Category Archives: water

Don’t Let Funding for Our Water System Become a Pipe Dream

By Bill DiCroce, President & CEO, Veolia North America

During the campaign, President Trump frequently described a $1 trillion plan in infrastructure investments to fix crumbling roads, bridges, and airports while creating good-paying jobs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also recently outlined several priorities for an upgrade to the country’s infrastructure, suggesting the administration may announce a plan sooner rather than later.

Given the Trump administration’s intention to deliver its first full-year budget to Congress this week, and with apparent plans to deal with infrastructure in a separate bill, we in the water industry want to underscore how important it is to include water and wastewater initiatives in both conversations.

Water issues once seemed a distant concern to Americans, but today we are grappling with myriad crises — from chronic droughts in the West to fast-growing metropolises in the Sunbelt unable to meet surging demand and clean drinking water challenges. Perhaps more important, as our water mains, pipes and overall systems grow older — many were first built in the early 20th century — the bill for replacing or repairing them could approach $270 billion, according to the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective water and sewer services is vital to the U.S. economy. Clean water is a valuable national asset that can attract new investment in manufacturing, research and development and can help differentiate the U.S. in the world economy. How we manage our water resources is of great strategic importance to every citizen. This investment in our infrastructure is vital to growth, and the federal government needs to play a key role in making those investments.

The president has previously said he may favor tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a loan assistance authority for addressing wastewater needs that has proven vital to jump-starting key projects. He has also shown support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water.

These are both strong starting points — as is this month’s announcement that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program will provide $1 billion in credit to finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investments — but a longer-term, more comprehensive infrastructure bill is necessary to repair and replace America’s many aging water and wastewater systems.

Investment is also needed for training. About one-third of the current water workforce is eligible for retirement, a phenomenon that will slow our efforts to modernize infrastructure and could lead to dangerous quality control issues. State and local governments must work with the private sector, trade schools, community colleges and universities to close this emerging skills gap.

Not only are these jobs important for our water quality and safety, they’re economic drivers. According to a study from the Value of Water Coalition, for every $1 million earmarked for water projects, upwards of 15 jobs are created, either to support water infrastructure design and construction directly, or in related industries.

And here’s the thing about water-related jobs — they can’t be exported or outsourced overseas. These employees work right here, in cities and towns across America.

While healthcare, tax reform and the budget dominate the congressional agenda, we believe it is critical that they find the time to take up water-related issues. Creating incentive programs such as tax credits to facilitate water reuse projects, co-digestion and resource recovery would strengthen already existing sustainability efforts.

Supporting private investment in water and wastewater infrastructure would go a long way to supplement any legislation passed by Congress. Finding the right regulatory balance would encourage innovation by providing incentives for new private investment in green infrastructure and energy derived from the wastewater treatment process.

The American water industry — both the public and private sector — delivers safe, clean water to homes, schools, farms and businesses in cities and towns across the U.S. each day. But the burgeoning infrastructure crisis casts doubt on our collective ability to deliver.

It’s time for all of us to come together — private companies and local officials, state and federal governments — to make water part of our national infrastructure renewal.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for The Hill. That article can be found here.

U.S. Environmental Regulatory Trends: Past, Present and Future

By Larry Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group member

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”  Thomas Jefferson

 

Thomas Jefferson was a very smart man.  Perhaps though, his view of the purpose of government has been lost over time.  Recently there has been much discussion on the economic damages inflicted by the federal government related to the regulatory burden that industry faces in the United States.  Although these discussions are not solely limited to environmental regulatory burdens, many do believe that the pendulum has swung too far in controlling industrial operations and their air, water, and waste discharges.  I am not one of those individuals.  Yes, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland no longer catches fire.  And Pittsburgh’s success as a city is no longer defined by the smoke being emitted from the stacks of its steel industry plants.  And the hidden Love Canal surprises are hopefully behind us.  Yet, there continues to be noteworthy cases of major environmental incidents and non-compliances across the nation. The 2015 Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal is only one of many.  Did you know that every single year for the past 20 years the U.S. Department of Justice has charged some 200 to 300 individuals with committing environmental crimes?  That might not seem like many but in total these are criminal charges against over 5,000 individuals, not simply civil charges for exceeding permit limits or discharge standards.

