Monday, August 25, 2014

Recycled Water a Potential Solution to California's Water Woes

 Bruce Presser
 Principal, CEO/CFO
 The Covello Group

On April 1st the California Department of Water Resources conducted their snowpack survey which determined we are only at 32 percent of average. This was no April Fool’s joke; only providing more evidence that California is in the midst of its worst multi-year drought since the mid-70’s.  Studies have shown that California has had extended drought periods throughout history; water has always been a concern to those living here.  Now couple that with the numerous demands on the current water supply; urban, industry and agriculture and geographical splits; North versus South.  It becomes clear why not one single idea works in solving the State’s water woes.

Water is the life blood of the State’s economy and if water agencies are struggling to meet current demands how are they expected to meet the future demand when California’s population is expected to increase by 15.4 million by the year 2064; a 41 percent increase?  The traditional approach of creating storage and conservation isn’t sufficient to meet our water needs; plus there’s no room to put a brick in our low flow toilets.  We must look to other sources to augment our supplies.  One such reliable and locally available water source that can be made available in a relatively short time is “Recycled Water”.

What is Recycled water?  Quite simply it is the practice of using water more than once rather than just sending it out to the river or ocean.   Several agencies throughout the state for years have been treating their wastewater and distributing it for non-potable use; such as, watering golf courses, cooling water for oil refineries, and re-charging aquifers (for saltwater barriers or indirect use).  Now is the perfect time to increase the volume of water produced and expand the ways in which we use it.

My first professional experience with recycled water was in 1998 when our firm was retained by the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) to manage the construction of their  “Clean Water Revival” project. Following the path forged by pioneering agencies in Orange County, the District was building a new advanced treatment facility using the latest technology; micro-filtration (MF) and reverse osmosis (RO) treatment and ultra-violet disinfection (UV) to produce a product that exceeded potable water standards. The District planned on taking this new water source and injecting it deep into the local aquifer where it would spend the next nine (9) years migrating through the groundwater aquifer before finding its way back into the local water supply.  Unfortunately a few vocal critics labeled the project “Toilet to Tap” which ultimately forced the District to change their plan and use the water to supplement local urban irrigation instead of bolstering ground water supplies.  The citizens of the state have been slow to adopt Recycled Water as a true source of water.  Perceptions are improving and there is hope that the recent move to consolidate the drinking water program under the State Water Board will help.

The Governor is behind the effort to promote the wider use of recycled water by signing Senate Bill 322 in 2013 which requires the State to investigate the feasibility of developing uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable reuse by September 2016.  So what is holding the agencies back from building the facilities?

Recent surveys of the wastewater and water utilities have shown that the largest impediment to recycled water projects is funding.  There are currently 44 projects that are permitted and “shovel ready” that could produce 220,000 acre-feet of new water.  Unfortunately those agencies don’t have all the funding needed to build their projects.  Like the public perception about recycled water, acceptance to fund these projects is changing too.  In March the State Water Board approved $800 million that will be used to fund recycled projects for agencies who submit applications by December 2015.  This is a good start but unfortunately only a ‘drop in the bucket’ for what is really needed.  More money is needed to fund future projects to expand this water supply source.  The State and its citizens can no longer afford to ignore this reliable and locally available water supply. 

For more information on California's water crisis, read ACEC California's latest issues of Engineering and Surveying Business Review at the link below.  You will find articles about the severe drought that continues to impact the entire state and ACEC California members offer potential solutions to our state's water woes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

States, Municipalities Push Ahead with Innovative P3s

Even in an improving economy, and with Congress’s temporary rescue of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, states are faced with further shortfalls in federal funding for vital transportation infrastructure such as roads and bridges.  But some states are finding a solution in alternative delivery mechanisms such as Design-Build and Public Private Partnerships (P3s). 

Some are moving ahead at a rapid pace.

In Pennsylvania, the state department of transportation is moving forward a plan to use P3 delivery for an ambitious program to replace and repair at least 500 of the state’s bridges.   Four teams have been selected to submit proposals based on their ability to finance the project, their background and experience in managing similar assignments and their understanding of the project.  Selection of a preferred team is expected this fall with construction slated to begin in 2015.

In Florida, the state DoT has just completed its first ever transportation P3 funded by a TIFIA loan from the US DoT, adding three innovative reversible lanes to the six-lane Interstate 595 in Broward County to relieve congestion around Ft. Lauderdale.  So far, the $1.8 billion project has been a major success, shaving years off the state’s project timeline and coming in $275 million under budget.

