Resource Consultants

March 6, 2013

Jeffrey Mosher, the executive director of the National Water Research Institute, says there is a significant role for consulting firms to play in water resource management that transcend engineering consulting firms to include such specialties as groundwater modeling.

“We have found it very important to deal with folks like hydrogeologists when dealing with groundwater as a resource,” says Mosher. “The reason I think you see the importance of these consulting firms is because of their expertise, whether it’s hydrogeology, water quality, or more traditional engineering design.”

The institute addresses water supply and water quality challenges facing the United States through cooperative research efforts. Its mission is to create new sources of water through research and technology and to protect the freshwater and marine environments. While the organization does not perform water resource management efforts, it has been in the position to review them, putting together expert panels to review planning documents for such factors as recycled water, water supply, or wastewater effluent management.

Mosher points to Riverside, CA, as an example of a municipality that is “trying to make sense of all of their planning documents” and have turned to outside consultants for help.

“They had separate planning documents for water supply, flood control, recycled water, and I’m sure water conservation and demand management,” says Mosher. “Some of these documents came from different departments within the city of Riverside, such as water utilities and public works. They brought in a consulting firm to develop a united plan with all of these documents.”

Riverside is an example of what is now going on throughout the rest of the US, Mosher points out.

“Where I see things are going is that we have to make sense of these different areas so that we can identify projects with multiple benefits, like a flood control and water supply,” he points out. “You can see projects that would benefit both of those.

“We need to manage stormwater runoff, but if we can manage it in a way to augment our water supply, it has multiple benefits. You can get different sources of funding for it. You might be able to get your traditional water department funding as well as water resources department funding.”

Regulatory issues are driving that, Mosher says.

“For example, MS4 permits for stormwater are looking at low-impact development and you might be able to do those things that reduce runoff that helps your Total Maximum Daily Loads efforts, and those traditionally have not been looked at together. I would think agencies would want to understand how to do that role better.”

More agencies have to do more of these different types of planning to incorporate components such as recycled water into planning, Mosher says

“It’s not just a traditional water supply or wastewater management–now you’re looking at incorporating recycled water as a water supply, whether it’s for potable or non-potable uses,” he adds.

Expect more diversified water portfolios as regions continue to try to prepare themselves for weather swings –from floods to droughts–that affect water supplies.

“Agencies won’t be relying on a single source of water,” says Mosher. “They will have multiple sources of water, whether it’s groundwater and surface water, or whether recycled water is in the mix or if they’re augmenting their water supply with stormwater capture. You’re going to see agencies doing all of this moving forward. That’s where planning–such as what Riverside, California, is doing–is critical.”

Money is another driver, says Mosher.

“When they added up all their projects from all of their different planning documents, it was more than they had in terms of money. They couldn’t afford to do it all,” he says of Riverside. “By doing more integrated planning, they hoped to identify projects that would have multiple benefits so they could solve their needs and problems with the funding that they anticipated they would have.

“We’re going to see more of that–that the problems are going to outstrip the available funding, so we have to figure out how to solve problems, create water supply, and do it all in a cost-effective way,” he adds.

When it comes to water resource management planning, Chad Davis, the president of Utility Metering Solutions, says he is “shocked” that large municipalities “really don’t know how to get this done.

“I can understand some of the smaller ones that don’t have the resources or the knowledge–but it amazes me that larger utilities with 100,000-plus customers are not on top of their game as much as they should be,” he says.

Municipalities that concur outsource engineering firms and consultants, such as Davis and his company, to help manage water resources. Utility Metering Solutions is in the business of water conservation and automatic meter reading/Advanced Metering Infrastructure work. The company is a part of the XtraLight company, a commercial lighting manufacturer.

“We go into a lot of hospitals, schools, and municipalities, and get a year’s worth of their water bills, really analyze them, and study them,” says Davis.

Most of the company’s work is engaged in a site survey to figure out the source of non-revenue water–be it a system leak, inaccurate meters, or inaccurate billing information.

The rule of thumb is half of non-revenue water can be found by replacing meters, says Davis. Many meters are dated or are the wrong type for the application, he adds.

“It shocks me that you go into a city today and they really don’t know how many water meters they have,” says Davis. “That’s like not knowing how much money you have in your bank account.”

In work done for a recent client, city officials assumed there were 21,000 active customers when in fact there were 18,000.

“A lot of times we normally find they have more than what they’re billing for,” says Davis. “A lot of these meters go active and inactive in a city’s water system. Somebody moves out, it goes inactive. When someone moves back in, they may not have activated the account, and they turn the water on and get free water forever.”