One could logically ask the question – Where does the U.S. stand today with regard to environmental regulations and enforcement as the country experiences a new presidential administration with an uncertain regulatory philosophy and strategy?  Are we indeed better off and is it time to take the foot off the gas or is there still much work that needs to be done?  Recent regulatory and enforcement data released by the U.S. EPA help us to better understand where we are presently as a country and where we might be headed.

Environmental Laws: The Historical Setting

The First Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970 in the midst of a nationwide college campus strike protesting the Vietnam War.  Protests in the streets all over the land.  Hmmm… Sound familiar?  That year of 1970 became a springboard for the passing of major federal environmental laws in the U.S.  As shown in Table 1, in the next two decades, some 12 critically important environmental, health and safety laws were passed.  Interestingly enough, eleven of the twelve were authorized and signed by Republican presidents; a legacy that is sometimes forgotten or ignored.  Each law, of course, required the creation of regulations to accomplish the stated goals.  And indeed that has occurred.

TABLE 1:  Major U.S. Federal Environmental Legislation (1969-1986)

No.

Year Title

Signing President

1. 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Nixon (R)
2. 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) Nixon (R)
3. 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Nixon (R)
4. 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) Nixon (R)
5. 1972 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Nixon (R)
6. 1972 Noise Control Act (NCA) Nixon (R)
7. 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) Nixon (R)
8. 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Ford (R)
9. 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Ford (R)
10. 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Ford (R)
11. 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) Carter (D)
12. 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Reagan (R)

 

Environmental Regulations: The Current Setting

All federal regulations, including those created by the EPA, are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), published annually by the Government Printing Office.  That is, each year the CFR is released to the public and it contains all current and updated regulations effective on July 1st of that year.  The individual volumes for each year are usually available in January or February of the following year.  The EPA is responsible for the 37 volumes of Title 40 of that Code.  By early 2017 the EPA had released the 2016 CFRs effective July 1, 2016.  The total page count for EPA’s Title 40 regulations in 2016 was 27,074, the most on record. (See Figure 1) Combined with OSHA’s 3,096 pages in Title 29 there were, for the first time, over 30,000 pages in total, with EPA regulations accounting for 90% of that total.

In taking a closer look at the data, some interesting additional facts emerge.  For example:

  • Recent Growth.  There was an approximately 800 page, or 3%, increase in the number of pages in Title 40 in 2016.  This increase was almost twice as large as the total page count in 1972, the first year of regulatory codification.
  • Distribution by Media.  Approximately 66% of the pages in Title 40 are devoted to Clean Air Act regulations.  This represents roughly 17,750 pages, meaning that the Clean Air Act alone has almost six times as many pages of regulations than all of OSHA’s Title 29 Code.
FIGURE 1: Growth of U.S. EPA Regulations (1972-2016)

Fig1

  • Comparison with the U.S. Tax Code.  By comparison, the 30 thousand pages of EHS regulations is only about 40% of the total page count of ~75,000 pages in the federal tax code.
  • Comparison with the Dow.  Interestingly, if one does the calculations for the 1972-2016 period, there is a 95% statistical correlation between the growth of environmental regulations and the growth of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Granted this is some outside-the-box thinking, but could this mean that regulatory growth is good for the economy!?

Will Environmental Regulations Continue to Grow?

Will the growth of federal environmental regulations continue or has it peaked?  One way to anticipate the answer to the regulatory growth question is to take a look at the Agency’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda, which was last released on November 17, 2016 (as part of the Executive Branch’s Unified Agenda) in the Federal Register.  This is a spring and fall requirement for all regulatory agencies[i].  In November the EPA listed 203 additional regulations (not pages, but individual regulations) that either had been recently promulgated (but not yet codified) or were under development.

Eventually, all of these new regulations will be added to Title 40, continuing the growth, unless there is a concerted effort to halt the regulatory development process; more on that later in this chapter.  It is very interesting to note, as depicted in Figure 2, that each of EPA’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agendas from 1999 to 2011 listed somewhere between 350 and 450 regulations under development, a consistency that is stunning.  This means that for over a decade, there were always around 400 regulations under development on the docket.  Interestingly, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of regulations listed to roughly 200 from years 2012 to 2016.  Maybe the regulatory pipeline is beginning to empty.

