The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

WWCC Water & Environmental Center: A Place for Collaboration

August 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Water

By Dave Stockdale, Director of the Water & Environmental Center at Walla Walla Community College

Faced with the challenges of managing limited water resources, recovering runs of Endangered Species Act listed fish species, and restoring the watershed after a devastating 1996 flood, key natural resource partners in the Walla Walla Basin united to establish the William A. Grant Water & Environmental Center (WEC) at Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) in 2007. Conceived as a nexus for the region’s interests, talent, and resources, and originally consisting of only conference facilities and office spaces, a major expansion in 2011 added research and teaching laboratories, classrooms, and additional office space.

Today the WEC is a facility where education, collaboration and partnership play a key role in addressing issues essential to the sustainability of southeastern Washington’s water-dependent agriculture, salmon runs, and overall economy. The WEC combines research and development that has led to innovative new ideas while also providing hands-on education to train new workers and public outreach to inspire broader stewardship. In support of this vision, the mission of the WEC is “to serve as a place where people with diverse interests and values can learn, share knowledge and work together to create a healthy and sustainable natural environment and thriving local economies.”

The WEC is home to WWCC’s Water Technologies & Management (WTM) Degree Programs, which includes two year degrees in Watershed Management and Irrigation Management, a two year degree in Water Resources Management that leads directly into WWCC’s new Bachelor of Applied Science in Sustainable Agriculture Systems degree, and two year transfer degrees to Washington State University in Wildlife Ecology & Conservation science, Forestry, Environmental & Ecosystem Sciences, and Earth Science.

The WEC offers a number of K-12 programs and teacher resources, including an annual two-day environmental education event for area 5th grade students called Make a Splash!  WEC staff also conducts a number of community events, such as the annual Return to the River festival which celebrates the return of salmon to the Walla Walla Basin with educational exhibits and hands-on activities.

Central to the inception and operation of the WEC is also the concept of collaboration. In addition to the WWCC programs and activities, the WEC is also home to five co-located partners: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Sustainable Living Center, UNIBEST International, Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership, and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

  • The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) fisheries staff field office has operated at the WEC since its establishment, and is actively engaged in multiple habitat enhancement projects in the Walla Walla and Tucannon basins and long term monitoring along the Walla Walla River.  They also operate a state of the art wetlab where they are studying the biology and ecology of Pacific lamprey and freshwater mussels.
  • The Sustainable Living Center (SLC) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve resources for the future by encouraging and facilitating sustainable living practices.  They manage four distinct activities: the Community Energy Efficiency Program, the Builders Resupply Store, the $mart Business Partners Program, and a wide variety of practical Community Workshops addressing sustainability topics.
  • UNIBEST International (UNIBEST) is a private technology development and professional services company that provides farmers, agribusiness, terrestrial environmental managers, and home garden consumers with monitoring products and data. These monitoring systems are founded upon advanced ion-exchange resin technologies that adsorb nutrients only in forms available for plant uptake in the time they are growing.  They recently adapted their technology for in stream water quality monitoring.
  • In 2009 the Washington State Legislature approved a ten year pilot local water management program called the Walla Walla Watershed Management Partnership (WWWMP). The WWWMP is governed by a volunteer board and has been located at the WEC since its authorization. This program operates under the belief that the key to augmenting stream flows for fish is for water users to employ greater local control and flexibility beyond what conventional water management options and regulations can deliver.   Their programs include water banking, well mitigation exchanges, and local water plans.
  • The mission of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s (DOE) Water Resources Program is to meet current water needs and ensure future water availability for people, fish and the natural environment.  The Eastern Regional Office, based 150 miles away in Spokane, includes a Walla Walla Basin District Field Office within the WEC for the Watermaster who divides, regulates, and controls the use of water within the district.

In 2014 the WEC commissioned an Economic & Environmental Impact Study to quantify the economic, environmental, and social impacts collectively generated through the WEC collaborative model since its establishment. The impacts of the WEC collaborative model were calculated primarily by using economic modeling tools and applying ecosystems service models to the environmental impacts of co-locator projects.

The total estimated economic contribution of the WEC from 2007-2014 was nearly $89M while the cumulative expenditures during that time were just under $28M.  These totals were estimates, and were likely underestimated as they did not include valuations for contributions and services for which there was incomplete data or insufficient modeling systems at that time.  In aggregate, the study determined that the WEC and its co-located partners are realizing a $3 return in economic and environmental impacts for every $1 invested.  The results of the economic and environmental impact study (the full study can be found at www.watereducationcenter.org) show that the collaborative model of the WEC is generating a significant return on investment.

Thus, the vision of the WEC to be a place where public institutions, nonprofit organizations, and business communities use collaborative dialogue to address pressing issues and build pathways for problem solving through partnerships is not only qualitatively being achieved, but is also a quantitative success.

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Looking For An Edge in Your Next Grant Application? Think Like Your Grantor

July 31st, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

By Larry Mattson, Executive Director
Yakima Valley Council of Governments

With the support of CSI and the US Economic Development Administration (EDA), the City of Granger, WA recently underwent a ‘fiscal infrastructure x-ray’ with consultant Steve Gorcester. Mr. Gorcester, former director of the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), provided Granger mayor Jose Trevino and Public Works Director Jodie Luke with detailed guidance on improving their grant competitiveness. Alan Rainey with Spinks Engineering joined the meeting as Granger’s engineer of record.

