2019 Academy of Environmental Engineers West Coast Event a Success

Wastewater News

On October 17, 2019 the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES) hosted their annual West Coast Event titled Climate Change: Water and Wastewater Agencies Adaptation and Resiliency at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) Authority. The 2019 AAEES West Coast Event began with an alfresco networking dinner in the patio area. Guests then proceeded to a conference room for the technical portion of the program.

AAEES Committee Chair Sharon Yin welcomed attendees with a brief overview of the Academy. Sharon is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and a Senior Engineer at Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD). A primary objective of the Academy is to certify environmental engineers and Scientists in their area of expertise, which include, Air Pollution Control, General Environmental Engineering, Hazardous Waste Management, Industrial Hygiene, Radiation Protection, Solid Waste Management, Water Supply/Wastewater Engineering and Sustainability. Board Certification is the next step beyond Professional Engineering licensure. Annually the Academy administers the Excellence in Environmental Engineering® Competition to identify and reward achievement in the field of environmental engineering. Lori McKinley a Board Certified Environmental Scientist with AAEES and a Senior Environmental Specialist at OCSD teamed with Joseph Reichenberger, a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and Loyola Marymount University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering to introduce the panelists.

The first panelist was Dr. Stephen Weisberg the Executive Director of SCCWRP, a research consortium formed by 14 California water quality agencies to ensure a solid scientific foundation for their management activities. Dr. Weisberg provided the scientific background for the discussion. He encouraged attendees to use sound science to support communication among scientists, methods developers and water quality managers to support effective Adaptation and Resiliency initiatives in Southern California (SoCal).

Stephen explained that most people in the late 1960s were aware of the water quality impacts from decades of inadequate sewage treatment and industrial pollution in the United States. The federal government was preparing to enact sweeping legislation (the Clean Water Act) to clean-up and protect waters of the United States. At this time, there was a need for a credible scientific authority to monitor and evaluate water quality impairment and remediation. John D. Parkhurst, the Districts’ fourth Chief Engineer and General Manager of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County (Sanitation Districts), recognized the need and worked with Chuck Carry (who later became the Districts’ sixth Chief Engineer and General Manager) to develop a plan for a regional independent research organization consisting of the Sanitation Districts and four other major Southern California metropolitan sanitation agencies. These sanitation agencies were all motivated by the desire ensure wastewater treatment system decisions would be based on scientific research.

By mid-1969, agreements were reached and SCCWRP was formed, becoming a “special district” of the State of California. SCCWRP is the first multi-agency scientific collaboration in the United States.

Now with Adaptation and Resiliency challenges SCCWRP is redoubling its efforts. Dr. Weisberg explained how effective this model can be at addressing the climate challenges of the 21st Century. SCCWRP focuses on ocean impacts, Steven explained that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are leading to increases in pH (Acidification) this is a driver, which stresses environmental systems, these pressures can lead to impacts to the water environment. Dr. Weisberg explained that SCCWRP helps SoCal use science to support sound, cost-effective management actions.

The second panelist was Jim Stahl. Jim is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is a recently appointed and confirmed Member of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board).

Mr. Stahl provided the regulatory background to continue the discussion. On April 29, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-10-19, directing three state agencies (CA Natural Resources Agency, CalEPA, and the California Department of Food & Agriculture) to develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure healthy waterways through the 21st Century. A draft is expected to be submitted to the Governor by the end of 2019.

In SoCal the Water Board has developed Potential Regulatory Adaptation and Mitigation Measures called the Los Angeles Region Framework for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. This report is available online at:


Jim explained that this framework is intended to foster discussions between the Water Board, the regulated community, and other stakeholders as well as to help inform work plan development within the Water Board’s programs. The framework does not establish new policies or requirements.

To support an integrated planning approach, dischargers are required to prepare a Climate Change Effects Vulnerability Assessment and Mitigation Plan (Climate Change Plan), including an assessment of short and long term vulnerabilities of the facility(ies) and operations, as well as plans to mitigate vulnerabilities of collection systems, facilities, treatment systems, and outfalls for predicted impacts in order to ensure that facility operations are not disrupted, compliance with permit conditions is achieved, and receiving waters are not adversely impacted by discharges.