FIGURE 2: EPA Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda Trends

Fig2

Yes, there are still regulatory gaps

In spite of the fact that there are now over 27 thousand pages of federal environmental regulations, there remain some additional risks and vulnerabilities that have yet to be addressed appropriately at the federal level.  Three of those that have surfaced on environmental audits of industrial facilities over the past 30 years are:

  • Water Storage Tanks. For large firewater and other water supply above-ground storage tanks, there is no requirement for tank integrity testing or secondary containment protections.  These tanks are often located adjacent to electrical substations and transformers in utility areas where a tank breach could short out the entire electrical system of the site and possibly the surrounding community.  And history tells us that large volumes of unexpected water releases can do considerable damage to facility equipment.  In 2011 a tsunami disabled the backup generators at the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant resulting in a meltdown of three nuclear reactors.  One global consumer products company has recognized this water storage issue as an unacceptable risk and has developed a corporate standard that requires secondary containment for all above ground storage tanks worldwide.
  • Hazardous Waste Storage.  Hazardous waste stored at 90-day accumulation areas require only that drums and containers be labeled, physically intact, and inspected weekly.  Surprisingly there is no federal requirement that containers be placed on an impervious surface incorporating secondary containment protections.  Thus, a pretty much unlimited amount of containers and drums holding hazardous waste can be stored directly on the ground for up to 3 months at these locations. Several states, including Massachusetts, have recognized this as a gap and require additional protections such as secondary containment for accumulations areas.
  • Accidental Discharges of Hazardous Substances.  Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Planning requirements promulgated under Section 112.7 of the Clean Water Act regulations are designed to prevent the accidental release of only oil-containing substances into the nation’s waters.  Facilities subject to the regulations must develop an SPCC Plan that is certified by a Professional Engineer and must provide appropriate containment and/or diversionary structures or equipment to prevent a discharge of oil. New Jersey is one state that has recognized that regulating only oil in this way is a gap and has promulgated Discharge Prevention, Containment and Countermeasure (DPCC) regulations that cover not only oil but numerous other hazardous substances.

There are certainly other gaps as well and also existing regulations that require additional clarification.  A great example of the need for clarification are the “weekly”, “monthly”, and “annual” requirements found in many environmental regulations.  Be assured that there have been many lively discussions among site staff, regulators and auditors over whether “annual” means every 12 months or once a year.  There is a big difference in the two interpretations.

U.S. EPA Enforcement Activity Remains Substantial

The EPA has had a substantial enforcement program throughout its history.  EPA’s current Enforcement budget is approximately 10% of its total $8.1 billion budget and, for comparison purposes, is 35% more than the entire budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  On December 19th, the EPA released its enforcement results for fiscal year 2016, which ended on September 30, 2016.[ii]  Included in those results were data on administrative, civil judicial penalties, and criminal fines assessed.

As shown in Figure 3, EPA issued $5.8 billion in civil and criminal penalties in FY2016, the most ever in history.  However, the great majority of the penalties issued were due to a $5.6 billion settlement with BP Exploration & Production for Clean Water Act violations stemming from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill.  Note further that the 2013 penalty amount of approximately $2.6 billion was impacted significantly by billion dollar penalties against Transocean and BP, again for the Deepwater Horizon incident.

FIGURE 3: U.S. EPA Enforcement Penalty Trends

Fig3

Notwithstanding the two Deepwater Horizon enforcement actions in 2013 and 2016, on average, over the past ten years the EPA has issued approximately $200 million in civil and criminal monetary penalties each year.  This should be viewed together with the over 5,000 individuals that have been charged with environmental crimes by the DOJ over the past 20 years.  These numbers are not inconsequential.  And with almost a billion dollars being spent annually by EPA on enforcement, environmental noncompliance remains a serious issue, unmatched by any other country.  As EPA has stated in its FY 2013 OECA National Program Manager Guidance, we will “aggressively go after pollution problems that make a difference in communities.  EPA will use vigorous civil and criminal enforcement that targets the most serious water, air and chemical hazards, as well as advance environmental justice by protecting vulnerable communities”.[iii]

The Cautionary Tale of December 2016

So where does that leave us?  Should there be a continuing emphasis on environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement or should we indeed take the foot off the gas as some would propose.  Well, if the fortnight in the middle of December 2016 tells us anything, this is not the time to ease up.  Take note of the following headlines taken from that very short period:

