Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lunch & Learn Addresses Capital Improvement Planning Changing Regulations and Opportunities

In water and wastewater systems, an asset is a component of a facility with an independent physical and functional identity and age (e.g., pump, motor, sedimentation tank, main). In 1977, 72% of capital investment in water and wastewater infrastructure was federally funded; by 2010 that dwindled to a mere 17%, with the balance generated from state and local funding, grants, and loans.

On April 30 in Livonia, MI, OHM Advisors and its partners from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), City of Livonia and Assetic hosted Capital Improvement Planning: Changing Regulations and Opportunities - the latest in its Lunch & Learn workshop series - to a packed room of concerned public employees and local authority representatives.

The renewal and replacement of the assets that make up our nation's water infrastructure is a constant and ongoing task. To efficiently manage this important part of a utility's business, many have turned to asset management to maximize the value of capital as well as operations and maintenance expenditures.

Bob Schneider and Jaclyn Merchant, from the MDEQ Revolving Loans Division, addressed upcoming changes in asset management planning, federal-mandated changes to State Revolving Funding (SRF) program, and changes to asset management requirements and revolving loans – effecting AMP, SAW, SRF and Water Resources Reform and Development Act programs.

Tom Wilson, from City of Livonia Department of Public Works, along with OHM Advisors’ Murat Ulasir, shared best practices to address municipal asset management challenges. They also emphasized the importance of utilizing a well-planned and well-developed geographic information system (GIS) – and smart technologies – to significantly improve the decision-making and planning efforts for infrastructure maintenance and replacement.

Brad Campbell from Assetic educated guests about the utilization of strategic asset management tools to meet the required level of service in the most cost-effective manner. The infrastructure gap presents three challenges:
      1)    Locate more funds – e.g. grants, low interest loans
      2)    Raise taxes and rates – while often necessary, this is never popular
      3)    Reduce level of service – equally as unpopular

However, strategic asset management provides a unique, viable option: to optimize current limited spending to achieve the biggest return on investment. Significant improvements in smart technology – optimization software, robots, water analytics like H20metrics, smart sensors, and more – have aided the identification of the biggest areas of opportunity. Brad exhibited specific technologies and tools that help develop realistic, long-term operation and maintenance strategies and Capital Improvement Plans (CIP).

One thing is certain in this changing landscape: with funding increasingly difficult to obtain and regulations altering the asset management scene, using smart technology to strategically manage the repair, maintenance and even replacement of assets is the way of the future.

Click here to download copies of the speaker presentations from this informative program. 

Want more information from last week’s topic? Questions or thoughts on infrastructure asset planning, management, and related smart technology tools? We’d love to hear from you!

Be sure to subscribe to our blog, as we’re soon launching an exciting new podcast audio streaming series featuring relevant topics for advancing communities – with infrastructure asset planning and management the first subject we'll cover.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Three ways K-12 education is becoming more like business (and why that’s not a bad thing)

Businesses are influencing education. And education is becoming more like business.

But not in the negative sense. This change? It’s a good thing.

The traditional models of education are shifting to something called 21st Century Learning. It’s an educational philosophy and model centered on the student, incorporating creative, participatory and project-based learning.

Students collaborate, problem solve and dive deeply into material, rather than memorize facts in subject silos.

OHM Advisors’ Director of Architecture, Gary Sebach, AIA, LEEP AP, is an advocate of 21st Century Learning. Gary presented School Design for the 21st Century Learning Objectives at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Midwest Great Lakes Regional Conference on April 8, 2015 at 2:45pm.

Sebach’s presentation was a deep dive on the ways that educational facility design is changing to support a paradigm shift in education itself. Case studies included Clark Hall at Gahanna Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio and Marysville STEM Academy Early College High School in Marysville, Ohio.

While Gary’s presentation covered 21st Century Learning elements from goal setting meetings to configurable classrooms, we wanted to spotlight three ways that education is becoming more like business.

1. Facility design is linked to student outcomes. 

Businesses have traditionally linked their strategy and activities to business outcomes like growth rates and profitability. Now, educational is following that model.

Rather than using published school building criteria to churn out cookie cutter institutional buildings, architects, administrators and students are evaluating a space’s ability to foster greater learning and using design to facilitate it. 

2. Schools are being designed like corporate offices. 

Virgin. Lego. Google. Disney Imagineering.

These companies are on the top of all the “Best Places” to work lists. They receive thousands of applications for every open position.

And, they all have colorful, dynamic office spaces that foster creativity in every detail. Gary Sebach believes that educational design should, too.

“Corporate work offices are trying to create inviting spaces that attract talent. Why aren’t we doing this in schools, too?” 

3. Education is shifting to meet real-world needs. 

Gone are the days when Henry Ford lamented, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”

Today’s employers don’t want order takers. They seek agile learners. Problem solvers. Flexible, adaptable, creative collaborators.

Sebach believes that the key elements of 21st Century Learning will develop the top performers that today’s employers seek: 
  • Real world relevance (global awareness) 
  • Deeper understanding of subject matter 
  • Ability to think creatively and critically 
  • Crossing and connecting subject matter 
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to communicate 
Marysville STEM Academy Principal Kathy McKinnis sums up the advantages of the 21st Century Learning approach, “Our students will walk out of here with a skill set that they can use right away.”

Future employers and educational partner, Honda Corporation, agrees. 

“If we could replicate this type of high school, not only across Ohio, but across the US, it would go a long way to help address the skill shortage that we’re facing,” says Honda’s Technical Workforce Development Manager, Scot McLemore.