Granger City officials with consultant Steve Gorcester (left)

When packaging grant applications, do your best to think like the grantor. Understanding the business needs of grant programs like TIB will give you a competitive advantage. For small cities, TIB wants to see good street surface conditions over the long term, on top of utilities that are in good condition. TIB wants to see blue and green pavement condition ratings all over your town. The TIB posts color street condition maps of all small cities on the TIB Performance Dashboard at www.tib.wa.gov/dashboard.

Check lists of prior awards on grant websites. These lists give you important clues into the funding focus of each program. Note what types of projects are funded and the dollar value of the awards. Then look at your project and consider how close you are to that ‘sweet spot.’ Demonstrate you are minimizing costs and don’t have a bloated project. The funding program wants to pick winners that will reach construction and be successfully built.

As you prepare your grant submittal, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Why should the grantor ‘buy’ my project? That’s right; think of your city as the producer of a product that grantor is purchasing. The TIB wants to know how you’ve optimized the project and made it as efficient as possible? Know your underground utility condition. Ideally, you want your TIB engineer to be able to report that, “The timing is perfect on this project. The condition, continuity, and cost all line up to make this a project worth buying.”
  • Are you optimizing material costs? What TIB is looking for here is high production efficiencies. Unfortunately, this is where small cities are in a pickle; the norm is to haul small quantities of asphalt long distances at high costs per ton. Does your financial plan (see below) clearly demonstrate that you’ve price-optimized your materials (base course, asphalt)? Have you lined up your project with county or state pavers and chip seals to optimize your material costs?
    Find out when WSDOT engineers are planning to pave nearby. TIB has a task-order agreement with WSDOT’s maintenance program. Many county road departments will seal coat town streets under a TIB direct reimbursement program. Looking for paving opportunities tells TIB staff, “this is how we’re making the project efficient, and a smart purchase.” If you know of other paving projects nearby, in any quantity, apply to TIB. That proximity to other projects demonstrates you’ve optimized your raw material costs.
  • If a grant will buy it, don’t do (fund) it yourself. The ‘color of money’ matters. Overcome the natural tendency to see all funding sources as the same. Funds from your MPO/RTPO (Metro Planning Org./Regional Transpo. Planning Org.) may have federal strings attached. It is great money to get but use it strategically. The more of your products (projects) that grants buy, the more you can use flexible general fund revenues to pursue quality of life projects or other priority needs.
  • What’s your financial plan? The grantor wants to know you have a plan to attain full funding. Partially-funded projects can’t proceed to construction. If you’re going to meet with TIB staff, lead with a written financial plan that shows the project is set up for success.
    • Create a balance sheet showing costs and where you plan to get the money. Yes, you will need to coordinate with other funding agencies, and yes, your financial plan may get complex. Those funders will appreciate the due diligence you’ve demonstrated through your solid financial plan.
    • Different funding streams and requirements are part of the project development tension we all have to live with. Embrace the uncertainty! Try to line up funding to arrive in the same year and give all funders as much of the big picture as you can.
  • Great infrastructure promotes economic success. The charters of most grant programs have your economic success in mind. Dilapidated infrastructure sends a negative economic signal.    There are many reasons why your downtown may not be thriving. Don’t let poor street condition be one of them. TIB and other grant programs want your town to have a business-ready Main Street. Know the condition of underground utilities and get help with repairs. Nobody wants expensive pavement to be put down over failing pipes. Ultimately, the TIB program succeeds in street surfaces are in good condition, sidewalks are in good condition with ADA accessibility from Main Street to your traffic generators. Projects will obtain more grant money if they can be efficiently produced with respect for the environment.
  • Complete Streets funding has maximum flexibility; tap into it. Work with your MPO/RTPO to adopt a Complete Streets ordinance if you haven’t already. Keep working with your MPO/RTPO to demonstrate sincere adoption of the Complete Streets philosophy. This includes demonstrating how you’ve implemented the policy. For example, answering the question in words and pictures, “How has the adoption of a CS ordinance improved mobility downtown?” To what extent are you as a city taking steps to implement CS principles in your land use and transportation planning? Beyond planning, what do your principles look like ‘on the ground?’ Do you have an ADA transition plan, bike plan, sidewalk plan? When you are nominated and win the Complete Streets award, you get to decide what projects to spend it on. Most anything related to walking, bicycling, access to transit or streetscape aesthetics can be proposed to TIB.

The staff of YVCOG is grateful to Rhys Roth and the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure for making Mr. Gorcester available.

Downtown Granger, WA

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Calming Chicken Little: An EV Grid Tale Without the Scary Ending

July 26th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy

By Jim Lazar, Senior Advisor at Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP)
Originally published by the RAP Blog

When kids hear the fairy tale Chicken Little, they learn that a confused little bird is hit on the head with an acorn and concludes the sky is falling. It then manages to convince a handful of other animals of this, and they do a whole lot of running around for absolutely no good reason before a wily fox takes advantage of their confusion and eats them. It is a good story for us to remember because, from time to time, people do the same thing: They cause a lot of unnecessary confusion and try to convince us that the sky is falling.