  • DuPont agrees to pay $50 million in natural resource damages to resolve claims stemming from the release of mercury in the 1930’s and 1940’s from its Waynesboro, VA plant (December 16th).
  • Michigan’s Attorney General brings more criminal charges over the Flint, Michigan water crisis, including felony charges against two former state appointees and two former city officials (December 20th).
  • Volkswagen reaches $1 billion deal with the USDOJ and California in the ongoing diesel emissions scandal (December 21st).
  • A federal jury finds DuPont liable for $2 million in compensatory damages for an individual’s cancer stemming from the dumping of Teflon manufacturing chemicals (C8) into the Ohio River. An additional 3,500 cases are pending (December 21st).
  • Shell Oil will pay $22 million to the city of Clovis, California for chemical (TCP) found in drinking water supply (December 27th).

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that all five of these incidents occurred over a two-week period in the last month of 2016.  They suggest that the U.S. is nowhere near where it needs to be with respect to the environment.  Continuing oversight is needed and both public and private sector institutions need to be held accountable for meeting, if not exceeding, regulatory requirements.

What Might Change

During the 2016 presidential campaign and now with the new Trump Administration in place concern has been expressed over the regulatory burden placed on U.S. industry and the regulated community in general.    It should be noted that this concern is nothing new.  For example, on January 18, 2011 President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review”.  The Order required a government-wide review of existing rules “to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.  It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules…”[iv]  In response to President Obama’s Executive Order, EPA created the Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker (Reg DaRRT), which provides information on the status of EPA’s priority rulemakings, as well as information on the status of retrospective reviews of existing regulations.  One positive outcome of the Executive Order was the July 31, 2013 issuance of a final EPA rule on solvent-contaminated wipes that reduced the regulatory burden on tens of thousands of facilities using these wipes routinely.

What is different today is the approach that is being proposed by the current Administration.  President Trump has said numerous times that his goal is to eliminate as many as 75% of all existing federal regulations.  The first step in that effort was the January 30, 2017 issuance of an Executive Order: “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”  This Order calls for every “one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination with the goal of zero incremental costs.”  As with most Executive Orders further guidance will be required and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget is required to develop that guidance.  In fact, on February 2, 2017 the White House issued guidance stating that the Order would only apply to “significant” regulations, as defined in Executive Order: “Regulatory Planning and Review”, issued by the Clinton Administration in 1993.  Significant regulations are those imposing an annual economic cost ≥$100 million.  The Director must also identify the total amount of incremental costs that will be allowed for each agency for each fiscal year.

This “one in, two out” approach, if enacted as stated, obviously will have significant impacts on federal rulemaking within all agencies including the EPA.  As stated previously, the EPA in its November 2016 Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda listed 203 new regulations under development or review.  Will this mean that if all of these regulations are put forward that over 400 other, existing regulations must be eliminated?  As arbitrary as this sounds, the answer today is yes.

Another potential impact caused by the Executive Order would come from the new chemical requirements in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016.  The Act requires that the EPA evaluate and communicate the risks of existing chemicals from the current inventory of 83,000 chemicals in use in the U.S.  The first 10 chemicals were identified on November 29, 2016 and include asbestos, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and trichloroethylene.  If an assessment determines that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk the Agency must mitigate that risk within two years.  Further, for each risk evaluation completed, another must be initiated with at least 20 ongoing evaluations being conducted by the end of 2019.  Does this mean that any resultant rule addressing mitigations for a particular high-risk chemical cannot be promulgated unless two other unrelated rules are eliminated?  This seems rather arbitrary as well.  Perhaps in this and other cases the “significant regulation” threshold will have a moderating impact and the effects will not be as severe as expected.

Another regulatory reform initiative taking place but receiving considerably less attention is the use of the Congressional Review Act enacted in 1996, which allows lawmakers to take certain actions for those laws enacted during the waning days of an administration.  The Congress has already used this power to rescind EPA’s Stream Protection Rule promulgated in December 2016, which sought to protect the nation’s waterways from debris generated by coal surface mining activities.  Congress is also attempting to rescind the EPA’s revised Accidental Release Prevention Requirements contained in its Risk Management Program final rule issued on January 13, 2017.  A bill to rescind the rule has been introduced in the House as of this writing.  Historically, the Congressional Review Act has been used sparingly but this has not been the case in early 2017.

