Municipal Water Leader February 2021

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Volume 8 Issue 2

February 2021

Charlotte Water’s McAlpine Creek Water Facility Rehabilitation


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Charlotte Water’s McAlpine Creek Water Facility Rehabilitation

Municipal Water Leader is published 10 times a year with combined issues for May/June and November/December by

an American company established in 2009.

STAFF: Kris Polly, Editor-in-Chief Joshua Dill, Managing Editor Tyler Young, Writer Stephanie Biddle, Graphic Designer Eliza Moreno, Web Designer Caroline Polly, Production Assistant and Social Media Coordinator SUBMISSIONS: Municipal Water Leader welcomes manuscript, photography, and art submissions; the right to edit or deny publishing submissions is reserved. Submissions are returned only upon request. For more information, please contact our office at (202) 698-0690 or


February 2021 Volume 8, Issue 2 5 W astewater Planning By Kris Polly 8 Charlotte Water’s McAlpine Creek Water Facility Rehabilitation 14 J oe Mouawad of the Eastern Municipal Water District: Planning for Future Development Through Septic-to-Sewer Conversions

22 N orthwest Pipe’s Precision Design Aids Middlesex Water’s Plant Upgrade 28 H ow the City of Pueblo’s Ntensify Nutrient Removal System Is Saving Money on Chemicals and Energy 34 T he Brown’s Creek Watershed District: Improving Water Body Health in an Urbanizing Area

Do you have a story idea for an upcoming issue? Contact our editor-in-chief, Kris Polly, at

4 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

CIRCULATION: Municipal Water Leader is distributed to all drinking and wastewater entities with annual budgets or sales of $10 million per year or greater as well as to members of Congress and committee staff and advertising sponsors. For address corrections or additions, or if you would prefer to receive Municipal Water Leader in electronic form, please contact us at Copyright © 2021 Water Strategies LLC. Municipal Water Leader relies on the excellent contributions of a variety of natural resources professionals who provide content for the magazine. However, the views and opinions expressed by these contributors are solely those of the original contributor and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policies or positions of Municipal Water Leader magazine, its editors, or Water Strategies LLC. The acceptance and use of advertisements in Municipal Water Leader do not constitute a representation or warranty by Water Strategies LLC or Municipal Water Leader magazine regarding the products, services, claims, or companies advertised. @MuniWaterLeader /MuniWaterLeader muniwaterleader


Ron Hargrove, Deputy Utilities Director for Operations, Charlotte Water. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Water.


Coming soon in Municipal Water Leader: March: New Construction April: Apprenticeships and Career Development

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Wastewater Planning


ith growing cities, ever-tightening regulations, and constantly advancing treatment technology, wastewater planning is a process that never ends. In this month’s Municipal Water Leader, we bring you several stories of major wastewater planning processes that are in motion around the nation. In our cover story, Ron Hargrove of Charlotte Water tells us about a major, ongoing rehabilitation project that the agency is carrying out on its 64‑million-gallon-a-day McAlpine Creek Wastewater Facility. The project involves the rehabilitation or replacement of aeration systems, blowers, and clarifiers as well as targeted recoatings. Meanwhile, in California’s Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) is planning to ensure that its systems can accommodate several decades of future residential growth. EMWD’s Joe Mouawad tells us about one part of this process: replacing septic systems with sewer extensions large enough to serve potential future flows. Middlesex Water Company of Edison, New Jersey, is building an ozone treatment plant, which required the construction of a custom pipe section. We speak with Ron Payne, the senior project manager at Northwest Pipe’s Saginaw, Texas, plant, where the pipe was fabricated, and

By Kris Polly with Michael Barnes, Middlesex Water’s director of project delivery for the project. We also speak with Nancy Keller, director of wastewater for the City of Pueblo, Colorado, which just installed a new Ntensify nutrient removal system that promises to eliminate sizable chemical and energy expenses. Finally, we speak with Karen Kill of the Brown’s Creek Watershed District, based in Stillwater, Minnesota, which has significantly reduced runoff and pollution to the trout stream it works to protect, resulting in the sustainable return of native species. Wastewater planning requires long-range thinking, careful forecasting, and an openness to new technologies. Thanks to their efforts in these fields, our nation’s wastewater service providers will be providing reliable services far into the future. M Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader magazine and the president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He can be contacted at


Israel Water Education and Trade Tour, June 27–July 7, 2021

(Contingency dates: October 3–13, 2021) Please save the date for this tour, sponsored by Municipal Water Leader magazine and operated by Imagine Tours and Travel, LLC.

$4,707.00 per attendee (with airfare from Dulles airport) $4,319.00 per attendee (without airfare) All posted prices, services, and destinations are subject to the terms and conditions of the participant agreement. To view, please visit Municipal Water Leader magazine is published by Water Strategies LLC.

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Charlotte Water’s McAlpine Creek Water Facility Rehabilitation

As part of the rehabilitation of the McAlpine Water Treatment Plant, Charlotte Water is putting new mechanisms in all the secondary clarifiers.


harlotte Water in North Carolina is working on a major refurbishment program to improve its McAlpine Creek Wastewater Facility and address the aging of the infrastructure, some of which dates back to the 1960s. The project aims to rehab the heart of the plant, and will involve refurbishing or replacing aeration systems, blowers, and clarifiers and performing recoating of selected elements. In this interview, Charlotte Water’s deputy utilities director for operations, Ron Hargrove, tells Municipal Water Leader more about this major undertaking and about the utility as a whole. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background, your work experience, and how you got involved in water.

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Ron Hargrove: I graduated from Clemson University in 1987 with a bachelor of science in microbiology and wound up getting a job at the environmental lab of an engineering firm in Greenwood, South Carolina. Through that, I was introduced to water. One of my first projects was taking samples along a river in Virginia for a proposed paper mill

expansion project. That is how I learned about effluents and their effects on water quality. I worked for a little while for a hazardous waste incinerator, where I treated the cooling water from the scrubber. There was a pretreatment system to reduce the amount of heavy metals that was discharged to the city’s collection system. In 1989, I got a job at Charlotte Mecklenburg Utility Department, now known as Charlotte Water, and I’ve been in a municipal career ever since. I started out as a senior chemist in the lab, overseeing the daily water treatment process control. I also performed distribution system monitoring to ensure that all regulations were met and responded to customer water quality complaints. The 1990 lead and copper rule was the biggest regulatory event of the period. I was the lead staff member identifying our tier 1 sites and performing monitoring. Charlotte had great compliance levels due to the corrosion control it employed, and it passed with flying colors. That showed me how regulations directly affect utility workers and the work of treatment plants. I left Charlotte after about 4 years and moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I


Charlotte Water is replacing the tube-style diffusers in the existing aeration system at the McAlpine plant with membrane diffusers.