In the case of the accelerating trend of electric vehicle (EV) adoption, the acorn is EV-driven load growth and the falling sky is unlikely charging scenarios that, their proponents claim, pose dangers to the reliability of the power grid. Blogging about a recent paper available from GTM Research/Wood MacKenzie, authors from the Institute for Energy Research (IER) warned that simultaneous charging of just 60,000 electric vehicles could threaten the Texas grid: “Based on a 100-kilowatt EV battery with a five-minute charge time, which could potentially be the standard for EVs in three or four years according to Wood Mackenzie, demand from 60,000 cars charging at once would equate to 70 gigawatts; this is equal to the current peak demand of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).”

The first problem with this Chicken Little scenario: The report assumes 60,000 vehicles simultaneously charging on ultra-high-capacity chargers designed to provide 300 miles of range in a five-minute charging session. This would require a charger with 1.1 MW of capacity. This type of charger does not yet exist, nor are there EV industry plans to install them in the near future.

The second problem: The EV industry and utilities are aware of the capacity demands of high-capacity fast-chargers. But these are likely to be needed only in modest numbers along major highways, to enable long-distance travel by EV. They are not expected to account for a significant percentage of total EV charging.

The more likely scenario will be the use of Level 2 chargers overnight, at home, or at work during the day (6.6 kWs, not 1,100 kWs as IER claims). Even if this were to happen all at once, which is IER’s assumption, that would create 396 MWs of demand, amounting to 0.57 percent of ERCOT’s load—an acorn. The average commuter drives about 40 miles per day; this would require 10 kWh per day of charging, or about two hours per day on a standard Level 2 charger. If they only need to be plugged in eight percent of the time, it’s highly unlikely they would all be charging at once.

Consider California, for example, which has over 350,000 EVs—nearly half the U.S. market. There is ample evidence in the California Public Utilities Commission’s Annual Joint IOU EV Load Research Reports that California EVs are not crashing the grid. Appropriate rate design (time-of-use rates) is an effective tool for managing that load.

Furthermore, Synapse Energy Economics reports that the grid upgrades attributable to EV load are negligible across the service territories of California’s three investor-owned utilities: 0.19 percent of EVs required upgrades resulting in about .01 percent of the utilities’ expenditures in 2016—another acorn, maybe two.

What About the Energy We Throw Away? An Opportunity from Curtailment

As illustrated by the figure below, increased amounts of renewable energy are being produced across the country. For example, Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa lead the nation in installed utility-scale wind capacity. However, wind energy is regularly curtailed (discarded) due to lack of corresponding load to absorb it. Now here is an opportunity.

In 2016, ERCOT curtailed 846.3 GWh of wind energy, or about 1.6 percent of its total potential wind generation. In that same year, Midcontinent Independent System Operator MISO curtailed 2,099 GWh of wind power, or about 4.3 percent of its total wind energy potential. Across all seven regions shown in the graph, total wind energy curtailment was 3,953 GWh, over 2.0 percent of potential. Wind is not the only renewable affected. California Independent System Operator CAISO, for example, curtailed 234.693 GWh of solar energy in 2016.

By controlling electric vehicle charging into the hours when wind energy is plentiful in Texas, we could charge about a half-million electric vehicles with wind energy now being wasted. That doesn’t happen today due to limited EV demand in the overnight hours; but it could, and it would exchange the polluting use of petroleum for negative- or zero-cost, carbon-free wind energy from existing turbines. Imagine the future owners of those half-million EVs, given the incentive of well-designed rates, plugging into time-controlled home chargers at night to power their cars with the wind that system operators otherwise wouldn’t be able to use. At 6 cents per kWh, about half the current day-time rate, they would be buying fuel at the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon of gasoline—and helping pay for the wind power and distribution system as well.

Our acorns have suddenly sprouted into a solution.

Tell Chicken Little: The sky is calling, not falling.

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New National Guide on Increasing Green Infrastructure to Improve Public Health

July 24th, 2018 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Bobby Cochran, Director at Willamette Partnership
Originally published on the Willamette Partnership Blog

Earlier this month Willamette Partnership and Oregon Public Health Institute released the “Green Infrastructure and Health Guide.” The guide was built for the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange to help local government, communities, and health care organizations connect green infrastructure and public health in new ways.

Water utilities dealing with drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater have public health in their missions. In the mid-19th century, public sanitation improvements increased life expectancy from 35 to 80 years by bringing clean water to people’s homes and reducing communicable disease, such as cholera. Now, chronic conditions (such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes, and depression) are the most prevalent health issues in the United States, Canada, and other nations, and preventing them is the public health challenge of our time. Green infrastructure can be part of the solution, but improving public health is hard work. It means being intentional about engaging community, locating sites for green infrastructure, and selecting designs that improve physical activity, mental health, social cohesion, air quality, and other health factors.

The new guide includes information such as:

  • a summary of evidence linking time in green spaces to improved health;
  • a primer on key terms used in health care and green infrastructure;
  • a method to identify community health needs relative to green infrastructure;
  • community engagement as a health intervention;
  • green infrastructure siting and design guidelines; and
  • evaluation steps.