In sum, there is strong evidence that significant regulatory reform is ahead driven by a Republican Congress and Presidency.  One can only hope that logic will prevail and that protection of human health and the environment will continue as a fundamental goal for the nation.

Why the EPA’s Mission Remains Critically Important

With good reason President Nixon created the EPA in 1970.  The Agency’s basic mission is to protect human health and the environment.  This is accomplished with an $8 billion budget and 15,000 full time equivalent staff.  Although it often is not evident in our daily lives, we have all been impacted in a positive way by the Agency’s efforts and programs.  Consider if you will the scope of the Agency’s oversight and responsibilities:

  • Nationwide Facility Coverage.  Over 800,000 facilities in the U.S. generate air emissions, wastewater, and hazardous waste at a level sufficient to require regulatory oversight through mechanisms such as Title V air permits, NPDES wastewater discharge permits, and/or hazardous waste generation and disposal requirements.  That’s an average of 16,000 facilities per state where there is regulatory oversight and controls over the release of pollutants.
  • Hazardous Waste Generation.  There are over 26,000 large quantity hazardous waste generators in the U.S., generating over 33 million tons of hazardous waste annually.  These generators are required to manage the wastes properly and report to the EPA every other year on their activities.
  • Toxic Releases.  There are over 22,000 facilities in the U.S. that release listed toxic chemicals at a sufficient level to require reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.  Over 3.3 billion pounds of toxics were released nationally in 2015.  TRI reporting has resulted in a better understanding of pollutants in our environment and has driven a reduction over time of releases.
  • Superfund Sites.  As a result of the 1980 passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) some 1,188 “Superfund” sites have been cleaned up as of November 30, 2016.  However, there remain 1,337 National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund sites yet to be cleaned up.
  • Toxic Chemicals.  There are 85,000 chemicals inventoried and regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act.  These include materials containing asbestos and PCB’s, which were considered “miracle” products when first produced.  Very few of the inventoried chemicals have undergone meaningful risk assessments to determine hazards posed to human health or the environment.  The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016 contains provisions to assure that these assessments are conducted.

It is important to note that, save for the Superfund sites, all of the chemicals, wastes, releases, and discharges discussed above are being managed in compliance with existing environmental regulations.  Do we really want to eliminate 75% of these regulations resulting in fewer controls over discharges and releases?

Closure

The future of environmental regulation in the U.S. is cloudy indeed.  It is really too soon to tell exactly what might be the impact of President Trump’s Executive Order and other pending regulatory reform initiatives.  It would be prudent to keep a close watch…

 

[i] The Regulatory Flexibility Act and Executive Order 12,866 require Spring and Fall Regulatory Agendas.

[ii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Fiscal Year 2016 EPA Enforcement and Compliance Annual Results,” Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, December 19, 2016.

[iii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, FY 2013 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), National Program Manager (NPM) Guidance, April 30, 2012, p. 6.

[iv] Obama, Barak, “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System”, Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2011.

The Gashora Clinic Water Project

By Ocek Eke, Director of Local and Global Service Learning Programs at Penn Engineering

Clean drinking water is a luxury that many people around the globe can not afford.  This fact is more pronounced in developing countries where water-borne diseases are widespread because water sources tend to be local streams and lakes that are often contaminated with pollution.

In 2012, the General Electric Foundation generously donated ten state-of-the-art water filtration systems to the government and people of Rwanda. One of these filters was installed in the village of  Gashora.

gashora-1

Water filtration system donated to Gashora Health Clinic by GE Foundation

Penn Engineering in Gashora

Gashora is also the location of the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology (GGAST).  This elite all-girl secondary school was established to encourage young Rwandan women to pursue careers in STEM subjects.

GGAST is a partner of Penn Engineering and through our Service Learning course.  We collaborate with the Academy on a several projects. This summer, we offered information communication technology training for students and faculty, and installed solar lights and solar powered water pumps to improve the quality of life of students, faculty, and staff.

At Penn Engineering, we approach our service learning programs with an emphasis on long and sustained relationships with our overseas partners. We believe that the communities in which we work should positively benefit by our presence.  To this end, we paid a visit to the Gashora Clinic medical team after being informed that they were in desperate need of water. The Director and staff lamented the challenges they face daily in curing illness, especially in children.

gashora-1

The Gashora Health Clinic

Then the director took us to the back of the clinic and showed us the water filtration system that GE Foundation donated and installed four years ago. We learned that many of the patients in his clinic are being treated for water-related illnesses contracted by using contaminated water from the nearby Lake Rumira.