was hired as the manager of the City of Winston-Salem’s water quality laboratory. I was then promoted a couple of times and ended up as the deputy utilities director in charge of water and wastewater operations in 2002. In 2013, I became utilities director, in which position I oversaw water, wastewater, and the city’s landfills. In 2016, I wanted to move closer to home, and so I accepted an opportunity to become Charlotte Water’s deputy utilities director for operations. My current responsibilities include the water and wastewater treatment divisions and our maintenance division. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about Charlotte Water’s water and wastewater services. Ron Hargrove: Our system includes three water treatment facilities with a combined capacity of 174 million gallons a day (MGD). Our environmental management division includes our five wastewater treatment facilities; system protection, which includes pretreatment and our fats, oils, and greases program; biosolids management; and our water quality program. The maintenance division includes our

water and wastewater treatment plant maintenance staff, our lift station maintenance, a facilities and buildings maintenance group, and our electrical and instrumentation staff. All combined, there are 245 hard-working, committed team members who come to work each day to ensure our drinking water and the water discharged back to the streams is the best quality it can be and that our facilities are well maintained and in good operating condition. Charlotte Water is one of the largest systems in the Southeast. We manage and maintain approximately 9,000 combined miles of water distribution and wastewater collection piping. We have 10 water and wastewater treatment facilities and 7 additional facilities that contain our other operating, engineering, laboratory, and administrative functions. We have just over 1,000 full-time employees, and our operating and capital budget for fiscal year 2021 is $461 million. Municipal Water Leader: Where does Charlotte get its water, and how many people do you serve? Ron Hargrove: We have two intakes, both in the Catawba February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER


ADVERTISEMENT average of 50 MGD. It’s a regional plant and serves about two-thirds of our system. In terms of flow, it does about 55 percent of our treatment. We have some of the oldest activated-sludge plants in the nation. They were built in the early 1920s. As the plants have aged and the system has grown, flows are bypassed around them so that they don’t get overloaded; those flows are treated at McAlpine. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about the ongoing improvements to the McAlpine Creek Wastewater Facility.

An overview of the clarifiers at the McAlpine Water Treatment Plant.

River basin. One intake is in Lake Norman, which is a little north of Charlotte. Our largest intake, which is our historic intake, is in Mountain Island Lake. They’re both Duke Energy impoundments with power production. We’ve had an intake since before the reservoir was built in the early 1900s. We have the ability to withdraw a total of about 500 MGD. Our average water demand is around 107 MGD. We serve about a million people in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area and have approximately 300,000 water connections. We also have water interconnections with most of our neighbors and bordering counties, including a few in South Carolina. Municipal Water Leader: What is the total capacity of Charlotte Water’s five wastewater treatment plants? Ron Hargrove: We have five major wastewater treatment plants, and through some acquisitions, we also operate two package plants. The total capacity of the five major plants is 123 MGD. The two package plants add another 150,000 gallons a day. Sometimes, they are the more troublesome of the plants that we operate. Our average demand is around 90 MGD. These plants serve roughly the same number of people that we provide with potable water—around a million.

Ron Hargrove: Up until Raleigh recently increased its plant capacity, McAlpine was the largest wastewater treatment facility between Atlanta and Richmond. The McAlpine plant is rated at a capacity of 64 MGD and treats an

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Municipal Water Leader: What effects will the project have when it is complete? Ron Hargrove: We are replacing the aeration system and installing high-efficiency blowers, so we hope to save money on electricity. We are replacing the tube-style diffusers in our existing aeration system with membrane diffusers in all the basins. Our final clarifier mechanisms will be stainless steel, and the floor of the clarifiers will be improved so that they do not cause any problems with solids removal. We also are replacing some of the major electrical components in the plant to provide more reliability and redundancy. This project will extend the useful life of these systems by 30 years. McAlpine has to operate under a phosphorus nutrient limit that resulted from a potential lawsuit between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, South Carolina, and North Carolina. We elected in the early 2000s to receive a phosphorus limit. Right now, our process includes chemical phosphorus removal. As an initial step in this project, we installed a full-scale pilot fermentation basin, which gave the designers the data needed to complete a BioWin model of our facility and allowed us to consider changing our process from chemical to biological nutrient removal. After 9 months of piloting, we saw that a fermenter might pay huge dividends and allow us to cut our ferric chloride usage in half. We hope to achieve both chemical savings and energy savings by converting to a biological


Municipal Water Leader: How does the McAlpine Creek Wastewater Facility fit in in terms of capacity and customers?

Ron Hargrove: The plant was originally built in the early 1960s and came online in 1966. It has undergone many upgrades, expansions, and improvements over time. It’s actually two plants on the same site. There’s a lot of brick, mortar, and pipe infrastructure on site. Our recent improvements are intended to address the aging of the infrastructure. We had 28 aeration tanks and 16 secondary clarifiers that were at the end of their life cycles. We needed to go in and rehab the heart of the plant, so to speak. We are changing out the aeration systems in all the basins, we’re changing out our blowers, and we’re putting new mechanisms in all the secondary clarifiers. The project will cost about $120 million. We have to keep the plant operating throughout, so it has to be done in sections. It’s going to take about 5 years to get through everything.

ADVERTISEMENT removal process. The pilot also allowed our operations staff to learn the pros and cons of operating fermentation basins and to gain experience with different processes and process control methods. Municipal Water Leader: Is that a treatment for solid or liquid waste? Ron Hargrove: It would remove most of the phosphorus from the liquid stream and add it to the solids stream. Down the road, we’re going to invest in nutrient harvesting so that when we dewater the solids, we can treat the side stream and convert the phosphorus to a pelletized phosphate product. That’s not part of this project, though. Over the next 8–10 years, we will build a thermal hydrolysis process (THP) system here to treat our biosolids. Because the McAlpine plant is so large, it has become our regional biosolids treatment facility, and we will build the THP system there. That system will further treat our biosolids, convert them to a class A product, and diversify our disposal options. One of our plants already conveys its solids to McAlpine. We plan to build pipelines from two other facilities to McAlpine and perform all the solids treatment there.

to provide ideas and recommendations to Charlotte Water and the design-build team that would provide a better outcome from a process standpoint. We asked most of the major consultants that we work with to have their process experts come to Charlotte for a day to chat about how we could design this improvement in such a way that we would guarantee that we would have flexibility in our process in the future. The committee members put their heads together and came up with the idea of doing a full-scale pilot to try out some ideas. The pilot taught us that a fermenter would benefit us; that the aeration grid could be modified and expanded to provide more aeration; and that our basins could be further compartmentalized, which would help us should we need to convert the basins to something different down the road. The pilot was expensive but well worth the cost.

Municipal Water Leader: What is the biggest obstacle you are working to overcome with your current project? Ron Hargrove: The biggest obstacle is that it’s a designbuild project. It’s the first rehabilitation of a treatment facility that we have done by means of the design-build process. We’ve done other projects via the design-builddelivery process, including one at McAlpine. Coordination among the various teams—the design-builder, Garney Construction; its engineer, Brown and Caldwell; the Charlotte Water engineering and operations team; and our owner’s advisor, Black and Veatch—is critical to making this project a success. Coordinating all the teams and making sure they were communicating and on the same page has probably been the biggest obstacle, particularly because this was such a large plant with such an involved operations team. We seemed to be spinning our wheels at the beginning. One of the things that made the biggest difference is that we formed an executive committee made up of the leaders of each group. They got together and set a schedule goal and a budget goal for the team. When we established those targets, the team really came together and started developing a path to meet them. Everybody had their own goals until we brought the committee together. It made the team a lot more efficient. Second, our Charlotte Water team was concerned with making sure that we were building an improvement that would be forward thinking and flexible enough to accommodate potentially stricter permit limits in the future. This concern inspired us to form a blue-ribbon committee

An emptied aeration tank at the McAlpine Water Treatment Plant.

