute to a “greener” Canada. The Panel, chaired by David Miller, President and CEO of WWF-Canada, focused on a three-pillared concept of sustainability, which encompasses economic, social, and environmental benefits.

This unique, forward-looking report highlights a range of technological opportunities, applications, and practices from Canada and around the world that could help move Canada toward sustainability. It also identifies some common challenges to realizing these opportunities and explores possible solutions. The Panel’s report provides an evidence-based approach for assessing and understanding the potential of these technologies, and offers new insights about building an interconnected and sustainable future for Canada."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Utilities Are in Search of Game Changing Technology

From the Ch2M-Hill website.  Three important points - (1.) Bits and bytes play an increasingly important role for the utility sector in terms of information, better decision making, and superior customer service; (2.) Walking down the Smart Cities Path is highly multidisciplinary - concrete, communication, and connectivity; and (3.) Machine to Machine (2M) connectivity will be huge - just image all the machine-to-machine environments you have in a water treatment plant.
"Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM) recently announced that its subsidiary, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., CH2M HILL and the City of Cincinnati have been collaborating with the intent to develop sustainable connectivity solutions leveraging machine to machine (M2M) cellular technologies that will help water utilities improve water quality, receive reliable information and manage water resources in the city of Cincinnati. Providing a safe, reliable water supply is one of the critical drivers of health and economic success and according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Global water consumption has tripled in the past 50 years creating one of the most critical natural resources constraints in the world.
“Improving water infrastructure and distribution management is an important part of Qualcomm Technologies’ Smart Cities and Internet of Everything vision,” said Peggy Johnson, EVP and president of Global Market Development, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “Our technology teams have been working to solve both connectivity and communications challenges that are unique to water resource management systems by enabling solutions that are secure, reliable and support long battery life operation. Our collaboration with CH2M HILL demonstrates our commitment to utilize our robust wireless technologies to provide connectivity solutions to enable Smarter Cities.”
The City of Cincinnati awarded CH2M HILL a Water Technology Innovation project to design and implement an Integrated Water Connectivity Solution for sustainable water resource management. The solution will enable Cincinnati to collect actionable information from its water system in a timely manner to improve water quality and facilitate the management of its water resources.
“For years, Cincinnati has led the industry in innovative water technologies to manage its water supply, protect public health, and reach the city’s sustainability goals,” said Ken Thompson, CH2M HILL’s Intelligent Water Solutions deputy director. “While there are many potential solutions that can address water infrastructure challenges in the United States, introducing new technologies, such as machine-to-machine (M2M) technology in our water and environmental systems, will transform the water industry and give utilities, like Cincinnati, a powerful tool to collect, process, and analyze what is happening throughout their water systems. This technology being implemented by Cincinnati, will serve as a model for other U.S. utilities looking to invest in water resources for economic and environmental benefits.”
“Cincinnati is faced with the challenges of aging infrastructure, combined sewer overflows, and declining water usage,” said Tony Parrott, executive director of Greater Cincinnati Water & Wastewater. “We need a game changing technology to deliver the kind of exceptional service our ratepayers deserve, and we feel that by investing in machine to machine connectivity solutions we are helping to revitalize our community, create jobs, and protect public health.”"

Capital Markets: The Rise of Non-Bank Infrastructure Project Finance

Report from PWC.  The project finance syndication structure has shifted from the traditional bank-to-bank to bank-to-institutional investor.

Can Exponential Growth be Produced with Logarithmic Engineering Talent?

David Brooks has a wonderful column in the New York TimesThe Structures of Growth.  Engineering is one of the exponential professions - you have to work very hard for years at mastering the fundamentals, and you barely see any return.  But then, after 10,000 hours of effort, suddenly you develop a natural ease and your progress multiplies quickly.  You begin to internalize the structures of the field and hopefully you will begin to play creatively with the concepts.  The last thing you want in your career is a logarithmic curve - one where you make a lot of progress when you first begin engineering, but it gets harder and harder to improve. As Tyler Cowen has pointed out, the Era of Average is Over is upon us and if you are thinking in terms of logs versus exponents - the Great Reset in the global labor markets will kill you.

Graph of the Week

The view of Texans per the Texas Tribune.

Is Texas Looking in the "Right" Direction?

