A Fresh Perspective

Forward-thinking municipalities find new solutions to old problems

The story of the Western Virginia Water Authority in this month’s issue of MSW is a great example of how looking at a problem with a fresh perspective can make a world of difference.

In an effort to improve efficiency, the water authority engaged an outside firm to perform an audit and lay the groundwork for systemwide improvements. Replacing 58,000 antiquated dial meters across the system with electronic meters became a priority. Zone meters, serving anywhere from 100 to 500 customers, were also installed. With the new meters in place, the water authority was immediately able to identify where there were leaks and limit the amount of “unbilled water” flowing through the system.

The water authority also went after an overlooked area of inefficiency in its facilities — the lighting. Old lighting was replaced with compact fluorescents or smaller and more efficient T-8 fluorescents. On lighting alone, WVWA is offsetting 168 metric tons of carbon dioxide and shaving an estimated $70,000 to $80,000 from their annual operating costs.

The audit also identified many pumps and some pipe segments that were below acceptable efficiency levels. Smaller, more efficient pumps replaced many of the older pumps, and a five-year capital improvement program was launched to identify and replace older cast iron pipe.

In addition, the WVWA is taking a proactive approach to educating its customers by sending teams to local K-12 schools and colleges to help people “understand more about where their water comes from, where it goes, and how it’s treated.”

The WVWA has earned numerous accolades for their efforts, but they are not alone in the push for greater efficiency and sustainability.

Next month’s issue features New York’s Onondaga County. The county is home to Onondaga Lake, once one of the most polluted lakes in the country. Years of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) damaged water quality to the point where the lake was designated a Superfund site in 1994. Consent judgments required the county to reduce the frequency of CSOs by upgrading its wastewater treatment system within 15 years.

To comply, the county planned four new wastewater treatment plants along Onondaga Creek in the City of Syracuse, where the majority of CSOs were taking place. The city council objected but ultimately lost the battle, and the Midland Avenue sewage treatment plant project was completed in early 2008.

Plans for the second treatment plant were nearly final when Joanie Mahoney took office as county executive that same year. Mahoney had previously served on the city council and didn’t believe new treatment plants were the best solution.

Mahoney’s staff quickly assembled teams to explore green infrastructure alternatives. After a year of planning, and with the U.S. EPA’s support, the county went back to the courts and gained approval for green infrastructure as a solution.

In the few years since, the county has incorporated permeable pavement, rooftop gardens, free rain barrels, an urban forestry program and a number of other innovative green features that have made a tremendous difference in its ability to control stormwater and protect local waterways. Altogether, these projects are keeping tens of millions of gallons of stormwater out of the county’s sewer systems.

Today, thanks to a fresh perspective and openness to new stormwater control technology and techniques, the county is one of the EPA’s top 10 green communities.

In both of these cases, the utilities could have simply maintained the status quo, expanding infrastructure to compensate for inefficiency. Instead, they stepped back and looked at their issues from a fresh perspective. The result is systems that are more sustainable — economically and environmentally — and that’s good for everyone.

Enjoy this month’s issue. F

Comments on this column or about any article in this publication may be directed to editor Luke Laggis, 800/257-7222; editor@mswmag.com.


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