Further south, the cities of Miami and Miami Beach, working with Miami-Dade County, are considering a P3 to build a passenger rail link between the two communities.  Although the current plan is in its infancy, the project has been talked about for many years and almost got off the ground in 2004 at a cost of $480 million.  It’s now become the county’s top priority transit initiative and studies suggest a P3 delivery could result in a lower cost to build and a faster delivery.   Estimates suggest that the project could cost as little as $532 million, not much over the cost estimates anticipated 10 years ago. 

Alternative deliveries such as P3s, Design-Build and Design-Build-Operate-Maintain are no panacea.  There are times, situations and projects where traditional delivery methods still work best.  All methods of delivering construction projects create valuable jobs needed to keep the economy moving forward.  But for states like California to remain competitive, they must embrace innovation, creativity and global best practices.   Design-build and P3s must be part of the solution.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Time for California to take the road less traveled?

Like the roads and bridges we drive on, our state’s transportation financing policy is in a state of collapse.

In Washington, D.C., legislators went down to the wire to temporarily rescue the Highway Trust Fund, the primary source for financing this country’s highway and mass transit improvements. The rescue is only a stop-gap measure; the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money again by next June.  The Highway Trust Fund supports fifty percent of California’s Highway Capital Program. 

If that weren’t bad enough, in California we face our own funding issues. The successful $20 billion Prop 1B bond program that financed many projects over the last few years has ended and Caltrans has projected a $290 billion shortfall through 2020 for the maintenance and expansion of the state’s roads and highways. Future state and federal revenue for transportation improvements is expected to drop by 40%, compared to the levels of the last five years.

So, here’s the dilemma:  in order to grow our economy in a sustainable way, we need good roads and highways – to carry goods and our growing population.  Roads need constant maintenance and, as our population grows, more cars use those roads, traffic patterns change and require new road solutions.   How do we pay for them?

 Build California Better,“ a white paper just released by ACEC California, addresses this issue and looks at alternative paths California may take to keep our roads and highways in the condition needed to support further economic growth.

Key to the issue is understanding the state gas tax, which was conceived to help finance road maintenance and improvements.  Gas tax revenue however, hasn’t kept pace with inflation and is actually on the decline as more Californians drive vehicles with greater fuel efficiency or, increasingly, no dependence on gas at all: in 2010 there were just two models of electric car on the market, today there are more than 20.

So, an increase in the gas tax – viewed as political suicide by many – isn’t even a long term guarantee that the state will take in more revenue.  As more Californians adopt hybrid or electric technology, fewer will purchase gas. 

It’s time for some ‘outside-the-box’ thinking on this issue.  The purpose of “Build California Better” is to promote that kind of thinking, enhance discussion and, hopefully, encourage our state’s politicians and visionaries to deliver a long term, sustainable funding plan for our transportation infrastructure.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stanford Tour Highlights Engineering Excellence

On June 11th, about two dozen members of ACEC California toured the Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford University.  The $112M project, which opened in January, was given ACEC California's highest award for engineering excellence, the Golden State Award, earlier this year.

Principal and project engineer Ray Pugliesi and President and CEO Stacy Bartoletti of San Francisco-based Degenkolb, the ACEC member firm which designed the Bing project, were on hand to discuss the project's engineering challenges.  According to Pugliesi, the entire project took more than six years from concept and design to completion of construction.

In the words of concert hall's operations manager and tour director Matt Rodriguez, "The Bing is really a unique building  and Stanford had the foresight to put together a great team to design and build it."

Matt added that the team, combined with a BIM process that saw the entire building engineered and design on computer before construction began, kept the project on time and on budget.

The 842-seat symphony hall is visually and structurally impressive and was designed to provide superior acoustics for symphonic music, no audience member is more than 75 feet from the stage.  Benefactors and Stanford alums Dr. Peter Bing and his wife, Helen, insisted on making the viewing experience as comfortable and "organic" as possible.  As a result, the hall has seats that are up to six inches wider than standard theater seating and some have more than a foot of extra leg room.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Congress Moves Ahead on Transportation Reauthorization

Good news out of Washington – not coincidentally, National Infrastructure Week and National Transportation Week --  as the U.S.  Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing $265 billion in funding for critical infrastructure and transportation-related development.

The bi-partisan bill, S-2322, also known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 Reauthorization Act, would provide the states with six years of funding stability, protecting current levels of investment and including an inflationary adjustment.  The bill maintains the core programs and formulas established in MAP-21, creates a new freight mobility program, leverages more private sector investment through the TIFIA program and state infrastructure banks, and authorizes a new pilot study on mileage-based fees to fund the Highway Trust Fund in future years.

The bill is here.  A summary of the bill is here.