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The American Water Works Association recently released their annual State of the Industry report for water utilities.

I wasn’t surprised at the results of this annual checkup, where over 1,800 leaders in the industry identify key challenges. Their concerns about the future of the water industry are the same as mine.

  • Water supply – We’re not running out of water . . . we’re just running out of the less expensive water. As population increases, we’ll be looking more and more at costly treatment methods like desalination. Conservation and reuse are other parts of the puzzle that will be an important part of quenching our thirst.
  • Aging infrastructure – Much of our infrastructure is not only aging, but in many cases reaching the point of failure. There’s a shortfall of funds to adequately maintain and replace old pipes and treatment equipment that runs into the billions of dollars. Starting this month, public television stations will be showing Liquid Assets, the story of our water infrastructure. Don’t miss it!
  • Increasing regulatory requirements – As we gain the capability to measure constituents in smaller and smaller amounts, agencies develop more stringent requirements for removing those compounds. Costs for treatment rise geometrically as we try to remove contaminants down to parts per trillion.
  • Workforce deficit – Most of us baby-boomers will be retiring in the next decade, resulting in a shortage of experienced utility folks. In addition, the number of young people getting into the field is declining.
  • Money – Operating costs continue to climb. As always, there’s much competition for limited funds.

I’m hoping some economic stimulus packages will be forthcoming after the election. Building treatment plant upgrades is a great way to create jobs–at least in my opinion. After all, Water is Life.

 We have the beginnings of a Water War between Central and Northeast Florida.

With an ever-increasing population, Seminole County in Central Florida will not have enough groundwater by 2013, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District. The proposed solution–take surface water from the St. Johns River.

The Water Management District studied the request to determine if minimum flows and levels would be met, and determined that up to 262 million gallons per day could be removed without harming the river.  The St. Johns Riverkeeper, City of Jacksonville, and others filed for administrative hearing.

As a result, a multi-year, $2 million study is underway to determine the cumulative effect of water withdrawals on the St. Johns and Oklawaha Rivers. Fifty scientists with national standing in seven work groups will analyze every aspect of the withdrawals. The work groups include hydraulic modeling, biochemical, nutrients, aquatic insects and crustaceans, aquatic plants, fish and wetlands.

I recently attended a 2-day symposium on the project to date. Phase I of the project is complete, including excellent modeling calibration results. Some interesting findings to date:

  • Average daily flow through the St. Johns River is 5.2 billion gallons per day, with the highest weekly average daily flow at 36.6 billion gallons and the lowest at negative 882 million. That’s right–the river has a backward flow during certain periods.
  •  At the maximum proposed withdrawal rates, the greatest change in the river’s level would be 1.4 inches.
  • At the maximum propsed water level, the salinity change would be 0.7 parts per thousand.

Those impacts might not sound impressive, but the scientists are now embarking on Phase II of the project and how withdrawals will affect the ecosystem in greater detail.

More information is on the St. Johns River Water Management District’s website. Should be interesting!  Surface Water Withdrawals–Get the Facts.

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