The Challenge

The unfortunate irony is that there is an abundance of equipment (i.e., filters and water tanks) yet a shortage of clean water. The filtration system was designed to rely on rain catchment and the local utility for water. However, rainfall in Gashora is sporadic at best and the local water utility service is unreliable.  When asked if a bore-hole or local well could supply water to the clinic, the director explained that the underground water is highly contaminated with lead and manganese, making it both unusable and cost-prohibitive to filter.

Next, we walked with the director to Lake Rumira, about 1.5 kilometers away from the clinic. There we saw children and women swimming and fetching water with yellow jerry-cans. The director explained that while there is water in the lake year-round, it is contaminated, too. The end result is a high rate of people afflicted with water-borne diseases due to a severe shortage of clean water at the Gashora Health Clinic.

gashora-1

Lake Rumira, main source of drinking water for people in Gashora

I asked him a simple but complicated question, “What if Penn Engineering could bring the water from the lake to the clinic’s filtration system?” He smiled, and said that he would accept our offer if we were extending one. “Can you really do it?” he asked.  As engineers, we design and build solutions to real-world problems all the time. I was confident we could bring clean water to the Gashora Clinic.

Complications…

In order to move forward, we learned that we had to get the permission of the district’s village elders before we could carry out a project of this magnitude. In essence we would have to dig a trench from Lake Rumira to the clinic. There were a series of steps that were necessary that required time and patience:

  • The Deputy Mayor instructed us to put our proposal in writing and bring back to him. While he supported the idea, he cautioned that we might run into problems getting permission from land owners whose lands would be impacted by the trench for the water pipes.
  • We wrote and submitted the proposal to the Deputy Mayor, and he promised to take it to the District Mayor.
  • The Deputy Mayor informed us that the District Mayor was excited about the project and would talk to the elders of Gashora village to give the permission to dig the trench.
  • The elders deliberated with the the District Mayor and Clinic Director.

Ultimately, Penn Engineering was granted the permission to dig the 1½ km trench, and to proceed with the project.

Next Steps

Our goal is to pump water from Lake Rumira using a solar powered water pump installed at a secure location on the lakeshore.  A solar powered pump frees the community from reliance on the local power grid and contributes to long-term sustainability. The water will be rock-filtered to remove silt and debris before it is pumped into a waiting tank where gravity will draw small particles to the tank bottom. At this point, the water will be pumped through the GE filtration system that will remove chemical contaminants and purify the water.  The clean water will then be transferred to the clinic’s tank and the kiosk tank for villagers’ use.

One of the most appealing aspects of this project is that together, we are building capacity with our local partners for long-term sustainability. Gashorans will learn to maintain the equipment, and operate the pump. Penn faculty and students will assist in education and implementation. We have also partnered with Health Builders International, a nonprofit organization based in Kigali to assist us in monitoring the quality of the lake water over time.

At present, most of the trench for the water pipes has been dug and we are poised to complete the project when our service-learning course returns to Gashora in May 2017.

gashora 1.jpg

The Trench from Lake Rumira to Gashora Health Clinic, Rwanda

Help Us Bring Clean Water to Gashora

There is one critical piece missing to the project: The pipes.  Penn Engineering student leader, Erica Higa, has set up a GoFundMe site to help raise $40,000 to cover the cost of the pipes.

The people of Gashora desperately need this project completed. Penn students have benefited intellectually and culturally from the enriched experience of performing service in a foreign country. Penn Engineering is committed to finishing this project and we invite you to join us in bringing clean water to the people of Gashora. Please go to our gofundme site, any financial assistance you can give to us is greatly appreciated: https://www.gofundme.com/WaterForGashora

Following the Green Brick Road with MES and IGEL to Real-World Sustainability

By: Nathan Sell*

January to July 2014 were the quickest and perhaps busiest months of my life to date. As a Masters student in the Environmental Studies program at Penn I was finishing up my degree, joining the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) team, and job hunting. My time at IGEL was an invaluable experience in many ways. I joined in the thick of event planning just as the annual conference and a host of other events were all being planned.  This “trial by fire” had me leveraging my new knowledge as an MES student, as well as my educational background, and building a new set of communications and outreach skills.

