World Water Day Casts Focus on Important Wastewater Challenges and Breakthroughs

World Water Day Casts Focus on Important Wastewater Challenges and Breakthroughs

MARCH 23, 2017

World Water Day is an annual event that aims to raise awareness about the global water crisis. This year’s theme, wastewater, is something that my team at Woodard & Curran knows a lot about. We have been designing, building, operating, and upgrading wastewater treatment plants across the country for the past three decades. Wastewater infrastructure and treatment is critical to the protection of public health and the environment, yet it is drastically underfunded. As the most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers states, over $105 billion is needed to upgrade our wastewater infrastructure. This is because many of the public sewage pipes in the United States are over 100 years old. When wastewater pipes get old and are not properly maintained, they can threaten the health of the very communities they are meant to serve. 

But, the news surrounding wastewater isn’t all grim. There have been, and continue to be, major advances that are improving the way we manage wastewater. In honor of World Water Day, I wanted to take a moment to share some of exciting projects and topics that Woodard & Curran’s wastewater experts are working on that are helping to advance the way we treat, manage, and use wastewater.

Why waste water?

Since 2008, the funding of recycled water distribution has increased by 21%. This is great news for the efficiency of our wastewater systems and for the water scarcity crisis worldwide. Water reuse is curbing the potable water demand as recycled wastewater is being used for non-potable uses like powering industrial plants and irrigating golf courses. Today, new technology is even making potable water reuse a reality. Our new offices in California (formerly RMC) have a long history of water reuse expertise and have been instrumental in the progress the industry has made. 


Currently we are leading groundbreaking potable water reuse projects in California that have the potential to transform how municipalities use recycled wastewater across the country. In the City of Oceanside, California, we are evaluating indirect potable reuse opportunities and as a part of that effort, we performed an innovative technical study on the effectiveness of specific water treatments for the removal of pathogens. The study used advanced technologies and monitoring methods, like ultrafiltration and PEG chloroform to test the presence and effective removal of viruses, protozoa, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens like pesticide and pharmaceutical residuals.  The research is expected to have a wide-reaching impact on efforts to continually improve drinking water supplies throughout California and potentially the nation.

Preparing wastewater utilities for the future

Wastewater facilities and associated pump stations are, by nature, located at low elevations and are already experiencing damages from increasing storm intensities. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) recognized the need to develop long-term planning efforts to protect these systems and hired us to evaluate the implications climate change could have on the state’s 19 wastewater treatment plants. As a part of this project, we also identified strategies the state could implement to integrate climate change considerations into wastewater planning and operations. As storm events like Hurricane Sandy and the recent heavy rainfall in the West have shown us, wastewater facilities can experience major damage during a flooding event and need to have a plan in place to mitigate or avoid these disturbances.  

Wastewater infrastructure unlocks economic opportunity

It is estimated that over the next 20 years, 56 million new users in the US will be connected to centralized wastewater treatment systems. We recently developed a new state-of-the-art wastewater facility in Oxford, Maine. This small rural town had been undergoing an extended period of growth and development; but did not have centralized wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal facilities to accommodate the rise in economic activity. Like many small towns in New England, residents of Oxford were relying on onsite septic systems to manage their wastewater. This system was not only hindering economic growth, but was a threat to the local environment. Through a spectacular grant package from the USDA Rural Development, we designed and built a state-of-the-art wastewater system from the ground-up that will be able to support the economic development the town envisions for years to come. 

The role of the plant manager

Across the country, our water and wastewater utilities are aging, however, infrastructure is not the only aging asset utilities are worrying about. Forecasts show that water and wastewater utilities need to prepare for an oncoming wave of retirement that could result in a loss of essential applied knowledge. On top of that, the role of the plant manager and the requirements needed to run a plant are expanding. Paul Roux outlined this very problem in a recent article for WaterWorld.

At Woodard & Curran, we understand the essential role that plant managers play in many communities, but also are aware that many are often under compensated and underappreciated. Through succession planning webinars, training and technology workshops, and formal internship and mentoring programs, we aim to equip the plant managers of today with the tools needed to keep with up current demands, while encouraging the next generation of managers to replace the many soon-to-be vacant positions throughout the country.


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