If you examine a recent poll published in the Texas Tribune, water supply comes in fourth as the most important problem facing Texas.  The first issue is one of those truly wicked problems which will be extremely difficult to solve - part political, cultural, social, economic - all equally ugly to deal with.  The second breaks down to a simple question - - Are the people that design fences and barriers more creative and innovative than the people attempting to get through them?  Who has the greater incentive - barrier builders or barrier busters?  You can spend a $1,000,000 a mile over very long borders into perpetuity and not be very effective or efficient when it comes to solving the problem.  The third issue is documented in the Ten Commandments - - probably the most difficult of the "wicked" problems to solve.

Which gets us to the fourth problem - water supply.  A difficult problem to solve, but not in the wicked category of the first three.  In many respects, it is far more important than the first three.  But the problem with many of the things we need to be focusing on regarding our water problems have very long lead times. You can focus too much energy, time, and money on the first three and run out of time (and money) to fix our water resource problems.

Remember the clock is ticking.

IBM and the CSO Challenge

Welcome to the Desalination Revolution

Good post on technological developments relating to desalination.  Great observation that desalination (technology is the answer), wastewater reuse (we are moving toward an "effluent society") and rainwater harvesting (greater resiliency and sustainability starts with greater decentralization) will make up the three pillars of water resources management.

I also think that one axiom will be key this century - - who uses the least amount of water wins.  Who utilizes the least amount of water between Fort Worth and Dallas per the same level of economic and livability output wins. Who uses the fewer amount of gallons of water per bottle of Pepsi or Coke wins.  Who requires the least amount of water between Ford and Toyota per the same level of manufacturing output wins.

Water will start to flow to the bottom line this century just like energy efficiency and conservation.

Monday, June 16, 2014

City Sector Model

New Geography and their City Sector Model looks at the urban versus suburbs growth issue.

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Dallas Morning News yesterday - - High-profile items boost city, but wealth gap grows:

"Compared with 22 other peer cities, Dallas was next-to-last in the rate of growth in college educated population. (Detroit was last)."

The article also pointed out the paradox of civil engineering - - the difficult balancing act of designing and constructing high-profile projects deemed necessary to attract business and new people (especially young new people) to the city while effectively engaging in asset management and just fixing the potholes.  Not an easy balancing act.

SouthGate Mobility Partners and Learning About P3s

Texas awarded another P3 project this week - an $847-million, 3.5-year design-build contract to expand and upgrade State Highway 183, also know as the Airport Freeway, Dallas.  Additional information is available at their website.

It is increasingly important for engineers to understand the mechanics of the P3 delivery system.  You don't have to be an expect (although some engineers will need to be an expert), but you need to understand the basics.  Don't assume this is solely about transportation projects.  The world of P3s will eventually be coming to the water and wastewater industry.

Spend some time and study the 183 project and the structure of SouthGate Mobility Partners.  Look into these issues and questions.  Do the research - the answers are out there.  I found them.
  • Understand the difference between project finance and corporate finance.  What is project finance?  Why does a deal like this utilize project finance?  Why do P3 infrastructure projects utilize project finance?  Understand a P3 project like this and reducing contamination risk from the context of the sponsors.
  • What are several reasons the Dallas Police Pension Fund would invest in infrastructure projects?
  • Understand the network of contracts in a deal like this.  Who are the sponsors and lenders?
  • See if you can track down the bank financing and be sure and understand syndicated loans. Who is lead manager, manager, comanager, participant, and documentation bank in this process>
  • What is a special purpose vehicle (SPV)?
  • See if you can identify the industrial sponsors, the public sponsors, and financial sponsors.
  • Who are the "independent" engineering firms involved in the project and what are their roles?
  • What is a concession agreement?
  • Who is providing money and who is providing know how?  Who has a duel role and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • What are the forms of debt capital utilized by the SPV?
  • Are project bonds being issued?
  • Can you draw the organizational chart in the context of the contract network?
  • How much public money is being utilized for this project?
  • Who are the holders of the EPCs?
  • Does the project contain an operation and maintenance agreement?
  • Is there a sales agreement?
  • What does it imply to be both a project sponsor and an O&M agent?
  • What does it imply to be both a project sponsor and a contractor?
  • Who has what responsibilities for this project?