Electrical Power from Drinking Water?

Portland, Oregon, seems optimistic about the recent installation of hydro-electric turbines in some of their city’s drinking water pipes.  The project has been getting a lot of press of late; check out this January 17, 2018 feature:


PBS also detailed the project in this six-minute feature: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/water-power .

It’s an exciting idea, but can it work in Vermont?

Offhand, one would think so. Water’s electrical energy potential is largely a matter of “head” (how far water falls) and “flow” (how many gallons per minute).  We have good precipitation to provide flow, and most areas have enough head thanks to high hills and  a population concentrated mostly in river valleys.

In fact, the potential for in-conduit microhydro has been considered in Vermont for years.  In 2013, Barre hired Rentricity, Inc., to construct a 12 kW demonstration project, using grant funds from the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  It diverts, and returns, 400 GPM of the city’s approximately 4,000 GPM average flow.

According to William Ahearn, Barre’s director of Public Works, the unit is still up and running. However, it has never delivered its theoretical full output capacity.  Ahearn blames nuances of pressure and electrical management technologies, and says the city and manufacturer are continuing efforts to improve its performance.  Below: The Barre unit.

You can read about the Barre City case study, and see photos, at: https://rentricity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/City-of-Barre-Case-Study-7-14.pdf .  Fuss & O’Neil partnered with EcoStrategies to create this presentation about Barre’s potential:  http://www.vecan.net/wp-content/uploads/jeff-McDonald_VECAN_Barre-Micro-Hydro-Project.pdf

Bennington also installed a small in-conduit unit in 2014, about the same generation capacity as Barre’s. According to Bennington water operator Brian Billert, it works well most of the time, but high silt levels brought by heavy rains can impair function.  Below: Bennington’s setup.

Does your town have what it takes?

For a seat-of-the-pants guesstimate: Power (in watts) = Head (height, in vertical feet, between your source and your treatment plant) X Flow (in gallons per minute) X 0.09 (factor for turbine efficiency, pipe losses, friction, etc.).  H X F X .09 = generator’s watt capacity.

Example: Your reservoir intake is 300 feet above your treatment plant, and it feeds you 2,000 gallons per minute.  300 x 2,000 = 600,000.  Now, factor in the 0.09, and you get 54,000 Watts, or about 54 kiloWatts (kW) maximum electrical generation potential.

If a 54 kW (average capacity) turbine runs all day every day, you get enough juice to supply electricity to 69 Vermont homes (per Green Mountain Power residential 2016 averages).

Of course, it depends on how much of your total flow you divert to the unit.  Also, daily water volume use and electrical demand vary, and maintenance downtime can change this equation.  And, to the H X F X .09 calculation, add an unknown factor for a town’s enthusiasm for innovating — and spending money.

For more information, here’s a more detailed discussion from the Water Power Magazine: “Energy Recovery from Public Water Systems” article: http://www.canyonhydro.com/news/SOAR_IWPDC.pdf

If you have any questions, or have experience with in-conduit micro-hydro, please leave a comment!  To return to GMWEA’s website, click here: www.gmwea.org.

Congrats to Our 2018 Vt. STEM Fair Winners!

Here’s an annual event all at GMWEA look forward to. It’s fun, informative, and always leaves us with an optimistic vision of the future.

On Saturday, March 24, we sent a panel of seven special judges – GMWEA board officers, staff, association members, and a family member or two — to the annual Vermont Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fair.

Our goal was to seek out the best student research projects of the year and encourage K-12 inquiry into water quality science by giving scholarship awards to the most promising investigators.

Hosted each year by Norwich University, the show features exhibits by about 200 middle school and high school students from throughout the state, all of them winners of their schools’ science (and tech, engineering, and math) project competitions. We were pleased to see so many focused on water quality, and choosing winners was not easy for the judges!

Our awards were based on the relevance of the subject matter to water quality, the merit of research, quality of exhibit, and enthusiasm for and commitment to the field.

Congratulations to our five winners and to the teachers who worked with them to produce such excellent projects and results!

Sunthoshini Premsankar impressed us with “Neutralization of Pharmaceutical Pollution in Lake Champlain.”  She tackled this difficult — and too-seldom addressed – issue with an experiment on the effect of acetaminophen on duckweed, testing alternate absorbents and measuring results with chromatography. Sunthoshini, a 9th-grader at Champlain Valley Union H.S., received our $150 scholarship prize.