Monday, April 13, 2015

First Flush Design for Stormwater Case Study Introduces Localized, Continuous Modeling Approach to Estimating Design Parameters

OHM Advisors' Murat Ulasir, PhD and City of Novi’s Timothy Kuhns (City Water and Sewer Engineer) teamed to present, First Flush Design for Stormwater, at the 28th Annual Michigan Stormwater Floodplain Association Conference, February 25-27, 2015.

That’s where they unveiled a case study involving a unique approach to estimating first flush on a site for stormwater treatment infrastructure. 

Ready? Let’s dig in.

What is first flush?

First flush is the initial runoff from a rain. In stormwater management circles, the first flush is important because that’s when the pollutants are most concentrated.

Picture a parking lot. Cars and trucks sit on the pavement, dripping engine grease and other chemicals onto the paved surface. The chemicals mostly stay on that paved surface…until it rains. Then, the rainwater washes those chemicals, along with dirt and debris to the nearest low point and eventually to your community’s storm sewers. 

State stormwater regulations require that communities evaluate and treat the first flush to remove those highest concentrations of harmful substances before they reach rivers and streams.

Why the first flush is so important

“To reduce the impacts of runoff on urban streams, the EPA expanded the Clean Water Act in 1987 to require municipalities to obtain permits for discharges of stormwater runoff. As a result, many communities have adopted regulations requiring developers to install stormwater management practices that reduce the rate and/or volume and remove pollutants from runoff generated on their development sites.” (Center for Watershed Protection)
The first flush is typically used for estimating design criteria for infrastructure to improve water quality. This means that the capital investment required for water quality enhancements is directly related to the first flush rainfall volume induced runoff volume and peak flow rates.

How does the industry calculate first flush and why can it be inadequate?

Standards are predominantly based on rainfall depth statistics and a prescribed rainfall volume.

One of the common practices in stormwater management is to calculate the first flush using what’s called the Rational Method to estimate the peak discharge rates that are used to determine treatment requirements.

However, the Rational Method has drawbacks: it assumes that the rainfall is uniformly distributed across the drainage area and evenly distributed. It doesn’t take soil moisture into account, either.

These assumptions can impact a community’s compliance costs unnecessarily. Stormwater funds are scarce and communities want to stretch them as far as possible. Overestimating the first flush pollutants means designing and building stormwater management infrastructure that’s bigger than you need.

Localized rainfall, runoff and moisture measurements
Because runoff volume and peak flows vary continuously with rainfall volume, rainfall intensity, watershed runoff characteristics, and antecedent moisture conditions, it’s more accurate to measure the rainfall and flows locally. 
That’s the approach Kuhns and Ulasir presented at the Michigan Stormwater Floodplain Association Conference: using localized continuous model to establish design flows. 

First, they used a hydrologic model calibrated to local rainfall data and local flow data. There are several continuous simulation models available:

·       Basins (HSPF)
·       IHACRES
·       H2OMetrics
·       EPA SWMM

These models use continuous modeling routines that establish the non-linear relationship between rainfall, temperature, and runoff.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Planning for Climate Change Impacts on the Environment

Climate change. What impact will it have on infrastructure? And how can we plan for the next 50 to 100 years, today?

OHM Advisors' Charles Humpriss, PE, gave a presentation at the Michigan Water Environment Association’s Watershed Seminar, Tangible Approaches to Quantify Climate Change for Infrastructure Planning and Design.

In it, he talked about a recent update to the EPA’s National Stormwater calculator, a free online modeling tool that estimates the annual amount of rainwater and frequency of runoff from a specific site based on local soil conditions, land cover, and historic rainfall records.

The new update adds a Climate Adjustment tool that lets engineers and planners evaluate the impacts of future climate change projections on water infrastructure performance. Some of the scenarios include more frequent high intensity storms and changes in evaporation rates of seasonal precipitation.


                    Median Change

The Climate Adjustment Tool also includes the ability to apply scenario projections to the near term (2020-2049) and far term (2045-2074.) showing how the different far term scenario projections affect monthly rainfall levels and extreme storm events.

Sanitary sewer analysis

Hydraulic engineers from OHM Advisors used the Climate Adjustment Tool to help the City of Ann Arbor evaluate future capacity needs for its sanitary sewer system. 

As part of a sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation study, the project team evaluated several scenarios and ran models for each, to determine the impact on the sanitary infrastructure.

In using the tool to evaluate Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer system, the team observed that the Warm/Wet scenario results in higher average rainfall, while the Hot/Dry scenario produces slightly larger extreme storms.

The hydraulics engineers performed a Frequency Analysis using Hydrologic Model Output and 60 years of historic rain data to analyze the frequency of storms with the potential to overwhelm the City’s wastewater treatment plant.  

Ultimately, the project team, which included an advisory committee of involved citizens, elected to use a 10% increase in future peak flow rates, to account for climate change, based on the results of the modeling.

A Technical Oversight and Advisory Group, which included nationally recognized authority on climate change impacts on landscape ecology, Dan Brown, of the University of Michigan, reviewed the project team’s recommendations:

“…TOAG Members indicated that the recommendation to increase the 25 year Design Event flow rate by 10% is reasonable since this is a mid-range value which falls near the center of the climate change forecast models showing “best case” and “worst case” future conditions…”

Charles adds a reminder for those using the tool, “It is important to point out that EPA Climate Adjustment Tool provides data specific to the geographical region of interest. It may be safe to assume that other communities in Southeast Michigan should increase their future design flow rates by 10% based on the Ann Arbor results, but keep in mind that the EPA Climate Adjustment Tool projections may be very different for communities outside of Southeast Michigan.”