Board Member Stahl, said that arid SoCal has a history of making the most of every drop of water received through recycling, groundwater recharge, stormwater capture, and modernizing infrastructure. He challenged attendees to use the Adaptation and Resiliency strategies developed through in Climate Change Plans to further our goal of meeting the needs of California’s communities, economy, and environment for generations to come.

Innovative partnerships are helping meet Adaptation and Resiliency challenges by harnessing the best in science and engineering to prepare for what’s ahead. Five years of historic drought showed the importance of regional investments in a diverse water supply portfolio, including conservation, water recycling, groundwater storage and cleanup. However, clearly explaining complex issues such as CECs (constituents of emerging concern), PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and includes chemicals like PFOA, PFOS, and GenX), brine and biosolids to diverse stakeholders requires skill. Agencies cannot achieve these goals without regional partnerships. Agency collaboration creates opportunities to build resilience, leverage past investments and meet multiple objectives or as Board Member Stahl stated “communication and collaboration must replace command and control if we are to meet the grand challenges of the 21st Century.”

The third panelist was Traci Minamide. Traci is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and the Chief Operating Officer for the City of Los Angeles, LA Sanitation, an organization of approximately 3,500 employees with annual revenue over $1 billion.

Traci explained that LA Sanitation has ambitious plans to continue SoCal’s legacy of reuse. On February 21, 2019 Mayor Eric Garcetti held a press conference at the City’s largest water reclamation plant (Hyperion) where he committed to achieve 100% recycled water by 2035.

Chief Minamide explained that 100% reuse does not mean zero discharge. In addition to producing ultrapure water the Green New Deal must address brine management. LA Sanitation plans to source 70% of the City’s water locally by 2035 and recycle 100% of all wastewater for beneficial reuse by 2035. Achieving these lofty goals will require production of 1.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of recycled water at the Hyperion plant for use at the Los Angeles World Airport and others as well as recycling 17 – 25 mgd at the Tillman water reclamation plant for groundwater recharge.

The fourth panelist was Robert Ferrante. Robert is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and the Chief Engineer and General Manager for the Sanitation Districts. He reports directly to the Boards of Directors of the Districts, comprised of the Mayors of the 78 cities located within its service and the chair of the Board of Supervisors for unincorporated county territory.

Robert opened by stating that more and more often Sanitation Districts’ operations are impacted by extreme events. On Friday, November 9, the Woolsey Fire wreaked havoc on the Calabasas landfill. In one day, the Sanitation Districts lost a flare station, an office building, the communications system, water storage tanks, 300 feet of storm drain pipe and about 50,000 feet of environmental control pipes. Staff sprung to action and incredibly reopened the site, just 3 days after the incident.

The Sanitation Districts are experiencing direct impacts such as; storms, drought, wildfires, and sea level rise. And indirect impacts such as; lower wastewater flows, ocean chemistry, and greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. Robert continued by explaining that the Sanitation Districts are in a sound position to help the region respond to these impacts because we manage wastewater, solid waste, and stormwater. One opportunity is a project by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Sanitation Districts that could provide an alternative supply of water that is drought resistant, scientifically feasible, and socially, environmentally and economically viable.

This month, a $17 million demonstration-scale advanced purification facility was completed and now purifies 500,000 gallons per day of Joint Water Pollution Control Plant (JWPCP) effluent. This project would potentially purify up to 150 mgd of treated wastewater from JWPCP and be used to replenish groundwater basins in the region. Potentially Raw Water Augmentation in the future with JWPCP and Hyperion recycled water. http://www.mwdh2o.com/DocSvcsPubs/rrwp/index.html#home

Another opportunity relies on both solid waste and wastewater operations to convert food waste into a renewable fuel. The full-scale program will help member cities meet the State’s organic waste recycling requirements and goals to reduce greenhouse gases, including short-lived climate pollutants. In 2020, A biogas conditioning system will convert 400 cubic feet per minute of biogas into renewable natural gas that will be sold at the existing publicly accessible compressed natural gas fueling station at JWPCP. This system will produce the equivalent of 2,000 gallons of gasoline per day. Robert closed with a brief discussion of the Sanitation Districts role in not only diverting stormwater for water quality benefits but also converting it into recycled water.