While active and inactive meters may account for some revenue loss, the wrong meter in an application is another factor. Sometimes developers may install the least expensive meter they can find to save costs on a construction site without being aware of the long-term effects of doing so, says Davis, adding that new meters pick up low flow. Utility Metering Solutions will consult with project managers to help them select a type of meter that to fit the given application in a city. To pinpoint problems in a municipal system, Utility Metering Solutions will do a sampling of a city’s meters, pulling a certain number out for lab testing.

About six months after the initial meter pull-out, Utility Metering Solutions reviews the area again to get another snapshot.

“Let’s say [non-revenue water] was 30% and we got it down to 15%,” says Davis. “At that point, we can do some leak detection work once we consider all of the meters that have been changed out.”

Many leak detection devices will adapt to most drive-by and fixed-based systems, Davis points out.

“The city has already invested in a lot in their water meters and water meter infrastructure,” he says. “With leak detection equipment on the network, it’s fairly easy to look at some sections of town where piping is 30 or 40 years old and then start doing leak detection at that time.”

The advantage of a municipality working with an outside consultant is the knowledge and experience they bring to the table, Davis says.

“A lot of the times, the local municipalities know they have a problem, they know their meters are old, but how do they convince the council or the board that they need to spend “˜X’ amount of money to do this,” he says, adding that the city may have a local engineering firm that does drawings, designs parks, and may work on water and sewer lines on its behalf, but may not have the expertise in water resource management planning.

“A lot of times, when their local engineers get involved, they don’t know what they’re looking at unless they get somebody like us to come in there and guide them down the right road,” says Davis.

Global experience, combined with a range of various skills, is what CH2MHill brings to its clients through integrated water management that considers not only drinking water, but wastewater as well. Samuel S. Jeyanayagam is a vice president and senior principal technologist for CH2MHill and the Municipal Wastewater Treatment Design Committee Chair 2010-2013 for the Water Environment Federation (WEF). He has a background in drinking water work with a current focus on wastewater treatment, particularly in nutrient removal, which he says is becoming increasingly important in the Eastern regions of the US.

Jeyanayagam serves as a Senior Process Expert with CH2MHill as part of a global team of up to 40 experts in the fields of water, wastewater, and environmental remediation. That expertise–combined with their experiences from throughout the globe–adds value to domestic projects, he points out.

“It’s not to say that you are going to directly import something that’s happening in some other country, but it is more like the lessons learned that we bring to the table, and many clients like that,” he adds. “They want to know what others are doing, not only here in the US, but how similar problems are being solved in other countries.”

Jeyanayagam points out that if he doesn’t have an answer to a client’s particular question, he can reach out within the company’s global team and involve in the project someone from the team who does possess the knowledge to solve the challenge. Essentially, all water and wastewater challenges throughout the planet are the same. The differentiating factors are regulations and how technology is applied. Human waste is no different in the US than in other countries, but how it is treated is driven by the local situation, Jeyanayagam says.

“In some places, you can treat it and discharge it to a receiving stream like here in this country in many places,” he says. “In other countries–and even here in California, Arizona, Florida, and in some of the southern states–you cannot afford to discharge the treated water into a receiving stream. You need to find a way to use it.”

As such, the gap is closing in the relationship between managing drinking water and wastewater issues.

“We have to learn to use our water more than one time,” points out Jeyanayagam. “This is called a closed loop. We have grown up getting used to the linear system where you take the water, you treat it, you drink it, and then it goes to a wastewater treatment plant, you treat it again, and then you put it into a receiving stream.

“We cannot afford to keep doing that. It is not a sustainable practice. So now, people are starting to look at using water more than one time. There are many other aspects to that, such as rainwater harvesting.”

Stormwater can cause problems when it ends up in the treatment plant, he adds.

“There are ways to capture that water, so it all becomes what is quickly evolving into what is called integrated water management,” says Jeyanayagam. “You don’t think of wastewater separately or differently than drinking water. It’s all water. There is only one water cycle. That thought process is happening slowly, but that is going to be very important for us to realize that and manage the water in a judicious way.”

Integrated water management already is happening in some parts of the world. Case in point: Singapore. Jeyanayagam calls it a “model city” of the future.

“They are capturing every drop of water. They are using every drop of water. They are reusing every drop of water,” he says. “There is an operating model on a full scale that is already happening, and there is no excuse why it shouldn’t happen in other places.”

Technology isn’t the hurdle, Jeyanayagam contends.

“The technology is already there,” he points out. “We can actually produce drinking water from our wastewater–in fact, better than drinking water that is normally available in several places. Singapore is treating wastewater to a drinking water standard.”

There are three factors that impede or lead to progress, says Jeyanayagam.