Municipal Water Leader: Do you have additional advice for folks who are considering major infrastructure improvements? Ron Hargrove: Be forward thinking. Think about what may come down the road and make sure that your improvements aren’t something you will have to undo in the future. Design-build has been a good experience, although the budget was a challenge. I think our first estimate of all the things that we dreamed of changing exceeded our budget by a third. With the design-builder on board, there was a value engineering process that was embedded in the cost estimating. That provided a lot of benefits in a major rehab project like this. Local or state laws in each area govern the possibilities for design-build, but I wouldn’t be afraid to try it again somewhere, because I think it provided us the benefit of having a good contractor. We have confidence in our contractor and in meeting our schedule. We got an idea February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER

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A clarifier at the McAlpine plant.

of the cost as we made decisions, which I think has proven to be beneficial. Municipal Water Leader: Are you resurfacing your concrete? Ron Hargrove: We had a big debate about that. The designbuild team brought in experts from Brown and Caldwell, Black and Veatch, and Warren Environmental to look at the basin walls and their coatings. We will be recoating strategically—just in the areas where it is necessary. Each basin will be cleaned, inspected, and recoated in areas where the deterioration is excessive; the effluent launder troughs in each basin will also be recoated. A&W Maintenance is performing the work. The complete recoating of all our basins would have cost an additional $3 million, so this strategic approach is much more manageable. Municipal Water Leader: What is your message to Congress about water infrastructure?

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wastewater treatment plant, which would be our sixth. That’s a $350 million project. Right now, we cannot get any more SRF funding for it. We can apply for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, but that wouldn’t work quite as well as the SRF program. Municipal Water Leader: What thoughts do you have for recent graduates and young people who are considering careers in the water industry? Ron Hargrove: It is all you would ever dream it to be. When I came out of school, my goals went no higher than being a guy working in a lab. By jumping in when there was an opportunity, I quickly learned how to manage people, how to solve problems, and how to make decisions. Some people are reluctant to make a decision for fear of making a bad decision, but you only learn when you make bad decisions. You learn what not to do. I never dreamed I would be a director, but timely opportunities and the faith and mentoring of people along the way got me here. Anybody can get there if I did. Without a doubt, you can achieve your career goals in the water industry. Charlotte Water has won the utility of the future award a couple of times. There are a plethora of resources that make Charlotte Water a great place to work. The people, especially, are the reason Charlotte stays successful. M Ron Hargrove is the deputy utilities director for operations at Charlotte Water. He can be contacted at


Ron Hargrove: The need increases every year. State revolving fund (SRF) funding is great for utilities that can receive it, but Charlotte is tapped out on the amount of loans that we can receive. It’s better financing than we would get elsewhere, but the cap prevents us from taking advantage of it. I understand that some smaller systems may have revenues that are too low to finance their projects, but large utilities have large capital needs as well. It would be good if Congress or the state looked at ways to finance large projects through SRF. To give you an example, our 5‑year capital improvement plan will cost $1.9 billion. We’re planning to embark on one of our largest projects ever: building a new greenfield

Twenty-eight aeration tanks at the McAlpine plant required rehabilitation.



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Joe Mouawad of the Eastern Municipal Water District: Planning for Future Development Through Septic-to-Sewer Conversions Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. Joe Mouawad: I have approximately 30 years of experience in the water industry. I have an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Cal Poly Pomona and a master’s degree in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. I’ve been with EMWD for the past 14 years. Initially, I served as the director of engineering, and over the years, I’ve had the privilege to take on additional responsibilities. Over the past 4 years, I have served as the assistant general manager. I oversee the district’s planning, engineering, and construction functions. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about EMWD as an agency. Joe Mouawad: We serve approximately 550 square miles of western Riverside County, an area with a population of over 825,000. We are distinctive in that we are both a retailer and a wholesaler providing water, wastewater, and recycled water services. We serve seven cities and large incorporated areas in Riverside County. We are the sixth-largest retail water agency in the state. Municipal Water Leader: What does planning look like for an agency like EMWD? Pipe being installed as part of the Quail Valley septic-to-sewer conversion.


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he Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) provides water, wastewater, and recycled water service to more than 825,000 people living and working within a 555‑square mile service area in western Riverside County, California. To ensure that it can provide these essential services far into the future despite the challenges of drought, population growth, and development, it carries out a variety of master planning and strategic planning activities. One significant area of wastewater planning relates to septic-to-sewer conversions, which must be accomplished with future decades of growth and development in mind so that the infrastructure that is planned and built is adequate to handle all the flows an area could potentially generate. In this interview, Joe Mouawad, the assistant general manager of EMWD, speaks with Municipal Water Leader about EMWD’s planning efforts, specifically those related to sewer conversions.

Joe Mouawad: Our planning efforts occur on multiple levels, including strategic planning, master planning, and facilities infrastructure planning. Strategic planning occurs with guidance from our board of directors, which assists us in developing our long-term vision and policies that help shape our objectives and priorities. Master planning is the process in which we evaluate the optimum approach to expand all our product lines to accommodate growth, including wastewater, recycled water, and potable water. In conjunction with master planning, we perform facilities infrastructure planning. We use the land-use plans that are adopted by the cities and the county to develop plans that serve as a road map for our facilities expansions all the way until buildout, which is currently anticipated to occur beyond 2065. Currently, we’re only about 38 percent built out. Based on those planning efforts, we develop and prioritize our capital improvement program and funding strategy on a yearly basis.

ADVERTISEMENT We look at the evolution of our services, especially recycled water. We pride ourselves on our strategic objective of using 100 percent of the recycled water we produce. Over the past few years, we have used over 95 percent of the recycled water we produced. Currently, approximately 65 percent of our recycled water sales are to the agricultural community. As we continue to grow, we will need to evolve with our customer base. We are currently advancing projects for indirect potable reuse and for replenishing our groundwater basin with purified and recycled water. We employ innovative technologies and continually evaluate emerging technology that may benefit us. There is a brackish groundwater basin in the Perris area, and we currently have two operational reverse osmosis (RO) brackish desalination facilities and are constructing a third, which will come online late this summer. The salt that is removed from the brackish groundwater is discharged into the Inland Empire Brine Line and exported to the Pacific Ocean. Not only are we producing local water to reduce our reliance on imported supplies, but creating that salt offset allows us to continue expanding our recycled water system. It also prevents the migration of brackish water to adjacent higher-quality groundwater aquifers. We are currently pilot testing a closed-circuit RO system to determine whether we can increase recovery and reduce brine discharge. We are also embarking on a North Perris groundwater contamination remediation program, which will involve treating and containing a series of comingled contamination plumes. We were fortunate enough to receive $45 million in grant funding from the state, the largest grant we have ever received. That project is underway and involves advancing a series of wells in the Moreno Valley and the North Perris area. We also do focused area planning. For example, we look for opportunities to plan the expansion of our wastewater collection system, including pipelines and lift stations, into specific areas within our service boundaries that have legacy issues like septic systems. During the planning process, we identify proposed developments that may come to fruition adjacent to those septic system communities and collaborate with their developers to advance an infrastructure sewer solution to accommodate current and future flow generation. Municipal Water Leader: How do you plan for the funding of your future operations and expansions? Joe Mouawad: We have an active grants and loans initiative and have been successful in securing significant external funding on the federal, state, and local levels to support our programs and initiatives. Those external funding opportunities are critical. They enable projects that otherwise would be impossible, providing a long-term benefit to the community. Advocacy on multiple levels—federal, state, and local—is a key to success. We meet with representatives of funding agencies on a regular basis, including in Sacramento; in

Washington, DC; and with local agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC), which incentivizes local projects that reduce reliance on imported supplies. Advancing certain strategic projects to construction requires significant amounts of funding support. For example, we were able to secure $22.5 million from the state to support the construction of our third desalter, which is under construction. We also have an agreement with the MWDSC that will provide us with a subsidy once the system is operational. That subsidy, over 25 years, will add up to over $27 million. We strategically position these projects, including upfront planning, environmental reviews, and necessary property acquisitions, so that we can successfully secure funding when opportunities like these arise.