I was in awe at the audience that IGEL has and the power that its events have to bring together leaders in sustainability and push the discussion on what companies can do for business and the environment. A lot of the skills I refined while at IGEL both caught the attention of my current employers and have served me well in my new role.

As a participant in the ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) program, I’m working with the EPA Office of Water at the headquarters in Washington, DC. As part of the Climate Change Team, I work on issues closely tied to sustainability.  Balanced between communications and research, a portion of my work is dedicated to facing EPA’s message to the public through social media and outreach. My research at the moment focuses on “Blue Carbon,” carbon sequestered within coastal marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass beds, and salt marshes. Blue Carbon is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. These ecosystems are shown to store carbon up to 100X faster than terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, and store this carbon for incredibly long periods of time. They’re part of the puzzle to building climate change resilience. Seeing how policy can be leveraged for additional protection and expansion of these threatened environments, and seeing where business can build blue carbon into international carbon markets are some of the drivers that will be increasingly important in the future.  It’s an exciting intersection of science, policy and business that I’m thrilled to be working on, and an amazing way to begin putting my MES degree and IGEL experience to use.

*Nathan is the former IGEL Coordinator and currently works with the EPA Office of Water on their Water Policy Staff.  @mister_sells

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

plasticity_high_newNY small PNG

By: Nathan Sell*

The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City.  Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking.  Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care?  To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute?  Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient.  Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris.  This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.

We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport.  This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out?  When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics.  We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave).  Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry.  Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input.  These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.

Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent.  Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.

www.plasticityforum.com

View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here

 * Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.

Investing in a Secure Water Infrastructure

By: Nathan Sell

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2013 report card gives America’s drinking water infrastructure a D. For those of us who’ve fretted over GPA points for much of our lives, a D is the source of nightmares and leaves us knocking on our professor’s office door begging for an explanation. The reason we find, is that we’ve hidden our precious water infrastructure out of sight where its degradation can be easily ignored. The result? More than $1 trillion needs to be invested in our failing system over the next 25 years.

Our water systems have been historically underfunded, mostly because they require a vision that extends past most terms in office. These infrastructure projects are rarely seen or understood and do not gain many votes, yet as we go about our morning routines, the thought never crosses our mind as to whether or not water will come out of the faucet as we prepare to brush our teeth or brew coffee.

Currently, most municipalities only invest in water infrastructure when it needs to be repaired. Rather than maintenance, we rely only upon “Band-Aids” to keep our systems going. With approximately 240,000 water main breaks per year, we’re fighting a losing battle. Our ancient water infrastructure still contains pipes laid over a hundred years ago, some even constructed from wood or clay. Losing water from treatment facilities to the home represents 16% of our nation’s daily water use, wasting 2.1 trillion gallons a year. This represents not only water loss, but the energy and costs associated with treating this water, only to be wasted. In no other industry is this type of loss acceptable. As we begin to address water scarcity, energy use and climate change on a national level, it is clear that it is time to re-examine how we maintain our water infrastructure.

Rather than wallowing in our seemingly insurmountable water infrastructure woes, companies like United Water are finding the opportunities that are available in rehabilitating these systems and finding the rare win-win-win scenario. At the recent IGEL/United Water conference, “Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Private-Public Partnerships Work” James Kennedy, the former governor of Rahway spoke to the benefits a Public-Private Partnership can generate, not only rehabilitating infrastructure but promoting the town’s growth through infrastructure investment. By bringing in private equity to invest in water infrastructure through PPP’s, debt can be repaid, and a safer, more efficient water system designed for future needs can prevent the reactionary maintenance ethic of the past.

Public-Private Partnerships are not the only way to invest $1 trillion into our water infrastructure but they are quickly proving their worth. The foresight involved in the long-term planning as well as investment of private capital make these partnerships beneficial to the municipalities in which they work, the people they serve as well as the investors who can see the value in this much needed resource. By valuing the resource many consider a human right, we can ensure the longevity of America’s public water systems.

Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work

By Aubrey Sherretta

Water is taken for granted. As noted by Dr. Jim Hagan at the “Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work” conference co-sponsored by United Water and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) on May 6, 2014, people see water as a common good and a human right. Therefore, they are less willing to pay the true price of maintaining this essential resource.