The guide is already helping Seattle Public Utilities look at how green infrastructure designed for public health improvements can be incorporated into new, $20 million drainage investments.  Brent Robinson, one of Seattle Public Utilities’ capital projects engineers, had this to say about the guide:

“I have struggled to get behind GSI [Green Stormwater Infrastructure]. From my vantage point, I haven’t seen much data, and I’ve ended up questioning GSI’s role as a core utility function. However, this document makes a really compelling, data-based argument for GSI, which resonates with me. If one can accept the argument that at the core of what Seattle Public Utilities does is protect the health of the public, then the case for GSI (which can mean many green-related approaches) becomes simple to make. Public health is a larger umbrella than flow control and water quality constituents. Green space, tree cover, nature, air quality, etc., are all part of the mix of things that lead to successful public health outcomes. In this regard, GSI does very much have a role in our core work since we serve to protect the health of the public.”

Join Willamette Partnership and Oregon Public Health on July 27, 2018, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. PST for a free webinar hosted by the Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange to dive more into the “Green Infrastructure and Health Guide” and how cities can use green infrastructure to improve health.

Ready right now to take action? Download the guide at here, or contact either Willamette Partnership (info@willamettepartnership.org) or Oregon Public Health Institute (emilyhenke.llc@gmail.com) to see how our technical assistance might help you build partnerships between green infrastructure, community, and health care.

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CSI Helps Stevenson Discover Innovative Solution to Wastewater Dilemma

July 5th, 2018 · No Comments · Waste, Water

By Leana Johnson, City of Stevenson
& Kari Fagerness, Skamania EDC

The City of Stevenson, WA and The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) recently organized a Value Planning workshop to explore alternative strategies for solving a major wastewater challenge facing the community. In order to stop violating its discharge permit, this city of less than 2,000 was facing a cost of over $12 million for treatment plant upgrades. So they asked for our help to identify a portfolio of smaller-scale targeted solutions that could achieve the needed regulatory results for the same or lower cost, while adding substantially more value to the community.

In February of 2016 the City of Stevenson began the process of updating its General Sewer Plan and Wastewater Facilities Plan.  This update was triggered by an increase in organic waste —Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS). This eventually led to an Administrative Order being issued in June of 2017 by the Department of Ecology with one major message: Increase the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).  The price tag for this increased capacity is estimated at $14M.   The financial burden we are faced with is crushing for our community of 1,560, with only 436 sewer connections and 25% of our residents at or below the poverty line.

The City created the Stevenson Waste Water Clarifiers Committee to engage the community stakeholders in the process and to rebuild the trust that was lost through the plan update process.  The Committee members are a combination of business representatives, high BOD strength dischargers, councilmembers, members of the community, the Port of Skamania and the Skamania County Economic Development Council (EDC).  It is the city’s partnership with the EDC that led to the connection with the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and ultimately the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) for help on exploring alternative solutions.

The EDC was introduced to CSI and their efforts through a connection made with an EDA representative at a Washington State conference.  The EDA representative indicated that they provided CSI a grant to assist communities with their infrastructure challenges.  After a meeting between the  CSI, Port of Skamania, EDC, and the City, the consensus was to leverage the Department of Ecology grant opportunity for a value planning design charrette for the Stevenson wastewater system upgrades.  Our hope was that this process would result in the following outcomes:

  • Bring the City, residents, local industries and businesses together.
  • Build buy-in, inclusion and consensus on a way forward.
  • Right-size the solution and look at the system holistically rather than within the WWTP boundaries.
  • Ensure long-term permit compliance for the WWTP.
  • Fiscally sustainable solutions for the community.

Planning for the workshop began almost immediately and included gathering together a group of participants that would represent the many stakeholders involved.  The list of participants invited included the Waste Water Clarifiers Committee (which included all of the presumed significant industrial users within the current WWTP system), members of the Department of Ecology, representatives from the contracted plant operators, community members, and the EDA.  One goal was to get a diverse group of people to look at the challenge from many different angles.  Another goal of the value planning exercise was to build trust between the city and community.

Prior to the value planning workshop the various community stakeholders and the CSI team toured the treatment plant as well as several other businesses that contribute significant loads based on their commercial and industrial uses. The tours were followed by a social hour at Skamania Lodge which gave everyone an opportunity to meet the team.

The workshop began with an overview of the goals and objectives along with a discussion about value planning and setting expectations for the participants. The rest of the morning was spent “Priming the Pump” through the creation of an Idea box that housed multiple brainstorming lists that included 1) Resources Inside/Outside, 2) New Building Blocks, 3) Constraints (real or perceived), and 4) Levers for Change. The group was able to identify some key themes and develop propelling questions that ultimately lead to creating success criteria for the project.  During lunch, the CSI team, aided by the EDC and City staff, was able to group the entire list of propelling questions into 5 main categories and the afternoon was dedicated to creating a thoughtful collection of potential solutions. This culminated in a series of really interesting pitch presentations by each group outlining the possible solutions that met the success criteria.

Ultimately, this value planning workshop received a wildly positive response from everyone involved for many reasons, but the main ones were: 1) it allowed the city and the community to work together to find possible solutions, 2) it created a real sense of empowerment within the community about the project, and 3) it generated real, practical solutions for the community and city to move forward with. Read the full value planning report!

Click to enlarge this Stevenson Value Planning summary poster.