Christina Gregory also won a $150 scholarship prize for “Pond Regulation.”  This  complex project dealt with the integrity of a local pond not only in terms of ecosystemic viability, but in terms of the regulatory environment that does, or should, control human impacts on our surface waters.  Christina is in 11th grade at Windsor schools.

James Stephens, a 10th grader at Northfield High School, won a $100 scholarship for “The Efficacy of Different Water Purification Methods.”  James investigated the relative merits of ceramic filters, carbon filters, boiling, and distillation, focusing on conductivity, pH, and turbidity, and presented persuasive research methodology and a fine display.

Brooke Rouse looked for a different approach to water filtration: She compared coagulants derived from (plant-derived) moringa oleifera seed and aluminum sulfate in their ability to affect water’s turbidity and pH. Brooke, in 7th grade at Milton Middle School and a student of Rob Decicco, won a $50 prize.


Philip Skidd’s exhibit “Don’t Get Clammy Over River Pollution,” also won a $50 prize. His research explored the potential for freshwater clams to absorb nitrates, ammonia, and phosphate, thereby reducing saturation levels in natural waters.  Philip is in 7th grade at Mater Christi School in Burlington.

Winners, parents, teachers, and friends, we’d love to hear from you – please comment on this post!

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

In Memoriam: Mark Simon

We regret to inform our members that Mark Simon passed away on March 6.  Mark was a longtime and greatly-admired member of Vermont’s water quality professional community, who founded Simon Operation Services, coincidentally, the same year that GMWEA was born, in 1993.

GMWEA board members heard the news with sorrow, and many have shared fond memories of working with him. Mark was well known and had a large influence in the water and wastewater industry throughout Vermont.  He was instrumental in training many new wastewater operators over the decades by teaching the Sacramento Course.  To acknowledge his outstanding contributions to the industry and to the Association during its formative years, GMWEA gratefully awarded Mark its Founder’s Award in 2011.

Mark was born on February 3, 1949 in the Bronx, N.Y.  He and his wife Phyllis met in kindergarten and while they went their separate ways for many years, they finally got together in 1985 in San Francisco. Mark founded Simon Operation Services in 1993 in Waterbury, Vermont.

GMWEA board member Steve Crosby’s first job in wastewater was working under Mark at the North Branch Fire District in Dover, Vermont.  Bob Wells, now Middlebury’s wastewater superintendent, worked for SOS early on.  He recalls that “Mark’s business was used by a number of young operators in the state.  Some used this as a test of ‘Do I want to work in the municipal field of water and/or wastewater?’  One might even say it was a training area which many communities benefited from. I will definitely miss Mark.”

Per Mark’s request, no services will be held at this time, but family will hold a memorial gathering in Vermont during the summer. His family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Central Vermont Humane Society , 1589 VT-14, East Montpelier, VT 05651.

The GMWEA Board of Directors and the 500 members of the association extend sincere condolences to his wife Phyllis and their family.  Mark will certainly be missed.

If you have memories of Mark you would like to share, we invite you to send a comment.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

A Full House for Fall 2017 SAC Course

By Wayne Graham, Wastewater Specialist, Vermont Rural Water Association

We had another full SAC class, Operation of Wastewater Treatment Facilities, this past fall, with 22 students attending over an eight-week period. Once again, I was pleased to join an incredible lineup of instructors — Paul Olander, Andy Fish, Eamon Twohig, Dave DiDomenico, Bruce Lawrence — who passed on years of experience and knowledge to the students.  Speaking of experience, Steve Cijka (Brandon WWTF) and Chuck (Ludlow WWTF) joined us as students, even though both could have taught the course. What a great opportunity for the entry level students to hang out with two great operators like Steve and Chuck!

Two of the students were an entry-level husband and wife team from the Lakehurst Campground Lagoon facility. They worked very hard during the course, and I just found out that both passed the Grade 1 exam on their first try. Congratulations Jodi and Josh, and welcome to the water sector industry!

