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Water Development Advisory Board Describes Public-Private Partnership Role in Watershed Solutions

By Madeline Ostrander
October 7, 2002


Augusta Mayor Bob Young and Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer led panels describing public-private partnerships in watersheds at the Urban Water Council (UWC) Seminar in Waco, Texas, September 7. Members of the UWC's private sector affiliate, the Water Development Advisory Board, teamed with Midland Mayor Michael J. Canon, Sugar Land Mayor David G. Wallace, and Adrian Montemayor, Water Treatment Manager for the City of Laredo, to discuss key issues in pollution management, water supply shortages, and water reuse and conservation.

Karen Hedlund Describes How Public and Private Capital May Help Build on Proven Pollution Management Strategies

More than 350,000 cows in California's Chino Basin produce over 1 million tons of manure annually — the highest density of cows in the country. The manure contributes to ground and surface water nitrate pollution in the Santa Ana River Watershed, but Karen Hedlund, an attorney specializing in infrastructure financing, described how her firm, Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Eliot, LLP, is working with public and private entities to change animal waste from a problem into a usable material.

Traditionally, dairy farmers collect manure in lagoons and use the liquid waste to irrigate nearby farm fields as a soil amendment. However, badly managed lagoons can leak or seep into surface and ground water, and extreme rainfall can cause lagoons to breach and contaminate nearby water bodies.

A facility run by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) in partnership with Synagro Technologies offers an alternative: it burns methane released during manure decomposition to produce — megawatt of electricity, then removes the "composted" manure to sell as fertilizer. The plant manages the manure from 3,200 cows. Hedlund said that a larger'scale project could process as much as 2100 tons of manure per day, produce 80 megawatts of power, and reduce groundwater nitrate pollution by 26,800 tons.

Hedlund discussed ways that public and private capital can jointly finance these projects: public agencies can provide support through loans and infrastructure, such as sewering, and share in project revenues. If successful, the strategy allows agencies like IEUA to shift from a single, experimental project, to a large'scale approach that can generate energy revenues while preventing pollution.

USFilter and Texas Cities Sugar Land and Midland Profile Wastewater Reuse Opportunities

In Texas, a drop of water saved is not necessarily a drop earned. Rights to water not used by municipal facilities revert, in many cases, back to the state. Mayor David Wallace, Mayor Michael Canon, and David Bartlett, Vice President of USFilter described how wastewater reuse may become an alternative water-saving strategy in Sugar Land and Midland, Texas.

According to Mayor Canon, Midland's recently established water development committee will consider overhauling the city's existing wastewater program, in which Midland auctions grazing rights to rural land that is irrigated by city effluent. In Sugar Land, Mayor Wallace said reuse could help meet local water district plan requirements to reduce city reliance on groundwater by 30% by 2013 and 60% by 2025.

"Water will be the driving force influencing both cities- residential and commercial development," said Bartlett. All agreed that effluent reuse is important to future water planning. Both Mayors hoped that "recycled" wastewater could irrigate parks, gardens, and golf courses, leaving more water to spare for commercial and residential use.

Hawkins, Delafield, and Wood and the City of Laredo Describe How Public-Private Partnerships Help Meet Growing Water Demands

The City of Laredo draws its water from the Rio Grande, a river so overstressed by drought and user demand that its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico is dry. According to city water treatment manager, Adrian Montemayor, Laredo also lies on a major shipping route, and a hazardous materials accident could jeopardize its water safety. Laredo's swelling population needs another water supply. Rick Sapir, partner at Hawkins, Delafield, and Wood, described how public-private partnerships have helped the city expand its water options.

The city sought proposals from private companies who would take charge of its existing water service—its 400 miles of collection systems, its customer service, and its sewage sludge management. The partnership will save the city money (an estimated $3 -$4 million annually) that will help finance the new water supply and avoid user rate hikes, Montemayor said. This past May, Laredo signed an agreement with United Water Resources, who took over operations on October 1. "The company also guaranteed it will meet the city's current water treatment standards and retain its employees," said Sapir, whose firm advised the city on contract negotiations.

Montgomery Watson Harza Discusses Means to Meet Future Water Needs Through Alternative Supplies

"We need to find alternatives to provide for future water needs," said John D-Antoni, Vice President at Montgomery Watson Harza. Demand is outpacing city water supplies, and threats like terrorism and chemical contamination could jeopardize the safety of our water sources, D-Antoni claimed.

Cities have responded by tapping into additional ground and surface supplies, and are turning to new technologies like desalinization. In Houston, groundwater depletion has compelled the city to develop a series of surface water reservoirs over the last few decades. Houston has since become a regional supplier of water, D-Antoni said. Houston is also working to connect the Trinity Basin with the Brazos River Watershed, the supply for Galveston and surrounding municipalities.

D-Antoni also underscored the potential of desalinization as an alternative to freshwater. "The prices of desalinization are going down, and its cost will certainly be competitive with the future cost of surface water." Other "alternative supplies" could result from water conservation and water storage, D-Antoni said.

Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Explains How A New Assessment Method Helps Agencies Respond to Pollutant Control

"The bottom line is that TMDLs [Total Maximum Daily Loads] may result in additional costs to local government," explained Mel Vargas, TMDL Technology Leader at Parsons Infrastructure and Technology. Section 303 of the federal Clean Water Act requires states to plan cleanup of impaired waters by developing TMDLs, "pollution budgets" for watersheds. The plans sometimes require costly upgrades that hit local government budgets.

However, new technology offers the chance to assign pollutant management responsibility more fairly, Vargas claimed. A project in the Lake Waco/Lake Belton area of Texas will track the sources of pathogens such as fecal coliform from mismanaged manures.