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CSI Maps Wind and Solar Potentials Across Washington State

June 18th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Energy

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure recently hired a Graduate Research Assistant to investigate the potential for renewable energy generation throughout Washington State. Read on to learn more about the findings and how they will inform our upcoming Infrastructure Excellence & Jobs Strategy for Washington.

By Tyson West, Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

Renewables are a fast-growing segment of the energy market with ever increasing support from citizens. Wind and solar power are at the forefront of the green energy transition across the world as well as in the US. Communities throughout Washington are now investing major resources to support this transition off fossil fuels, and fortunately the state is already ahead of the curve since it generates a substantial amount of power from hydroelectric dams.

Evergreen’s Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) has initiated conversations with legislators from twelve districts representing different parts of the state to explore bipartisan ideas that will support infrastructure improvements while generating new jobs. One idea is to help finance local investments in utility-scale clean energy projects.

As part of this effort, CSI has mapped the solar and wind potential of the 12 districts to provide examples of communities where these technologies will be particularly impactful. The goal is to “help local communities tap local resources to build local prosperity.” Identifying regions with the best solar and wind resources may encourage stakeholders to take advantage of untapped resources that will generate local jobs and allow them to become more self sufficient as opposed to outsourcing their energy production like most communities do.

For an area to have utility scale wind power, a number of factors are considered but the most important one is the daily average wind speed in a given area. 11 miles per hour (5 meters per second) is the industry standard for economically viable wind farms. Solar energy similarly has multiple factors that go into figuring out a site’s potential, but the most crucial factor is the average daily sunlight. For solar farms to be economically viable, the industry standard is 3.5 kilowatt hours per square meter.

Many regions within the 12 districts we’ve initially explored have the potential wind and solar resources needed to build economically viable energy facilities, especially on the eastern side of the Cascades where there are sunnier and windier conditions.

WA solar energy potentials, >3.5 kWh/sq.m/day = viable. Click to enlarge.

WA wind energy potentials, >5 m/s at 80-meter height = viable. Click to enlarge.

As it stands now, wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, with wind power currently being the cheapest form of energy in the US, beating even fossil fuels. The levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which takes into account the production, maintenance, subsidies, and many other factors, is continually falling for both wind and solar. This is only making these technologies more profitable to implement, with upfront costs being the largest barrier to entry.

Washington State has a lot of potential to reinvest in its energy sector since there are so few solar projects and only a modest amount of wind farms in use currently. The state already produces much of its electricity from clean energy, but divesting from fossil fuels into wind and solar would put the state on track to become one of the first states to produce nearly all of its own power from clean energy sources, while saving tax payers money in the process.

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Aging Water Infrastructure and Public Health

June 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Water

By Emily Walsh — Community Outreach Director, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Maintaining the quality of our water supplies has always been a pressing issue. From the start of the industrial age, filtering out pollutants and testing drinking water has become a necessary step when supplying water to communities. However, contamination as a result of aging water infrastructure can bring toxins into our homes through our sinks and faucets. The concern generated from this contamination affirms that we often take the safety of our drinking water for granted.

With 19th century urbanization came water pollution and an overall sanitation crisis, including the spread of diseases like dysentery and cholera. Eventually, civilizations deduced that wastewater and drinking water must be kept separate. The introduction of indoor plumbing and running water dates back to the late 1800s, which included the installation of distribution piping and disinfecting supplies with chlorine. Today’s modern water system saw its emergence in the 1910s in major cities like Chicago and New York, but it wasn’t until the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 that wastewater began being treated.

Water systems have been handled on a repair, rather than replacement, basis in the United States since their initial implementation. Millions of miles of underground pipes stretch across the country, with many now reaching or exceeding their useful lifetimes. It is estimated that there are an average of 240,000 water main breaks annually throughout the U.S, leaking more than 2 trillion gallons of drinking water. This breakage is not only a waste of usable water, but creates the potential for hazardous water contamination.

Toxins in Water

The danger of aging infrastructure lies in the makeup of the pipes. Many water distribution systems were constructed when materials like lead, copper, and asbestos were king, before their harmful effects were made known. As the pipes corrode and decay, potentially high levels of these toxins enter into water supplies. Consuming tainted drinking water, depending on the type of contaminants present, may result in conditions ranging from rashes and digestive system issues to cancer. For instance, asbestos-cement pipes make up an estimated 15% of the United State’s water distribution systems. An increase of carcinogenic asbestos fibers released into drinking water may lead to serious conditions like mesothelioma cancer.

Under the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation, water providers are required to notify customers within 30 days of discovering water contamination. Leaking water from toxic pipe systems brings these substances into the natural water cycle. Additionally, hazardous waste from landfills or the nearby environment can leach chemicals into natural water sources like lakes and rivers. This not only harms the ecosystem, but also affects our drinking supply.

Failing infrastructure is especially concerning for lower income communities that may be unable to fund needed utility maintenance. In many cases, the use of materials like asbestos and lead have been banned or restricted for decades, but this fails to account for preexisting municipal pipes that have been an integral part of water systems for even longer. The lack of action to address drinking water contamination can be attributed to insufficient funding and a shortage of data about the full health risks.