Construction work being done on the septic-to-sewer converison.

Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about the septicto-sewer conversions that EMWD is carrying out and their importance in wastewater planning. Joe Mouawad: In certain areas within our service boundaries, such as Quail Valley, a community of about 3,600 parcels with over 4,000 residents, there are failing septic systems that pose a public health concern. Because of those conditions, in 2006, the Regional Water Quality Control Board imposed a prohibition on any additional septic tank systems in Quail Valley. In 2005, we initiated planning efforts to find the most cost-effective way to extend our sewer collection system to that community, recognizing that this was a legacy issue that would require external funding. We were able to work with a developer that was planning a community adjacent to Quail Valley to oversize the sewer collection system, including a lift station, so that it could accommodate additional flows from Quail Valley. With the help of the state, the Santa Ana Watershed Protection February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER

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ADVERTISEMENT Agency (SAWPA), the City of Menifee, and other stakeholders, we were able to secure almost $13 million of grant funding to support the construction of the sewer system. In the first phase of the program, we converted more than 255 parcels from septic to sewer. The remaining phases of the program will require continued state and federal funding support. We are working closely with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board to form a funding advocacy task force with other entities, including the county, the cities, and other agencies that have an interest in Quail Valley to advocate and solicit funding support. What was key to the Quail Valley septic-to-sewer conversion was to make sure that the extension of the regional facilities, the offsite sewer collection system, and the lift station was sufficient not only to serve the first phase of septic-to-sewer conversion, but to serve the total flows that would ultimately be connected to the sewer collection system in the future. Municipal Water Leader: How do you predict the size and scale of future development?

16 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

Municipal Water Leader: Is it important to regularly communicate with your rate payers about planning issues such as these? Joe Mouawad: We perform extensive public outreach, particularly relating to cost. We often hold community meetings, sometimes in both English and Spanish, depending on the demographics of the community. In the case of Quail Valley, we also sent out mailers and worked closely with community leaders who then went door to door, informing residents about the program, its benefits to the community, and the schedule and letting them know that we needed their assistance to make the program successful. Ultimately, residents needed to allow us to come onto their property to disconnect the septic tanks and connect their households to the sewer. We were pleased that we were able to get the cooperation and assistance of the owners of all the lots we needed to convert in Quail Valley and to deliver the project without any capital cost burden on the residents. By securing funding, we converted the systems at no cost to residents. They are obligated to pay a monthly fee for sewer use, but that is often lower than the cost of pumping and maintaining a failing septic tank. Municipal Water Leader: What are the next steps for EMWD’s wastewater planning? Joe Mouawad: We are working to convert additional areas within Quail Valley from septic to sewer, and we continue to pursue additional external funding opportunities. Specifically, we’re looking at an area identified as subarea 4, which is challenging because of its shallow bedrock and rolling terrain. The conditions are not ideal for a conventional gravity sewer system. We are currently advancing a planning effort with the support of the State Water Resources Control Board, which provided us with $500,000 of grant funding, and SAWPA, which provided us with $200,000 of grant funding. With that funding, we are looking not only at a conventional gravity sewer collection system, but also alternative technologies such as vacuum sewer systems and grinder pumps or a hybrid of all three technologies. In addition, we are developing the phasing of a sewer system within subarea 4. M

Joe Mouawad is the assistant general manager of planning, engineering, and construction for EMWD. For more information, please visit


Joe Mouawad: We work closely with development community and land-use agencies to better understand the projects they are planning, including the proposed development density, the phasing, the product lines, and the anticipated wastewater flow generation. In addition, we use land-use plans for areas that are currently on septic systems to anticipate the potential generation of wastewater from those areas. At times, future development may take several years to occur, so we phase our wastewater collection system accordingly. In addition to the conversion in Quail Valley, there have been other similar initiatives. In Temecula wine country, we worked with the county and the vintners to extend our wastewater collection system. The county developed a plan for wine country that involved significant growth and the development of hospitality services, including additional restaurants and lodging, in an area that at that point relied exclusively on septic systems. However, due to groundwater conditions, the county’s plan could not be implemented unless there was a sewer system in place. We received funding from the county and the vintners to extend the sewer to Temecula wine country to accommodate the area’s development needs and the county’s economic plan. A few years ago, we completed a septic-to-sewer conversion for a community called Enchanted Heights that straddles the city of Perris and an unincorporated area of Riverside County. This area had been on a septic system that contributed to groundwater contamination that ultimately affected downstream potable wells. We worked with the state and the City of Perris to secure the funding necessary to convert that entire community to our sewer collection system. We made certain that the system was sized properly based on the flow generation that we anticipated; we worked with the community residents, the local municipality, the city, and the

county to understand the zoning; and we worked with the developers to anticipate which future developments might connect to the proposed sewer system extension.




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Cambria Lift Station: Rehabilitation of a Steel Wet Well

he Village of Lombard, Illinois was evaluating the maintenance and operational costs of its Cambria Lift Station, which was experiencing service issues due to poor operation of the check valves and inefficient pumps. Installed in 1989, the steel can lift station had exceeded its service life. During heavy rain events, the wet well would become filled with solids due to excess inflow and infiltration which were eventually pumped back to the lift station. Public Works staff estimated its maintenance at a yearly cost of $30,000 to $40,000. Rehabilitating the facility was the obvious solution for a reliable sewer collection system. Phase 2 of the Cambria Lift Station Rehabilitation was performed under two contracts with Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. of Rosemont, IL as the design consultant. The first contract addressed a manhole modification, sewer televising and the installation of a permanent bypass line. The second contract consisted of the replacement of pumps, piping, control panel, flow meter, and air vacuum manholes, rehabilitation of the existing steel wet well, and site restoration. Only technologies that allowed minimal reduction of the inner diameter of the wet well were considered in order to allow sufficient maintenance and operational space for the three new pumps; therefore, coatings and spray-on linings were initially specified. The Village of Lombard project manager began to research other potential rehabilitation technologies. Hobas CCFRPM pipe soon presented itself as an alternate option that would provide a long-term corrosion-free solution well within budget. “The Village sought an alternate coating/lining process that would eliminate the need for cathodic protection and thus reduce maintenance costs. Through research related to linings/liners that stood up to H2SO4, CCFRPM came up as a potential fit. By using the Hobas liner, Public Works would have two benefits, the elimination of cathodic protection and a long-term service life structural liner,” said Ray Schwab, Civil Engineer II, the engineering project manager for the Village of Lombard. Due to its prevalent use to rehab sewers, Hobas was added as an alternate per an addendum. John Neri Construction of Addison, IL, was the low bidder utilizing the Hobas option. Construction began in April 2019 and was completed in June of the same year.

