Mayors Meet in Chicago to Discuss the Nation's Water Problems
By Rich Anderson
September 29, 2003
The Conference of Mayors' Urban Water Council convened the annual Urban Water Summit in Chicago on September 10-12. Trenton (NJ) Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Sugar Land (TX) Mayor David G. Wallace hosted Mayors and their staff at the two-and-a-half day conference to discuss the water problems faced by many cities across the nation, and to hear about the steps they are taking to deal with those problems.
Chicago's Water Agenda
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, joined by his Special Assistant Joe Deal, presented Chicago's Water Agenda. Daley told the participants that 95 percent of the United State's fresh water supplies resides in the Great Lakes. He said that many Americans suffer the mistaken assumption that water is unlimited and always safe to drink, adding that the role of the mayor is to provide leadership on water issues, and that cities must be the example for water stewardship.
Some of the things Chicago does to protect their water resources are to divert salt, oil and gasoline from city streets into sewer collectors instead of the Chicago River. The city helps industry and commercial establishments audit their water usage and develop conservation measures to save water. The mayor also described the work of the Great Lakes Cities Initiative (aided by a grant from the Joyce Foundation) to get surrounding cities involved with water resource stewardship.
Protecting and Providing Water
Mayor Palmer and Stephen Gorden of American Water presented a discussion of what is expected of the mayor and senior water and sewer staff in protecting and providing water in cities. Gorden described his experience running the city of Detroit's water department for six years. He said that water departments are often given the charge to develop drinking water and wastewater systems with little funding and less help. They have to learn to deal with all of the associated problems with system development, operation and maintenance, and then deal with the public, federal and state regulators and the press. Palmer emphasized that the complexity of solving water problems leads many cities to consider tapping the expertise of the private sector in public-private partnerships.
Wallace led a panel focused on rehabilitating aging water infrastructure. Alex Margevicius, Assistant Commissioner of Water from Cleveland, talked about the city's problems with water main breaks and flooding streets that also appeared on the evening news. He stated that there were no good records of the underground system of pipes and how old they were. Fragmented records indicated that some of them dated back to the 1880s. Margevicius conducted a scientific study to identify the pipe systems by date and construction material. One of the important findings he presented was that it is not necessarily the oldest pipes that break the most frequently, it is pipes that were manufactured with flaws in design or materials that are less reliable. His study provided essential information for other mayors to more easily assess the state-of-the-technology of underground pipes and programs to replace them that are more cost-efficient.
ce them that are more cost-efficient.
Bob Yoshimura of Parsons presented a template for program management that helps city decision-makers become more effective in assessing, maintaining and replacing capital infrastructure. Yoshimura indicated that the failure to employ modern program management techniques usually results in greater expenses after system failures.
Jim Hanlon, EPA's Director of Wastewater added that water infrastructure investment in the U.S. is the lowest of all the developed nations. He said that in order to stay in place with the current water infrastructure consumers must spend 5 percent more each year for the next 20 years. Director Hanlon stated that the EPA estimates that over $500 billion worth of investment in water infrastructure will be needed over the next 20 years just to comply with the Clean Water Act.
Water System Security
Palmer and Wallace moderated a panel that discussed water system vulnerability. Nick Damato of EPA Region 5's Homeland Security office talked about the grant program in 2002 that provided money to 464 water systems to conduct vulnerability assessments. He said that the result of the assessments led to development of security action plans that served to help water systems harden their defenses against terrorist assaults, and provide emergency response plans for use if an attack occurs. John Sullivan, Chief Engineer, Boston Water and Sewer and President of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies discussed AMWA's role as the Water ISAC (a federally chartered designation to disseminate information on water system vulnerability and security). Mr. Sullivan indicated that many water system managers have come to rely on the Water ISAC as a strategic resource. He said that water managers could get reliable and up-to-the-minute information by participating with the system via computer.
ould get reliable and up-to-the-minute information by participating with the system via computer.
Greg Merrill, Director of State Government for the Chlorine Chemistry Council talked about some myths concerning the role of chlorine usage in water system and system security. He said that public concern over chlorine storage and transportation has focused on the potential for explosions in a terrorist attack. Mr. Merrill emphasized that chlorine shipped in liquid form does not "blow-up". He also said that since the early 1900s, records have indicated that chlorine explosions and spills, and transportation accidents were rare and unexpected. He further emphasized that more than 90 percent of the nations' water supply systems continue to use chlorination as the preferred disinfection treatment method. He said those water systems that use ozonation and other treatment techniques still use some chlorination in the process, particularly in distribution pipes to ensure public safety. Mr. Merrill also pointed out that chlorine is the single most preferred treatment agent to protect against anthrax in water supplies.
rill also pointed out that chlorine is the single most preferred treatment agent to protect against anthrax in water supplies.
Milwaukee Metro's Best Practices
Greenfield (WI) Mayor Tim Seider was joined by Kevin Shafer, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Water System (MMWS) to update the Mayors on the current practices of the MMWS. Shafer and the mayor pointed out that Milwaukee has invested 2-3 billion dollars in water infrastructure over the last 30 years. He also stated that the MMWS has entered into public-private partnerships to achieve cost'savings to ratepayers. Shafer informed the mayors that the system continues to successfully recycle sewage sludge as Milorganite, a high-quality fertilizer distributed nationally for use by homeowners.
Garner's Sustainable Development Focus
Conference President Hempstead (NY) Mayor James A. Garner led a briefing session on the final day of the Summit. Garner talked about his visits to foreign countries and his participation in the U.N. Environmental Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa last year. Garner stated that everywhere he went water issues were at the top of everyone's priority list. Garner has stewarded his sustainable cities initiative at the Conference of Mayors, and he said that water quality and access to clean water are essential components of sustainability.
Mayors Palmer and Wallace thanked all the mayors and other presenters for their participation. They indicated that the Urban Water Council would announce the meeting schedule for next year this December.