The Importance of Funding

Legislation like the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) monitor the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water supplies. The majority of utility maintenance spending comes from state and local governments, while the federal government contributes on average less than one percent. This has caused water investments to fall behind. As portions of these underground water pipelines reach upwards of 75-120 years old, it is becoming increasingly important to address the issue before infrastructure failure becomes even more of a widespread issue.

According to the American Water Works Association, at least $1 trillion will be needed to fund the restoration of water pipes over the next 25 years, not including the cost of replacing infrastructure or servicing treatment plants. Although the price of water has been increasing, its revenues do not meet the amount of spending needed for infrastructure maintenance. Additionally, water usage has been decreasing since 2000, making it harder for cash-strapped water utilities to receive adequate funding.

In order to work toward a sustainable solution, the U.S. will likely need to reform its policies to ensure quality water is available and accessible to everyone. It may take sizable investments to get there, but continuing to repair unsafe systems will ultimately come at a cost to public health. Innovation will likely be the key to upgrading and protecting our water systems, keeping our water clean for the foreseeable future.

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Developing Sustainable Strategies through Entropy-Based Resource Management

May 11th, 2018 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

During the development of their mid 1990’s watershed plans, Clark County was challenged by the environmental community to move beyond the construction of highly-engineered detention ponds in favor of developing “holistic, watershed-based solutions that mimic natural systems”.  This article outlines how the county met this challenge, and invigorated its Stormwater Capital Improvement Program, through the use of “Entropy-based Resource Management”, an Organizing Principle for the development of sustainability strategies.   The article briefly introduces this concept, and asks the reader to consider for a moment how this organizing principle might be applicable in your own particular field of study to help advance the cause of sustainability.  

By John Milne, Design Engineer with Clark County Public Works

“Mr. Malthus – meet Mr. Smuts”

An essay concerning sustainability and the restoration of natural systems. 

The popular modern concept of sustainability appears closely linked with Thomas Malthus’s old observation that population is limited by its means of subsistence.   To sustain ourselves as best we can, to maximize the population that any particular portion of the earth can hold, it is necessary that we manage our natural resources as efficiently as possible.  The question to ask is “how best can this be accomplished?”

An answer may be found in the concept of “holism” put forward by Jan Smuts.  Smuts recognized that natural systems appear to operate under conditions where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  This implies the possibility of achieving a degree of management efficiency that cannot be realized if we focus our attention on any one single resource, as our individual agencies and organizations so often tend to do.  Perhaps not even by a collection of resource managers working diligently and efficiently on their particular resource of interest and then pooling those outcomes.

On the left, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). On the right, Jan Smuts (1870-1950)

Working holistically on all resources at the same time is needed.  In matters related to the environment you have to consider the whole environment.  John Muir seemed to acknowledge this in noting that “when you try to pick out anything by itself you find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.

The concept of “entropy-based resource management” is offered here as a physical depiction of how we can manage our natural resources holistically and sustainably.  The underlying premise is that natural processes always act to minimize energy loss at all times and so leave all resources in a state of minimum entropy after each and every process has been completed.  By doing that, the resource is always maintained in its highest, most ordered state, at the highest energy level possible.  Entropy-based resource management emulates that “natural resource management” by trying to find simple, effective ways to maintain or create order, that is to  “create negative entropy”, in all our resource management activities.

It is essential that all resource management strategizing be holistic; you must consider all things, in all places, at all times.    And, beyond that, you must try to develop strategies that realize that extra benefit that Jan Smuts identified when he noted that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Since natural systems already operate that way, the logical first step in any entropy based resource management strategy is to use those natural processes as much as possible.  That is, to simply let natural processes continue to function un-interrupted to the maximum extent possible.  Preservation of natural areas is an obvious policy to promote.  But, using natural systems as much as possible, for as long as possible, is the key concept for us to focus on.

Natural systems effortlessly accommodate movement across physical, chemical and biological boundaries.  To try to find means of moving across those same boundaries with that same facility is an important next step for us to take.  Though we cannot hope to develop resource management strategies that approach the near-perfect efficiency of natural systems, a sound management option might be to try to “mimic” those natural systems in some way.  Basically, this is what entropy-based resource management strategies, beyond simple conservation and the use of natural pathways, attempt to do.

Minimizing the entropy of a complex, interactive system is a daunting computational exercise.  However, where absolute understanding and perfect quantification is not achievable, we should not be deterred.   It has been said that “intuitive perception rather than mathematical calculation is the source of the truth of effective theories”.    This recognition leads us to apply entropy-based resource management in the form of a simple “organizing principle” that allows us to use logic and simple methods of analysis, rather than highly-detailed, single-issue calculations, when we are developing sustainability strategies.   For example, a simple watershed management game plan such as “pump up the groundwater as high as possible, then plant everything” can be highly effective, by assuring, as it does when followed diligently, that the annual rainfall falling on a watershed is retained in the watershed for as long as possible and photosynthesis within that same watershed is maximized.   Entropy-based resource management is simple, but not simplistic.

Good progress can be made by developing entropy-based strategies for whatever area of resource management that you are working on at any one time, then seeking out like-minded practitioners in other fields that are doing the same.  However, truly holistic strategies that achieve that “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” level of efficiency and success can only be fully realized by a group of dedicated professionals (biologists, engineers, planners, architects and others) working together as a team to address all aspects of resource management at the same time.  The resultant strategies can then provide a truly holistic response to a sustainability question or need.