Water systems in the United States are severely degraded, costing local governments millions in leaks and repairs, and replacing these long-outdated water systems would cost trillions of dollars, according to panelist Rich Anderson of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council. Facing diminished federal involvement and tight budgets, local governments must seek more creative ways to fulfill their communities’ operational and infrastructural water needs. Panelists at Tuesday’s event agreed that partnerships between municipalities and private enterprise, or public-private partnerships, may help manage the cost, increase the value, and improve the quality of water services—a win-win solution for all stakeholders.

According to panelists, each community is different and there is no cookie-cutter business model for the structure of public-private partnerships. How to implement and structure a public-private partnership depends on the nature of the community, their government, their water infrastructure, and on the investing party. But there are also many ways to coordinate all of the pieces. For example, panelist Patrick Cairo, Senior Vice President of United Water explained how the company collaborated with Bayonne, New Jersey to set up a forty-year leasing agreement in which the city government maintains ownership of the system and control over the rates; United Water operates and maintains the system; and KKR – a private equity firm – provides funding.

Financial institutions are willing and able to finance infrastructure projects when a professional water service provider and operator, like United Water, is at the helm to ensure that the system is well run. This concession structure, known as United Water’s SOLUTION, was designed to allay public fears around selling a community asset, and it can be structured in a way that puts a ceiling on rate increases.

What all successful public-private partnerships do have in common is the long-term committed support of businesses, local government, and environmental or other stakeholder organizations for sustainable water systems, panelists agreed. When the public sector respects the private sector’s need to earn a return on its investment; and the private sector recognizes the public sector’s need to be responsive and accountable to its constituents; a successful partnership will ensue. As such, these collaborations require both partners to operate with a high degree of transparency and communication with the community.

There is a pressing need to bring the issue of water sustainability and infrastructure to the public sphere, given what almost all knowledgeable observers agree is the extremely run-down state of most of the nation’s 50,000 plus water utilities.

More generally, public-private partnerships also could present increased opportunities for sustainable water solutions through cooperation across municipalities as well as within them. They could also allow communities, governments, and enterprises alike to “do good” while financially doing well, which was a bottom-line message from many of the conference speakers.

Urban Water Justice in the Developing World

By Urmila Malvadkar* 

ImageIn the developing world, a lack of sufficient clean water is both a cause and consequence of poverty.   Informal settlements—housing up to 60%  of the population of some cities in the developing world– face unique obstacles to water access.  New infrastructure is difficult to install in dense, unplanned communities.  Many governments ignored needs of these communities in order to de-legitimize them and discourage rural-urban migration.  Further, residents are often rural migrants who stay for a few years  and do not advocate for investing in their community.

Where cities are unwilling or unable to provide water, residents can spend hours a day to purchase water from private vendors who charge 10 to 20 times more than tap water.   Some of these vendors in large cities such as Jakarta and Nairobi, have ties to organized crime, collude to cause artificially high prices, refuse to serve certain ethnicities,  and threaten utility workers with violence.

While some official policies– even pro-poor policies–can reduce access to water among the very poor, some programs focusing on improving service to the most indigent communities profoundly improve lives.

Continue reading

World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management

Penn Student Sara Drexler wrote “World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management” for Triple Pundit. Read the full article here.

World Water Week is well underway, and as thousands of experts, decision-makers and professionals descend on Stockholm to collaborate on pressing global water issues, the private sector plays a larger role in the conversation than ever. More than 24 sessions dedicated to business show that the week’s theme of collaboration and partnerships can apply to profit-driven enterprises.

As Coca-Cola, Unilever, SABMiller, H&M and Borealis, among others, gathered on Monday afternoon to discuss Taking Collaboration to the Next Level with a packed audience, one message stood out: the business case has been made, it’s time to work with competitors to drive real change that has real positive impacts on the bottom line. Continue reading on Triple Pundit’s website

Water for Energy

by Iliana Sepulveda*

water mage - Copy

Water is essential for human life. It is also very useful for transportation, and agricultural and industrial production. Energy is also an essential ingredient. The relationship between these two resources has become an important topic for national security and for human development worldwide. With current available technology, vast quantities of water are required to produce energy (thermoelectric production as an example). Moreover, due to the geographical mismatch of water supply and demand, a significant amount of energy is needed to transport water where it is consumed, and to ensure that it has the proper quality for its different end uses (human consumption, agricultural uses, industrial production, and ecosystems protection). Continue reading