“One has to do with the professional–the engineers and people like that and their ability to bring about creative solutions to their clients,” he says.

“Secondly, there is the utility or the municipality and their philosophy and what they see as important. Some of them are very forward-thinking and are willing to try new things, to look for the 21st century solutions. Others are simply focused on doing what needs to be done on a daily basis, which is meeting permits and other regulatory limits.”

A third component is driven by regulatory and the government factors. In Singapore, policies came from the top-down in the government, with regulatory agencies setting goals and a time frame in which to meet them.

“Municipalities react to regulations,” points out Jeyanayagam. “Our whole profession reacts to regulations. The paradigm shift in how we use our water and resources is to a big degree is driven by regulations and policies that the government has implemented.”

Entities with smaller budgets can still find consultants to offer the integrated approach. Such is the case with BlueGreen Synergy, a group of green industry professionals who provide sustainable results for alternative water sourcing and reuse and with an emphasis on landscape preservation. The company emphasizes integrated water management through green infrastructure and low-impact development methods. Services include site analysis, auditing, regulatory compliance, consulting, design, and implementation management. The company stays with a project throughout its life cycle, including prescriptive maintenance, specifications, performance monitoring, education, and outreach.

“We like to re-educate the facility manager or property manager and/or their landscape manager on how to maintain these landscapes in a whole new different way,” says Cynthia Cook, company principal. “There needs to be a huge cultural shift in the way we maintain landscapes because that’s been a large part of the problem.”

Alternative practices promoted by BlueGreen Synergy include green roofs, rain capture management, condensate collection and reuse, greywater reuse, biofiltration, bioretention, constructed wetlands, permeable paving, and native and adaptive plant materials. It’s key to learn how to maintain all of those approaches to ensure they perform as they should over the life cycle of the project, Cook says. The company is based in Texas with an eye to the hardest-hit drought areas of California, the Southwest, and Georgia, representing many regions of the US where water resource management is a high priority.

Cook notes the East Coast is increasingly embracing green infrastructure, in large part due to the amount of rainfall the region has received.

“On the Northeast Coast, Portland [Oregon] even mandates it,” she says. “I’m trying to attack areas of the country that had a little bit lower rainfall, but you still you need at least 20 inches of rain per year to do this type of application. These areas have also had a lot of drought issues as well, so capturing rainwater and other alternate sources of water is very important for reuse.”

The company works primarily with university and college campuses and corporate campuses.

Cook concedes it’s easier to set up green infrastructure strategies for water resource management on properties under design and construction than to do retrofits.

“There are so many existing sites that are literally sending water down the drain and need to be retrofitted, but it’s not simple to do that because you have boundaries and other properties,” she points out. “Not every site is able to do just any type of retrofitting.

“There are going to be some sites where we may be able to do a constructed wetland if there’s enough surface area. We may only be able to do rainwater capture on another site. We may be able to do two or three different things.”

Cook says companies such as hers fills a need in helping clients meet rapidly changing regulations–especially entities where the staff does not have the know-how to comply.

“Keeping up with that alone is not something they’re going to have a full staff to do so,” she says. “We help with that, as well, and are able to do the research for their specific community on the regulations, what they are doing wrong, and what they need to do to comply.”

One such project that BlueGreen Synergy has begun work on is at a small college on a large campus situated near as major river water basin in Texas.

“All of the runoff from that campus goes directly into a creek and directly feeds into a river,” she says. “The local city has implemented new regulatory compliance on green infrastructure, so they have to navigate through that and they don’t have the staff to do that.”

Cook says her company represents a newly emerging field of water resource management consultants that draw from a spectrum of skills because of the volumes of water and the calculations that are involved.

“Right now you need the expertise of landscape architects, civil engineers, and, often, environmental planners to be able to do these projects,” she says. “I pull a team together; it’s not just one of us being able to do it. We all offer our expertise, and it’s a very integrated approach.”

Cook has worked with landscape design firms in the past and grew frustrated with the process.

“Oftentimes, they’ll be through the construction management phase, but a year later, the landscapes have been handed over to a landscape maintenance company that, quite frankly, doesn’t know how to properly maintain and doesn’t follow the specifications that were provided in an original construction document,” she says.

“That’s the nature of the landscape business,” she adds. “Because the designers aren’t there and haven’t been out to that side of the business, so they’re not aware of what happens. The best designs oftentimes fail over a couple of years because they were not maintained properly.”

Mitigating that necessitates educating property owners “about the fact that it is a living, breathing landscape and it needs to be maintained, but doesn’t need to be over-maintained either,” says Cook.

She contends that maintenance costs are excessive because of outdated maintenance practices.