Sustainability, and further, the restoration of natural systems and functions, can be achieved.  Use Jan Smuts’ approach to meet the resource management needs identified by Thomas Malthus.  The entropy-based resource management organizing principle can help you organize your thoughts and develop strategies.  Consider all things in all places at all times.  Work closely with others.  Use all the tools at your disposal (science, mathematics, engineering, even philosophy and literature) to the best possible effect.  The quest for sustainability will become clearer and within your reach.   

“The ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order” – Steven Pinker

An introduction to entropy-based resource management can be found at:

https://www.ipwea.org/newzealand/viewdocument/life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-ne

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Snohomish PUD Energy Storage Program Generates Insights for Future Grid Management

May 7th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy

By Neil Neroutsos, Media Liaison and Jason Zyskowski, Senior Manager of Planning, Engineering & Technical Services
Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD)

At Snohomish PUD, it’s ingrained in our thinking that we take a long term view in planning for and investing in our energy resources amid a rapidly changing environment. We’re a utility that is constantly assessing a broad collection of options to meet our future needs.

As our utility adds additional renewable energy resources to its portfolio – much of which can be intermittent, such as solar and wind – energy storage continues to become a more economical means of managing reliability. We’re already seeing energy storage system prices come down – and not just the prices for equipment and hardware, but engineering time as we learn how to better design and operate the systems.

The PUD has installed two energy storage systems at local substations: the first includes a set of two large-scale lithium-ion batteries, and a second is based on advanced vanadium flow battery technology. Our engineers and project managers have learned that these systems are unique and you need to fully understand how to use each technology. For example, do you need 2 megawatts for three hours or 4 megawatts for six hours? And what are the systems’ charging and discharging limits?

We’ve learned that lithium-ion and vanadium flow systems have very different charging/discharging characteristics. Lithium-ion degrade over time as you cycle them, depending on how quickly you charge and discharge them and the number of cycles each day. The vanadium flow systems have a longer life limit – you can charge and discharge them as many times you want over a 20-year period. However, when you charge them, the energy you’re going to get isn’t as efficient. So you need to know your business use and how to best match it to the right type of battery.

Lithium Ion battery storage

As part of our energy storage research, we’ve worked with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to test use cases such as shifting energy from peak to off-peak times and using storage for load shaping to smooth out the rate of load changes. We’ve also partnered with the University of Washington and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to test a Distributed Energy Resource Optimizer (DERO) tool. It’s a software system that allows our Power Schedulers to optimize the value of our battery systems.

DERO interfaces with the utility’s IT infrastructure to get a live look at our load and resource status and communicate it back to our Power Scheduling system. It helps manage issues such as when an energy resource is removed from the system or when we see real-time changes in load forecasts and want to avoid imbalance charges from BPA.

We’ve also worked with our partners to use DERO to test how to coordinate transmission-level congestion relief. Another study with BPA looked at how demand response and battery storage could mitigate peak load demands.

Our team has learned that if you don’t have an easy way to control these battery systems, schedule them and monitor them in an automated fashion, you’re not realizing their full set of benefits. A large part of our success has come as a result of our work to standardize our battery operations, particularly how they communicate with each other, with our SCADA system and our power scheduling software.

Going forward, we’re now designing a third energy storage system as part of a Microgrid and Clean Energy Technology Center, located in Arlington, Wash. It will demonstrate multiple new energy technologies, including energy storage paired with a 500-kilowatt solar array. The system will be able to be “islanded” and run independently from the electrical grid. It also will demonstrate how PUD electric fleet vehicles can be used to benefit the electric grid via a vehicle-to-grid system that allows both charging and discharging into the grid.

The Clean Energy Technology Center will serve as the test load for the Microgrid and will showcase various technologies to the public, the business sector, researchers and other local agencies. The project’s multiple uses include grid resiliency and disaster recovery, renewable energy integration, grid support and ancillary services and the vehicle-to-grid component. The facility also could be utilized as an emergency operations site in the event of a major disaster, such as an earthquake.

Snohomish PUD’s energy storage program has greatly benefitted through $10.8 million in supporting grants from the Washington Clean Energy Fund.

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New Smart Bioreactor is Designed and Built at Portland State University

April 4th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Waste, Water

A new technique to stimulate specific beneficial bacteria for Phosphorus and Nitrogen removal was developed by Bashar Al-Daomi at PSU’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Dept. This technology recently won Bashar the final round prize of $5,000 at PSU’s CleanTech Challenge!

By Bashar Al-Daomi — Portland State U. PhD Student, Institute for Sustainable Solutions Fellow

Wastewater is a crucial environmental issue that we deal with every day. If wastewater is left completely or partially untreated and disposed into our rivers and lakes, it will leave behind high concentrations of organic matters, phosphorus and nitrogen. This will pollute and threaten water ecosystems causing risks to aquatic life species due to algal blooming and high oxygen depletion. Untreated wastewater also can hurt the local economy and humans’ activities on these water bodies such as swimming, surfing, and fishing due to bad quality water (fouling and black/green colored water)

At the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Water Quality Technology Conference in Portland, OR, November 2017, PSU Ph.D. graduate student Bashar Al- Daomi unveiled a new smart bioreactor he and Dr. Bill Fish have designed and created.