“The rehabilitation of the Cambria Lift Station was the first time JNC has worked with Hobas as well as their fiberglass liner product. The depth of the lift station required 33 feet of 110‑inch inside diameter (I.D.) pipe to be inserted into the existing 120‑inch I.D. steel wet well. Being that the outside diameter (O.D.) of the Hobas pipe was 114 inches, it was a very tight installation,” said Nicholas Neri, assistant manager/estimator, John Neri Construction. “Once installed, JNC was able to core the Hobas pipe to accept the influent and effluent piping. We were very pleased with the integrity and quality of the Hobas material, as its assembly and installation couldn’t have gone more smoothly.”


Northwest Pipe’s Precision Design Aids Middlesex Water’s Plant Upgrade

Workers connect a section of new 72-inch AWWA C200 spiralweld steel pipe with cement mortar lining and coating to an existing reinforced concrete pipe with an inner diameter of 72 inches and an outer diameter of 84 inches.


iddlesex Water Company (MWC), which owns and operates several water and wastewater systems across the mid-Atlantic region, recently built an ozone treatment facility as part of a $70 million upgrade to its largest treatment plant in New Jersey. This improvement was challenging from a design and construction perspective: it required the rapid relocation and reconnection of an existing 72inch reinforced concrete pipeline with a custom-designed steel pipe and elbow fitting manufactured by Northwest Pipe Company. To avoid disrupting service to MWC’s customers, Northeast Remsco Construction had to remove the existing pipe and install the new pipe in just 8 hours. In this interview, Michael J. Barnes, MWC’s director of project delivery, and Ron Payne, the senior project manager at Northwest Pipe Company’s Saginaw, Texas, plant, give us the owner's and manufacturer’s perspectives on this critical, highly precise project.

Michael J. Barnes: I am the director of project delivery for MWC. I graduated from Northeastern University in civil engineering with honor and went on to receive a

22 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

Ron Payne: My current role is senior project manager at Northwest Pipe’s Saginaw, Texas, plant. I started with Northwest Pipe in 1991, so I’ve been here for 30 years. I started as a project designer, and through the years, I moved up to project manager and senior project manager. My job entails the drawing, engineering, and design side of pipe production. Once production starts, we hand it off to our production guys and we handle any design or contractual issues that may arise.


Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to be in your current positions.

master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. I have over 40 years of experience with major civil engineering projects and started my career in 1978 as a water treatment consultant. In 1984, I started my operations career as director of aqueducts and distribution for the City of Jersey City, New Jersey. I have been responsible for raw and finished water pipelines of up to 102 inches in diameter. I was hired by MWC in 2013 as the executive director of a subsidiary water and sewer utility and was assigned to oversee and deliver the $70 million ozone treatment improvements at the company’s largest treatment plant, the Carl J. Olsen (CJO) Water Treatment Plant in Edison, New Jersey.

ADVERTISEMENT Municipal Water Leader: Mr. Barnes, Please tell us about MWC.

60–72 inches in diameter, needed to be relocated to allow for the installation of the new facilities.

Michael J. Barnes: MWC, which is headquartered in Iselin, New Jersey, was incorporated as a water utility company in 1897 and owns and operates multiple regulated water utility and wastewater systems, primarily located in Delaware and New Jersey. Middlesex also operates water and wastewater systems under contract on behalf of municipal and private clients in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The company’s Middlesex system serves approximately 61,000 retail customers, and water from the CJO plant serves nearly half a million residents in eastern Middlesex County, New Jersey. The company’s range of services includes water production, treatment, and distribution; full-service municipal contract operations; designing, building, owning, and operating system assets; engaging in public-private partnerships; wastewater collection and treatment; water and wastewater system maintenance; and water and sewer line maintenance programs, which are carried out through a third-party vendor.

Municipal Water Leader: What were the main challenges of the construction and relocation process?

Municipal Water Leader: Why did MWC decide to build an ozonation facility? Michael J. Barnes: While MWC meets current water quality regulations set by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it was seeking to upgrade its existing plant, increase its resiliency, improve water quality, and comply with increasingly stringent drinking water regulations. Replacing our current water treatment method with ozone allows us to mitigate the occurrence of disinfection byproducts that can form when chlorine is used for primary disinfection. This upgrade will improve the taste and odor of our water and will also enable the company to better address compounds of emerging concern. The end result of this project is improved water quality for our retail and wholesale customers. The plant upgrade is one of numerous water infrastructure investments being made under the company’s Water for Tomorrow capital program to enhance drinking water safety, reliability, and resiliency for current and future generations of water users. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about construction of the facility and why it required the relocation of an existing pipeline. Michael J. Barnes: In order to construct the new ozone contact basins and chemical feed systems required during the upgrade, a few of the existing plant chlorine contact basins needed to be demolished, along with the associated large-diameter settled water pipelines. These pipelines,

Michael J. Barnes: A project of this magnitude comes with many challenges, including the overriding requirement of continuing to operate the existing water treatment plant while the improvements are being carried out. In order to remove the existing facilities, several pipelines needed to be replaced with minimal disruption to plant operations. The first challenge involved the capping of a more-than50-year-old 72‑inch steel pipeline over the course of a 6‑hour plant shutdown. That occurred in fall 2019. Approximately 12 months later, with significant new facilities adjacent to the pipelines under construction, new 60‑ and 72‑inch pipelines and valve chambers were installed, preparing for final connection into the existing plant facilities which required a brief shutdown. This second 6‑hour shutdown, which occurred in fall 2020, required two connections into active pipelines to be made simultaneously. These connections involved complicated fittings, and I credit our teams with executing the connections with perfect precision. Our objective was to keep any disruption to plant operations to a minimum, and we accomplished that. Municipal Water Leader: What elements of the treatment process had to be shut down for this installation, and why was there a strict time limit on the pipeline replacement? Michael J. Barnes: The CJO treatment plant was originally constructed in the late 1960s, and a plant expansion was completed in 1999. This allowed plant operators to maintain operations through either the original plant facilities or the newer facilities. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on our plant to produce safe drinking water—something that is critically important during a pandemic for handwashing and good hygiene. The strict time limit for the construction last fall was necessary to ensure that our plant operations were maintained with minimal effects on our customers. Municipal Water Leader: Mr. Payne, tell us about the Saginaw, Texas, plant. How big is it and what kind of products does it make? Ron Payne: We make spiralweld steel pipe. For the unfamiliar, the pipe looks like something like a paper towel tube: It begins with a steel coil that is rolled helically and then welded inside and out to make the pipe. We line and coat the pipe as well. The lining is generally cement mortar and the coating is most often polyurethane. For the Middlesex Water project, we did a cement mortar coat on the exterior of the pipe.. All the fabrication and testing is February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER

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ADVERTISEMENT done at our plant, which is just north of Fort Worth and covers about 40 acres. We have around 150 employees.

