Drinking water, wastewater, and emerging contaminants
Whether securing ample water supplies, treating water to meet stringent drinking standards, or delivering water through an aging distribution system, OBG develops sustainable and affordable solutions. Beyond the challenges facing public water facilities, OBG industrial water specialists provide high-purity water and water-saving techniques that address specific industry needs.
Drinking water. OBG’s foremost lead experts provide guidance through the maze of issues related to lead service line replacement to avoid pitfalls that others have faced. This expertise in managing lead issues was obtained working on multi-year programs for such high-profile clients as DC Water (Washington, D.C.).
Wastewater. Being in the forefront of nutrient reduction programs in the Chesapeake Bay region, OBG offers clients expertise in dealing with regional total maximum daily loads (TMDL) for nutrients and in multiple strategies for meeting nutrient permit limits at the lowest, most-effective cost.
Emerging contaminants. Many utilities are faced with addressing emerging threats from unregulated contaminants, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and cyanatoxins, to ensure access to clean water. OBG experts in emerging contaminants combine the Company’s industrial and municipal thought leaders into integrated teams that deliver proven technologies to solve these challenges.
Q&A with David Wilkes, PE, BCEE
David Wilkes, PE, BCEE is a senior vice president at OBG and leader of the Company’s water business. A nationally-recognized water expert with extensive environmental engineering and project management experience, David has specialized expertise in various water quality issues and advanced water treatment technologies. He has been involved in a variety of water treatment and water quality projects, including new, expanded, and rehabilitated water treatment plants ranging from 5 to more than 500 mgd, and is well-versed in Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory requirements. David serves on the AWWA Board of Directors and Executive Committee and is Chair of the AWWA Standards Council. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Water Design Build Council.
Q: What does it mean to achieve water security?
A: Today, achieving water security has many meanings due to multiple risks and challenges facing water utilities. Cybersecurity is a major concern for many as our water treatment plants and systems rely more heavily on electronic monitoring and control systems; this is probably one of the greatest vulnerabilities to protect against. The other key area of risk is due to climate change, and adaptation to it, to ensure infrastructure is protected and resilient and at the same time, to ensure water supply portfolio diversity. OBG’s water resources planning capabilities have been used by individual utilities and by regional utility groups to prepare water supply master plans.
Q: How do you make your community’s water future secure, for people and companies, for cities, and for the environment?
A: Planning is essential to ensuring a secure water future. Whether it is financial planning, capital planning, or resource planning, a utility that has considered the future and prepared itself appropriately will be better able to address the inevitable risks to that security.
Q: How do you develop smart, resilient water strategies to avoid water insecurity?
A: This requires putting systems in place that both protect your assets from risks and allow you to recover after an unforeseen event occurs; that is what makes you resilient.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the drinking water industry today?
A: The largest challenges are multifaceted and begin with technical and regulatory concerns, closely followed by workforce issues and financial capacity. The dominance of lead as a front-page issue due to Flint, Michigan has pushed the water industry into an area of visibility that it does not normally have – but not in a good way. To regain credibility and trust, the drinking water industry must do a better job of reducing lead exposure through lead service replacements, better corrosion control, and better public information campaigns. Most utilities have aging workforces and difficulty finding talent to replace them, and finally, the funding gap continues to widen between infrastructure renewal and replacement needs and available resources to pay for them.
Q: What are the market drivers for current national initiatives related to lead in drinking water, and how has OBG helped lead these initiatives?
A: Today, public sentiment is the biggest market driver for dealing with lead issues; however, in 2017, it is expected that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue revised lead and copper regulations that will drive the next round of drinking water system improvements to reduce lead exposure. Since one of the expected changes is a requirement to replace all lead services (time frame is still being debated), having the ability to implement such a program for large utilities will be critical. OBG has led such programs for two of the largest utilities facing this issue – DC Water and Providence Water (Rhode Island) – and understands the numerous details and stakeholders involved in lead service replacement.
Q: What innovations have you seen in wastewater treatment?
A: The largest innovations in wastewater treatment are related to making wastewater facilities resource recovery plants and not “waste” plants. Using methane gas from anaerobic digestion is providing ways for utilities to reduce their energy footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, while creating usable products from biosolids and the nutrients that are removed (e.g., phosphorus). Finally, using the effluent from these facilities as a source of water for cooling, irrigation, and even potable water for a drinking water plant has brought innovations in operations, monitoring and control, and resource planning.
Q: What do you consider today’s most threatening emerging contaminants, and how is OBG dealing with them?
A: Emerging contaminants take a lot of forms, but the primary ones now fall into two categories: naturally occurring and man-made. Cyanotoxins from algae blooms are the most prevalent emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies and are primarily the result of nutrient runoff into source waters. OBG’s expertise in understanding nutrient loading and treatment technologies helps us provide clients with the best preventive techniques.
In many of our market areas, perfluourinated chemicals (PFCs) are a dominant manmade threat due to contamination from past industrial and commercial practices related to fire-fighting foams. OBG’s unique combination of environmental remediation and drinking water treatment expertise helps us address this contaminant both in the environment and in our municipal clients’ drinking water plants.