Microbes can do a great job of removing phosphorus and nitrogen pollutants from wastewater if we can design a perfect mutual collaboration between lab researchers, wastewater treatment plant operators and microbes. This collaboration provides us a better understanding of microbial metabolism while we support microbes with optimal life conditions (Dissolved oxygen, nutrients, organic carbon such as acetate, temperature, pH, ORP, etc).

In the Water Quality Lab of Dr. Bill Fish, PSU Ph.D. graduate student Bashar Al-Daomi stepped up to the challenge to develop a smart, simple, reliable, and efficient lab reactor. This reactor aims to show how different types of bacteria (phosphorus accumulative organisms PAOs, glycogen accumulative organisms GAOs, and ammonium oxidation bacteria AOB) grow and interact with each other responding to a variety of control conditions. This reactor focuses on simulating and modelling actual advanced wastewater treatment processes by studying at which low level of both oxygen and organic matter can achieve high phosphorus removal within Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal processes?

Bashar, working with technical assistance, created this sophisticated, automated research reactor at a reasonable cost and far less expensive than commercial bioreactors on the market. Bashar took a challenge and made it into an opportunity to develop a cheaper and better product. In fact, the need to be frugal became a central part of the innovation since his goal is to make low-cost wastewater treatment available to areas that cannot afford expensive municipal systems.

This lab reactor is smart since it operates itself automatically based on using timers, sensors, and controllers connected together in one control unit. This unit helps to control and adjust pH and dissolved oxygen measurements to match with different microbial needs. It also collects accurate lab data and builds a trustable database for developing bio-mathematical models.

This reactor can run as a Sequential Batch Reactor SBR that can cover cycles: Anaerobic, Anoxic, Aerobic and sedimentation stages by relying on time not space (controlling the time sequences between each stage). Also, it can be run as one of series of SBRs within continues treatment systems.

This lab system would be beneficial for our students at PSU on conducting capstone and graduate students’ projects besides some applications for environmental engineering course at CEE.

Since the Pacific Northwest-American Water Works Association PNWS-AWWA 2020 vision initiative seeks supporting new young professionals and students who are interested in working on water/wastewater treatment field. This smart bioreactor makes it affordable and easier for colleges and high schools to engage young students and inspire them to become future leaders in water and wastewater purification field. Currently, Bashar and his team are working hard on upgrading the reactor’s design and making it less expensive to fit with a business model that cover 10% of the colleges and high schools’ labs in Oregon and Washington.  Recently, Bashar won the first round of the Portland State University CleanTech Challenge for his reactor and received a $1500 prize. Also, his reactor was selected as one of five finalists. Bashar also won the final round of PSU’s CleanTech Challenge prize and was awarded $5000! PSU has selected him to represent the school to compete with other colleges in Oregon State for the final state $25,000 prize to be awarded this June.

Bioreactor Applications (Applicable Research Ideas)

  • This unit can be used to simulate microbial processes and optimize the metabolisms of organisms that are vital in waste treatment, such phosphorus accumulative organisms PAOs, glycogen accumulative organisms GAOs, and ammonium oxidation bacteria AOB.
  • Since this smart reactor uses process technology and automated control, it can be used for optimizing the consumption of dissolved oxygen. This can help with reducing the cost of consumed energy in wastewater treatment.
  • This system can help to develop biological and mathematical models for temperature control, bacterial growth rate, pH control, efficient organic carbon consumption.
  • Another main goal of this system is to combine EBPR technology (Phosphorus removal) with Annamox technology (Nitrogen removal) in one system by maintaining NH3/NH4 not oxidized at low DO as EBPR effluent combining with an anoxic reactor that already has nitrite to create anammox bacteria. This process aims to remove nitrogen with less both organic carbon (acetate or ethanol) and oxygen consumption.

Lab Bioreactor Components

  • A 5-liter jacketed glass reactor (double rings for temperature control),
  • pH sensor, controller (high and low pH)
  • 2 pumps (Acid and Alkaline)
  • Dissolved oxygen sensor and controller
  • Air blower, Oxygen bottle, and Oxygen pump
  • Temperature sensor
  • Oxygen Reduction Potential (ORP) sensor
  • Adjustable float level sensor
  • Adjustable timer/duration agitation,
  • Digital Stirrer
  • Fine air diffuser
  • Sludge drain valve (Ring shape)
  • Organic carbon solution (substrate) injection syringe,
  • Control unit, sensors and Ring diffuser-plastic support (wiring and 3D plastic printing were made by hiring an external technician).

Specifications

  • No complicated programming is required and high-resolution operational screen is clear and easy to navigate,
  • Reporting flexibility (data can be saved and emailed),
  • Stand-alone and computer sensor interface with a touch screen
  • Collect, analyze, and share sensor data wirelessly with iPad, and Android devices

Acknowledgement

  • Partial financial support for this work was provided by the MoHESR and PNWS-AWWA scholarships and Beta project and PSU Cleantech Challenge grants.
  • Clean Water Services for providing a mentoring program and UNESCO-IHE for providing innovative online courses on biological wastewater treatment.

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