Water Utilities Challenges
Inside: Examining the issues and potential solutions
10 Challenges of Water Utilities
One million miles of pipes deliver drinking water across the country, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, and many of those pipes are in need of modern-day upgrades.
Pipes connect everything within the water infrastructure, supplying 42 billion gallons of water a day in the United States. Water infrastructure can include reservoirs, pump stations and treatment plants, in addition to the many different sizes of pipes such as water mains, sewage lines and storm drains.
Challenges that Texas water utilities face:
- Aging infrastructure
- Leaking pipes
- Financing improvements
- The value of water
- Long-term water supply
- Water contamination
- Retirement and talent attraction, retention
- Population fluctuation
- Implementing innovative technology
- Infrastructure resiliency and emergency preparedness
Water, but no workers: Higher education systems are looking to help fill the water, wastewater industry workforce gap
The water and wastewater industry is seeing a decline in workers throughout the nation. To help fill the gap in the Texas’ workforce, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), an agency of the Texas A&M University System, have created educational pathways to work toward closing the workforce gap.
According to Dr. Rudolph Rosen, director of A&M-SA Institute for Water Resources Science and Technology, the need to replace workers in the water and wastewater workforce will increase over the next 10 years.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that 8.2 percent of existing water operators will need to be replaced annually between 2016 and 2026.
A&M-SA is helping expand the water workforce by creating a bachelor’s and master’s degree program through the Water Resources Science and Technology Program. The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the degree-conferring program in 2015.
Allowing water utility and wastewater workers to get their education through distance learning, whether through TEEX or A&M-SA-community college collaboration, is another way to counteract the decline.
Creating a Splash: City solves water problem, wins award
Until 2009, a small city in the Texas Hill Country was faced with a large water problem. It found a way to solve the challenge, winning one of Texas’ highest environmental awards along the way.
Lago Vista was regularly buying twice as much water as it delivered to its customers from the Lower Colorado River Authority, partially due to flushing high levels of total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), a group of potentially carcinogenic contaminants, out of its ground storage tanks and distribution system. The city lost approximately 2.1 million gallons of water a year flushing its ground storage tanks.
Through an innovative ground storage tank and TTHM removal project along with distribution system improvements, the city has now reduced its TTHM levels and decreased its water loss by 50 percent.
For its efforts, Lago Vista won the 2019 Texas Environmental Excellence Award (TEEA) in the technical/technology category for its ground storage tank and TTHMs removal project. TEEA, an annual Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awards program, honors achievements in environmental preservation and protection. Since 1993, the program has honored more than 250 successful environmental projects and efforts.
To combat the TTHM problem, Stewart and his team created a splash pump with a 1-inch discharge and two spray heads, which evolved into the current pump with a 2-inch discharge and six spray heads. Water from the spray heads splashes down on the water in the tank, and the impact of the water droplets on the water’s surface dissipates the TTHM gas, Stewart said.
After making these changes, the city saw drastic reductions in the presence of TTHMs — from 175 milligrams per liter to 40 — in the water distribution system. Stewart said the city’s TTHM level is now just half of the maximum EPA containment level of 80 milligrams per liter that can be present in a water distribution system. Lower TTHM levels also means less water is lost because tank flushing is not necessary.
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