Municipal Water Leader: Did you choose the material for this particular project, or did the contractor request steel pipe?

Municipal Water Leader: What were the requirements of the MWC project, and how did it differ from other projects you’ve worked on?

Ron Payne: The specifications for the job determine what kind of material can be used. We bid steel to the contractor, but other companies may have bid using some other type of pipe. Some jobs specify steel only; some allow ductile iron or PVC. We are bound by the project specifications as far as material—even down to what grade of steel or what type of paint can be used.

Ron Payne: Most of our projects are pipelines and are high footage and low fabrication. Plant jobs like this project, however, require a lot more fabrication work. The total footage was only about 525 feet, but fabrication made up about 45 percent of the job. On a normal job, it is only 10–20 percent. The project consisted of a small amount of 16‑ and 36‑inch pipe inside the existing water treatment plant and about 300 feet of 60‑inch line, which connected an existing 72‑inch line at one end to another existing 72‑inch line at the other. Off the 60‑inch line were a few 72‑inch laterals with connections to some stainless steel piping in the new ozone treatment building. We sometimes refer to pipes like that as spaghetti pipes, because they wander in different directions and have a lot of connections. The connections are the difficult part. At one end, our 60‑inch line connected to a reinforced concrete pipe, which is a whole different animal. Our 72‑inch diameter for that size pipe is 84 inches in diameter in their world, so we had to figure out how to connect two sections of pipe whose diameters differed by 12 inches. We worked with the install contractor, Northeast Remsco, which took a lot of field measurements throughout the design process. The line we provided ran just about 90 degrees perpendicular to the existing line. We had to build a 90‑degree elbow that went from 60 inches on one side of the elbow up to 84 inches in diameter on the other and hit those two points exactly. They had to install it within a shutdown time of about 6 hours. The contractors had to get the old pipe out, get our pipe in, and get it put together in that time. It went extremely well. Municipal Water Leader: Once the pieces of pipe that you fabricated were on site, was it the construction company that welded them together?

24 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

Ron Payne: We submitted this job for initial approval in August 2019, and it was released in May and September 2020. Over the 9 months from August 2019 to May 2020, we worked with the contractor, discussing how to make the connections to existing pipe work. The initial layout was based on original plant plans that depicted what should be in the ground, and it turned out that most of those connections needed to be adjusted based on the original configuration. The contractor came to us for suggestions. We had a job in Las Vegas 20 years ago with a similar characteristics—low pressure and steel connecting to concrete—and so I suggested that project’s solution to him. We started down that road and that’s what we ended up doing. It was interesting and fun to draw on something that I did two decades ago. Municipal Water Leader: What lessons did you take away from this project that you may apply to projects in the future? Ron Payne: Communication with the contractor was particularly important in this project, given the unusual connections involved. The contractor was on site with the surveyor, sending us CAD drawings. There was a lot of back-and-forth communication with our customer. That is important to make sure we get everything right. It’s something that I usually do and will continue to do. This project reinforced the usefulness of that approach. M Michael J. Barnes, P.E., director of project delivery for Middlesex Water Company. For more on Middlesex Water Company, visit

Ron Payne is a senior project manager at Northwest Pipe. For more information on Northwest Pipe Company, please see


Ron Payne: Yes. We provide the fabricated pieces and they do all the installation. Most of the joints on this job were welded. For this particular 84‑inch connection, we ended up providing the contractors a coupling made by a company called Smith Blair. The main lines we usually build are designed for pressures of 150–300 pounds per square inch (psi), but the pressure in this line was going to be below 10 psi, which allowed us to go with a slightly less conventional coupling. We had the coupling made to fit over the end of our steel pipe on one side and to fit over the concrete on the existing line. Northeast Remsco built a wall around the existing line with studs and harness rods in it. It tied it all together to make sure it was properly restrained.

Municipal Water Leader: What else was distinctive about this project?


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How the City of Pueblo’s Ntensify Nutrient Removal System Is Saving Money on Chemicals and Energy

The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk in downtown Pueblo, Colorado.


he City of Pueblo, Colorado, recently undertook a renovation of its James R. DiIorio Wastewater Reclamation Facility, installing an Ntensify nutrient removal system that has made its treatment process significantly more efficient and has reduced chemical and energy expenses so much that the improvement will pay for itself within 2 years. In this interview, Pueblo’s director of wastewater, Nancy Keller, tells Municipal Water Leader about the benefits of the Ntensify system and about the Pueblo Wastewater Department’s other top issues.

capacity of 19 million gallons a day (MGD) and is currently operating at about 11 MGD. Municipal Water Leader: What was the motivation behind the recent renovation of the DiIorio plant?

Municipal Water Leader: Would you give us an overview of the City of Pueblo’s wastewater services?

Municipal Water Leader: Were there issues with the plant related to aging infrastructure?

Nancy Keller: The James R. DiIorio Water Reclamation Facility is the city’s only wastewater facility. It serves the 110,000 people of Pueblo as well as a few thousand people outside the city boundaries. The plant has a design

Nancy Keller: Aging is an issue. The plant is about 30 years old, and portions of it have changed over the years. When we began removing ammonia, we knew that we would also have to remove other nutrients down the road, so we took

Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position with the City of Pueblo.

28 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021


Nancy Keller: I am a medical technologist who moved from a hospital lab to managing a commercial lab and then to managing the city’s wastewater lab for 22 years. More and more regulatory issues of the sort I assisted with were coming up, and eventually my position was split into two jobs. I moved into a regulatory compliance position, which I held for 8 years, and then became the city’s wastewater director in 2016.

Nancy Keller: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring states to address nutrient loading to prevent the eutrophication of rivers. The EPA has worked with Colorado and many other states to develop standards for nitrogen and phosphorus. In Colorado, those standards are being implemented in two phases. The Regulation 85 requirements that are in place right now set a level that needs to be reached immediately. There will be a second level with lower standards that will be adopted in 2027. The requirements of the first phase were put into our permit with a compliance schedule that required us to meet the standards by April 2021. The construction that would have been necessary to add the nutrient removal processes would have cost $25–$30 million, so we took an alternate approach that was significantly less expensive.


The upper portion of the hydrocyclones.

out the trickling filter and began using activated sludge systems, which were upgraded to Johannesburg systems. We have set it up in such a way that we will be able to add processes to reduce phosphorus to low levels in the future. There are a lot of issues related to the aging of the plant and trying to keep up with replacement and maintenance. We have 464 miles of pipe in our collection system, and over 65 percent of that pipe is over 50 years old.


Municipal Water Leader: Would you tell us about the Ntensify nutrient removal process and how it differs from the process you were using before? Nancy Keller: Twenty-five percent of the citizens of Pueblo are below the federal poverty level, so we were lucky to find a way to handle nutrients that wasn’t excessively expensive. Pueblo is already dealing with high levels of selenium and sulfate, which are expensive to eliminate because they come from the Pierre shale formation under the city. The groundwater has up to 10,000 micrograms per liter of selenium and 18,000 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of sulfate. When groundwater infiltrates our system, it increases the concentrations in the plant effluent beyond the state standards, but it is difficult to avoid that occurring, especially during wet weather. The costs of dealing with that through the Colorado- and EPA-approved discharger specific variance are high. The Ntensify nutrient removal system proposed by Brown and Caldwell seemed like it might be more affordable, so we decided to pursue it.