“There are a lot of fertilizations and products being put down that actually aren’t necessary and are detrimental to the landscape and certainly detrimental to the water supply, so there needs to be a change in that,” she says. “The designers walk away and go on to the next design and the next design, and nobody’s there for the rest of the project. That’s what needs to change.”

BlueGreen Synergy focuses on writing prescriptive, detailed maintenance specifications that need to be monitored and updated annually “because landscapes change and we want to work with the owners and the landscape contractors on an annual basis, making sure they are maintaining the landscapes and the landscapes are performing,” says Cook. “What we’re trying to do is get landscapes that perform instead of being a burden.”

In Long Beach, CA, consultants are used for two reasons: the need for expertise and constraints in time and resources, says Matthew Veeh, director of government and public affairs.

“In some cases, we require special expertise on a specific topic or project, but which we don’t use often enough to justify having a full time position,” he says. “Instead, we will use a consultant.”

Because the Long Beach staff is “lean and efficient”, staffers are often tied up with many projects, says Veeh.

“Because of this temporary shortage of resources, we can call on our consultants and contractors to provide additional support,” he says.

Marsi Steirer, deputy director of the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, says the city has enlisted outside help in dealing with the Urban Water Management Plans that are required to
be prepared and submitted to the California Department of Water Resources every
five years.

“It lays out what you’re doing with regard to optimizing your water resources strategy, and also provides demand management figures,” says Steirer.

When San Diego prepared its 2010 submittal, the city hired a consultant to help ease the workload challenge associated with it.

A consultant also was hired for the city’s long-range water resources plan.

“There are stakeholders involved, and with the appendices and the written portion of it, it’s probably close to 600 pages due to the technical nature of it,” says Steirer. “There’s a model that was run for cost as well as the demand management portion. We don’t have the staff capacity to undertake something like that.”

San Diego not only relies on consultants to assist with easing workloads, but also for their technical expertise and experience in doing related work for other jurisdictions.

Leila R. Goodwin, P.E., water resources manager for Cary, NC, says the town’s water resource management program focuses on planning and regulatory issues related to raw water supply, water and wastewater treatment, reclaimed water supply, water conservation, and regional utility projects/partnerships. Other divisions and departments within the town focus on operations and facility design and construction. Outside consultants will be pulled in when the town needs more resources or expertise than the current staff can provide and when it is a defined project that doesn’t require permanent additional staff, says Goodwin.

Case in point: a two-year effort of the town’s long range water resources plan and for specific tasks that are too large or specialized for the town’s staff to accomplish, such as the preparation of its reclaimed water permit renewal application. Outside helps brings national expertise, as well as access to a broad variety of expertise and resources to accomplish what is needed with the desired schedule, notes Goodwin.

George Kunkel, the water efficiency program manager for the Philadelphia Water Department, points out that although Philadelphia is in an area that is not starved of water resources unlike places in the West or South, it does have other water concerns.

“We’re not facing a shortage of water resources now or into the future,” he says. “We’re not really pushed per se to look at water conservation, water reuse, desalination, other options that resource-short areas are considering.”

Rather, the city has two other main areas of focus.

“One is the stormwater side of things, and we’ve been very progressive in laying out a long-term plan, which includes a lot of green infrastructure,” he says.

On the drinking water side, the city is keying in on infrastructure and the water efficiency around the water supply process.

“That really comes down to water loss control,” he says. “We’re not dealing directly with the customer side in trying to reduce water consumption, but we’re trying to become more efficient on how we supply the water, minimize leakage, and make sure we’re metering and billing to optimal level.

In both of those areas, Philadelphia utilizes consultants.

“There’s a notable difference in that what we call our long-term control plan–which has been developed on the stormwater and the environmental side–to the very large initiative,” says Kunkel. “We basically took a position that we feel green infrastructure is a more effective and cost-efficient way to go as opposed to more traditional grey infrastructure, such as large tanks and big underground infrastructure.”

Kunkel says Philadelphia’s program has grown over the past 12 years by adding staff in-house as well as using consulting services.

“There’s a difference of scale, so here within our department, those two programs operate a bit differently,” he notes.

On the drinking water side where water loss is the focus of water efficiency, the efforts are focused more in-house with the assistance of small specialty consulting firm. For the green infrastructure initiatives, Philadelphia utilizes multiple consultants, with the lead being CDM Smith.

“The real difference or the motivation behind it is there are regulatory drivers behind the long-term control program; whereas, on water loss, you really don’t have regulatory drivers in effect so much,” says Kunkel.

He believes the increase in the need for consulting services are influenced by the regulatory environment as new regulatory structures are devised and put into place, and then utilities have to move forward to meet new regulatory requirements.

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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