The fifth panelist was Robert (Rob) Thompson. Rob is the assistant general manager (AGM) for the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD). As the AGM, he oversees the Operations & Maintenance and Engineering departments.

Bob explained that resiliency is the ability to accomplish your mission as circumstances and conditions change. He had an encouraging message for agencies. To operate our facilities agencies are constantly responding to changing conditions such as: new regulations, differing economic circumstances, labor conditions so now we must add climate conditions.

Climate change research is extensive and widely discussed, and as a pertinent topic to future planning, investigation and exploration is ongoing. The climate projections, including sea level rise, are based on the work of the Rising Seas Report and California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment as representing the “state of the science” for the Orange County area.

Assistant Chief Thompson stated that the 80-year planning horizon (2100) for assets with extended life cycles seems intimidating but we can do it. There is time to adapt, and time to course-correct through successive update cycles of the Resiliency Plan.

OCSD facilities are in low risk locations for wildfires, however, risk of flooding is a concern. Flood risk is expected to increase with climate change. Climate change is expected to result in more extreme storms, increased 100-year flood depths, and increased sea levels. Tsunamis also can cause extensive inland flooding, which is worsened by sea level rise.

Bob described the criteria for adaptation selection. For every at-risk facility two different adaptation scenarios were considered: elevation and flood proofing of major assets or facility level adaptation. Based on the weighted criteria considering 4 different options (40% reliability, 30% affordability, 15% operability and 15% ease of deployment) facility level adaptation was selected as the best adaptation plan for OCSD facilities. “As Orange County continues to grow and evolve to a more urban environment, OCSD must grow with it to provide resilient service and enhanced resource recovery.”

The sixth panelist was Mike McNutt. Mike is the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) as the Public Affairs and Communications Manager.

Manager McNutt closed the program with a case study presenting a water agency’s experience with the devastating Woolsey Fire. At 2:22 pm on November 8, 2018 Southern California Edison reported a power outage on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory property, 2 minutes later a small brushfire ignited and because of the 60 mile per hour wind gusts grew quickly. At the same time just 10 miles away the Hill fire was burning and threatening homes. Resources were spread thin and first responders were overwhelmed. The Woolsey Fire resulted in a power outage across the entire LVMWD service area affecting 24 pump stations. It burned 96,949 acres and destroyed 1,643 structures and resulted in 3 civilian fatalities.

LVMWD staff immediately established incident command. They mobilized emergency generators and called for mutual aid. The team monitored social media, shut off connections to burned structures, and provided protective equipment to personnel.

Mike concluded by sharing lessons learned, he recommends that agencies act early and apologize later (if necessary). Protect your staff, they are first responders. Document from the start for FEMA (federal emergency management act) reimbursement. Issue public notices and updates without delay. Social media is essential to communication during a disaster. Manager McNutt emphasized the water-energy nexus, and effective emergency response requires both water and energy. He recommends that agencies invest in emergency backup power and plan for a more resilient water system.

A reoccurring theme though out the evening was that Adaptation and Resiliency will be challenging. But it can be done. These responsive solutions rely on course-corrections through successive update cycles of the Resiliency Plan. Progressive agencies such as those represented at this event are proactively addressing 21st Century challenges. A critical component of Resiliency is affordability.

A fundamental component of Certification is the Academy’s continuing education requirements. The 2019 West Coast Event provided the membership with an enlightened and inspired opportunity to contemplate the sustainability of our operations. By exploring Climate Change: Water and Wastewater Agencies Adaptation and Resiliency with regional experts our profession, continues its journey toward making universal access to safe water a reality.

Presentations and video are linked on the AAEES website at: http://www.aaees.org/resourcecenter/westcoastsummit-2019.php

For a direct link to the YouTube video, go to: https://youtu.be/K3EWccTdgZA