The Ntensify system combines two intensification processes. One is advanced aeration control, which does away with the need to maintain dissolved oxygen in the Johannesburg system at 2 mg/l. Now we are maintaining a level of around 0.2–0.3 mg/l by using ammonia probes. It’s difficult to monitor low dissolved oxygen levels. The second element included in the Ntensify system is hydrocyclone-based wasting. That is basically a centrifugaltype system that causes the light filaments, which cause a lot of issues and don’t add a lot to the nutrient removal process, to rise toward the top, where they are pulled off and sent to waste. The system moves the heavier biological waste to the bottom, where it is then returned to the process. The bacteria that are in that lower stream remove phosphorus efficiently, so recycling them back into the system improves the nutrient removal process significantly. As soon as that process came online, we saw an improvement. The sludge volume index decreased from more than 170 milliliters per gram to just above 90 in only 3 weeks. It has doubled the capacity of that process. Thanks to that process, we’ve also been able to eliminate the use of polyaluminum chloride, which we previously used to control bulking. The filaments that cause bulking are now removed in the upper portion of the waste. We also discontinued the use of acetic acid, which was used as a carbon source and is no longer necessary. We also need much less energy to run the blowers to keep oxygen at 0.2–0.3 mg/l than to keep it at 2 mg/l. All told, we are spending about $300,000 less per year on chemicals and about $150,000 less per year on energy. Meanwhile, we are still meeting all our required discharge standards. The best part is that installing the system cost less than $2 million. We are earning back our investment in 2 years. Typically, when you add a new process to your plant, there is an up-front cost as well as ongoing costs related to the additional operations and maintenance the process requires, additional chemicals, and so on. It is unusual that it saves so much money and pays for itself so quickly. It has been beneficial for us. Municipal Water Leader: Did you pay for the project through your capital improvements budget, or did you take out a loan or a bond? Nancy Keller: We paid for it through the capital improvements budget. Municipal Water Leader: Do you have plans to rehabilitate or replace any of your pipe infrastructure? Nancy Keller: Under our selenium and sulfate discharger specific variance, we are required to reduce the amount of infiltration. We are required to spend $10 million over 10 years. Over $7 million of that will go to upgrade the collection system to stop infiltration; then, we will look specifically at selenium-removal infrastructure that may have to be added to the water reclamation facility. Over February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER

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ADVERTISEMENT the course of collection upgrades, we’ve done a lot of pilot projects to investigate processes that are new to us. We have found that lining pipes is effective and much less expensive than removing and replacing them. We have tried several ways of dealing with infiltration into manholes and have been really happy with the effects of applying cementitious coating followed by epoxy coating. In areas that have high infiltration into the manholes, we’ve done grouting prior to the epoxy coating application. We’ve also started grouting the taps. Once you line a pipe, groundwater flows between the lining and the pipe, and it comes in at all taps. By grouting at the tap and 10 feet beyond it, we’ve been able to stop that infiltration.

Nancy Keller: It is doing the work for the variance, trying to maintain the infrastructure and routine maintenance, and starting to look forward to the next phase of nutrient reduction. One upcoming issue is that Colorado is moving forward with putting requirements for monitoring and potentially treating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds into its permits. Incidental contamination from household products may be the primary source of the contamination, and the citizens may have to pay for PFAS treatment at the wastewater facility. PFAS compounds can come from many sources, including industrial sources and firefighting foams, that we can try to control through pretreatment regulations. Another issue relates to technologically enhanced radioactive materials. Regulations on those materials were recently adopted, and we will need to see if the concentrations of those materials in our system will be an issue for us. We’ve just started monitoring for them. If our levels are high, disposing of the biosolids would represent significant costs. Municipal Water Leader: What is your vision for the future of the utility?

An aerial view of the DiIorio Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

Municipal Water Leader: What are the other top issues that the City of Pueblo’s Wastewater Department is working on today?

30 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

Nancy Keller is the director of wastewater for the City of Pueblo, Colorado. She can be contacted at For more about the City of Pueblo’s wastewater department, visit


There has been a significant reduction in the amount of selenium and sulfate in the facility influent. We have been experiencing drought, so we are anxiously waiting for a good rain to bring the groundwater table up so that we can see if those reductions have been maintained. Even with our dry weather, it’s looking really positive. We’re still working our way through the discharge specific variance process.. There’s also a regular budget for replacing prioritized infrastructure based on a potential failure rating. Our infrastructure ages faster than we can replace it, but we hope that we can keep finding methods to stay ahead of the possibility of infrastructure failure.

Nancy Keller: My hope is to be able to keep up with infrastructure maintenance and to find economical ways to use resources more wisely. We currently have a small solar power system, and we use methane from our digesters to heat all the buildings in the plant. We have put in a lot of efficient variable-frequency-drive-type pumps. Each time something has to be replaced, we try to use higher-efficiency equipment. We’ve replaced all our outside lighting with LEDs. My hope is to keep moving toward energy sources that offset carbon and offset electrical costs. I have a few things I’d like to look at, including hydropower turbines. I believe that there are places within the plant where we can generate power from water flow. There are a number of different ways to generate electricity that could potentially make the plant more sustainable, but we need to be able to justify the costs of whatever we choose to do. Pueblo is not a rich community, so we need to be wise with the citizens’ money. M


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The Brown’s Creek Watershed District: Improving Water Body Health in an Urbanizing Area

Staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources carry out a fish survey in Brown’s Creek.


he Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD), located near Stillwater, Minnesota, was recently recognized by the Water Environment Federation with its Water Quality Improvement Award for reducing runoff and pollution to the trout stream it works to protect. Despite being located in a quickly urbanizing area, the BCWD has managed to improve the biological health of local water bodies with the result that native species are returning in a sustainable manner. In this interview, BCWD Administrator Karen Kill tells Municipal Water Leader about the agency’s activities and the successes it is seeing. Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

34 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

engineering services; contract with Smith Partners for legal services; and coordinate with the Washington Conservation District for a lot of technical services. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there is definitely a lot of water, including rivers and a lot of surface water. In our denser, more urban area, the state requires there to be a watershed management organization of some kind. We are a watershed district; entities of this kind have a board that is appointed by the county commissioners who represent our area. Our board is authorized to levy an ad valorem tax through property tax levies to raise money for projects that improve and protect the quality of surface water and groundwater and protect against flooding. Watershed districts come in a lot of different sizes. Some cover 1,000 square miles or more. Our watershed is small: only about 30 square miles. The thing that we all have in common is that our boundaries follow watershed boundaries, not political boundaries. Water doesn’t follow political boundaries, so it is useful to have an entity that can


Karen Kill: Since 2002, I have been the administrator of the Brown’s Creek Watershed District, which has been in existence since 1997. I work with the five-member management board that oversees the BCWD’s activities. I am one of the only staff, but we contract with Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc., for

A trout reach on the lower creek.

ADVERTISEMENT collaborate with and bring together multiple cities, counties, and state agencies. The watershed districts are overseen by a state organization called the Board of Water and Soil Resources. We also work closely with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). We are the collaborating entity that brings all those partners together for projects related to the resources in our watershed. We are located near Stillwater, Minnesota. Brown’s Creek, our namesake, is a metropolitan trout stream. That is unusual in our area—there aren’t a lot of streams in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that still have water of a high enough quality to support trout. Brown’s Creek flows into the St. Croix River, which is a regional and national scenic river. When I started working at the BCWD in the early 2000s, there was still a fair amount of farmland surrounding the city of Stillwater, which had a population of about 15,000. While Stillwater is part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, it is not a suburb. It is the birthplace of Minnesota, and it has its own downtown. About 20 years ago, we began to see enormous growth in the commercial and residential development in our area. One of the reasons that the BCWD was first formed is that there were major flooding problems in our area. We worked with municipalities, the county, and local residents to come up with ways to alleviate flooding aside from just adding outlets to landlocked lakes to flow into the next lake or stream and cause problems somewhere further downstream. Now that a lot of that flooding has been alleviated, we’ve been focusing more on water quality. Municipal Water Leader: What role does trout protection play in your overall work? Is it a main focus or is it a consequence of your work on water quality? Karen Kill: Most of our small watershed flows into Brown’s Creek, either by groundwater connection or surface overflow. Little that we do cannot somehow be tied back to that trout stream. In 2008, Brown’s Creek was listed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as impaired because of its lack of cold-water fish and cold-water assemblage. That basically means that we didn’t have the cold-water bugs and fish that you would expect to find in a healthy cold-water system. In the studies we did in 2009 and 2010 after the impairment listing, we found that the one of the main stressors was high temperatures. Urbanization contributes to this, because our streets are connected through a catch basin to the stream or to a lake. When rainwater falls on these hot, impervious surfaces during the summer, it heats up before flowing straight into the stream, raising the stream’s overall temperature. The other main stressor is high sediment loads. We’re seeing a lot of changes to our climate. We can’t argue with the fact that we are seeing significantly more intense storm events than we used to. They’re coming in different patterns and at different times of the year. Our infrastructure was

designed around the idea of a 2‑year storm, a 10‑year storm, and a 100‑year storm. We designed these systems for storms with 2.8 inches of rain over 24 hours. Now, we may get 2.8 inches of rain in 20 minutes, and then hot and sunny weather for the rest of the day. That is changing our streams and the life that is in them. The storms are changing our channels and washing more sediment into them. With that being the case, we have focused on projects to reduce sediment loads. We have a robust monitoring program with stream-monitoring stations that automatically collect data every 15 minutes during the summer. That allows us to see if there are disproportionate sediment loads in Brown’s Creek, and if so, where.

Students from a local high school carry out biological monitoring on Brown’s Creek.

We’ve also monitored the performance of some of the projects that we’ve already put in to see which are successful and whether the health of various areas is beginning to improve. We’ve been partnering with a local high school’s advanced biology class. The class has been monitoring the biology of Brown’s Creek, which provides us with additional information. We’ve also been working with the Metropolitan Council and the Washington Conservation District, which also do biological monitoring. Municipal Water Leader: Are there also specific pollutants related to the increasing urbanization that you’re having to remove from the water? Karen Kill: We’re more worried about sediment than chemicals. The sediment I referred to is generally dirt from people’s yards and construction sites that we would prefer to keep there and not in the water body. We are fortunate not to have a lot of high toxins in our water system. In the past, we have seen evidence of higher pulses of copper. We’ve also identified a couple of places where algaecide may have been put into some storm water ponds. After having some February 2021 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER

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An infiltration basin created for flood relief.

conversations about the need to change behaviors related to those issues about 12 years ago, we haven’t seen high copper levels again. Sometimes we do see high levels of heavy metals or pesticides. The whole country is dealing with high mercury levels, but mercury hasn’t been determined to be a major stressor in our systems. Municipal Water Leader: Have you been able to measure the effects of your work on those two factors?

36 | MUNICIPAL WATER LEADER | February 2021

Municipal Water Leader: What is your vision for the future? Karen Kill: The watershed district is required to have a 10‑year management plan, which we create after communicating with our residents, our communities, the county, and regional and state agencies. Right now, we’re about halfway through our existing 10‑year watershed management plan. There are still identified projects that we have yet to finish. In two of our upcoming projects, we will be working with two golf courses, Oak Glen Golf Course and Applewood Hills Golf Course, to reuse storm water for irrigation. We are coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and with Washington County to increase storm water management on an upcoming road project. There is an unsafe intersection that needs improvement. It has a lot of impervious surfaces, including onramps, offramps, turn lanes, a raised road intersection, and frontage roads. There’s not a lot of room in the road’s right of way for storm water management. Luckily, there is a golf course at one corner of this intersection that is willing to reuse the storm water from this intersection project. It will store that water in ponds and then use it to irrigate, rather than using clean, fresh groundwater. That storm water will meet about 50 percent of the golf course’s irrigation needs over the course of the season. From our point of view, it is beneficial that that heated, nutrient-rich water will not go downstream into a lake, and that the cold, fresh groundwater will stay in the ground. M Karen Kill is the administrator of the Brown’s Creek Watershed District. She can be contacted at


Karen Kill: We monitor Brown’s Creek on several parameters, including flow and chemical and biological parameters. The biological parameters tell us the most about our results. For instance, there’s a stretch of Brown’s Creek that had previously been mown directly to the edge. We worked with the owner of the land in that area to install a native-grass buffer along that stretch. We were able to have the DNR come out and carry out a fish survey in that area, which we had already physically surveyed. We were pleased to see that within one season of the project, an area that had almost no diversity of pools and riffles suddenly had 14 pools. The DNR had allotted an hour to monitor fish along a 1,000‑foot stretch of the creek, but we only did about 150 feet because we were finding so many trout. We have evidence that natural reproduction has been happening in this stream, which we hadn’t seen for a decade or two. There is still a long way to go. The DNR does stock Brown’s Creek. It previously stocked it with brown trout, but since we’re starting to see some natural reproduction of brown trout in the creek, the DNR is switching to stocking rainbow trout. Those are both nonnative species—brook trout would be the native trout in this area. Our biological surveys are also identifying rainbow darters, a colorful cold-water fish that is native to our area. We’re starting to see macroinvertebrates and some pollutionintolerant species. The trout are like the canary in the coal mine—their presence or absence signals whether the stream is a healthy ecosystem. However, we also want to have macroinvertebrates, native bird species, native vegetation,

and habitats for adult insects. We want to have a healthy ecosystem that can support trout, not just to artificially stock the stream with trout that cannot survive in it. In 2014, a 6‑mile state trail was developed along an old railroad and follows directly next to Brown’s Creek for 2–3 miles. It is giving residents more access to Brown’s Creek and its beautiful groundwater gorge before it goes into the St. Croix River. I’ve heard people say things like, “I’ve lived in Stillwater my whole life and I never knew this was here.” It really is exciting to see, not only for its beauty, but because its health has improved drastically over the last 20 years. Even though this area has been economically prosperous and has seen a lot of development, we’ve continued to have improvements in the trout stream. It’s not easy to have both of those things. It has required a lot of partnership and collaboration. The watershed district is a small entity, and we couldn’t do any of it without innovation or without our partners.


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