We had the opportunity to take several tours of the Montpelier WWTF, and as usual observed a very busy but awesome facility, expertly staffed by Chris, Matt, Sam, and Jeremy. We also got to tour the Waterbury WWTF, where Chief Operator Pete Krolczyk took several hours out of his busy day to show us facility and explain to the students what it means to be operators and stewards of our environment. It is very interesting to see class attendees questioning, and developing relationships with, the operators giving the tours. I encourage attendees throughout the course to become active in the field and to get to know their fellow operators.

As always, it is very encouraging to see such a talented group entering our industry, which continues to provide lots of opportunities. Green Mountain Water Environment Association will be offering the next Sac Class (Operation of Wastewater Treatment Facilities) in the spring of 2018 — maybe I’ll see you there!

For information about the spring Sac course, contact Lisa Goodell at GMWEA – lisa.goodell@gmwea.org

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here: www.gmwea.org

Perspectives on Water Infrastructure

For an alternative to Netflix’s offerings some winter evening, you might try another form of internet entertainment: searching “water infrastructure” on Google. If you work in the water quality field, you’ll probably find lots to learn from the 40 million hits that pop up!

I spent a few hours surfing this ocean the other day, and I can recommend a few sites that I wandered into. Many are not directly related to Vermont, but I found lots of ideas and  examples that might, in fact, be applicable to the Green Mountains.

I can’t help but think that DPW administrators, facility operators, town managers,  legislators, and state agency staff would get some important context from these sites, and might be able to apply other regions’ solutions to our own. If you read these and encounter something you think might interest Vermont colleagues or policymakers, please forward the link to them!

We plan to offer additional winter-evening internet entertainment suggestions in coming blog posts.

Please note that GMWEA does not necessarily endorse any policies or positions stated in the following articles or by the organizations posting them.

The Conversation

Launched in 2014, The Conversation is “an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.” Its contributors and curators are “professional editors [who] work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.”

The site considers an enormous variety of topics and developments – political, social, economic, environmental — from around the world. But with drinking water and wastewater management increasingly seen as among the most pressing issues, The Conversation offers a number of big-picture water-related features at https://theconversation.com/us/topics/water-infrastructure-27794

Typical articles: “More Than Just Drains: Recreating Living Streams Through the Suburbs”; “What’s Critical About Critical Infrastructure?”; “How to Achieve Sustainable Clean Water for Everyone.” Reading these has provided me with some persuasive talking points for my next conversation with my Statehouse representatives.


WaterWorld publishes three magazines intended to be “online news and technology sources serving engineers, managers, and consultants in the water/wastewater industry worldwide.” They provide “daily international business and industry-related news, current issue articles, and access to years of searchable editorial archives.”

Representative articles found at http://www.waterworld.com/topics/w/water-infrastructure.html include (among many, many more) “Will We See Water Infrastructure Funding in 2018?”; “EPA Provides $485,000 to Improve Water Infrastructure in Bartlett, Illinois”; “NY Governor Announces Water Infrastructure Improvement Grants.”

I found that even news about other localities’ ways of coping with water infrastructure needs can be very instructive for our little state.

For prognostications about what’s around the corner, I went to

http://www.waterworld.com/articles/print/volume-33/issue-12/features/eight-water-trends-to-watch-in-2018.html  .

“Eight Water Trends to Watch in 2018,” written by the president of the market research firm Bluefield, addresses likely priority concerns facing water quality management. Of particular interest to equipment and service providers, it details trends likely to create opportunities for growth and profitability in the sector.

If you visit these and find information you’d like to share with the GMWEA community, or know of other sites of particular value, please let us know! Post comments and suggestions here.

To return to GMWEA’s website homepage, click here.


On November 20, WCAX-3’s “News at 5:30” gave viewers an uncomfortable glimpse of what happens when they use their sinks and toilets as trash disposals. Kudos to WCAX for its willingness to show images of “The gross truth about what’s lurking in the sewer.”

Reporter Jennifer Costa interviewed Matt Dow, director of Burlington’s Main, North, and East Wastewater plants. Dow spoke candidly about the difficulty – and cost – of coping with congealed fats in Burlington’s 50 miles of sewer lines and in its treatment facilities.

Dow said the problem is compounded by so-called “flushable” paper-fiber products such as hand wipes, baby wipes, and sanitary pads. Contrary to advertising, they don’t dissolve rapidly, if at all. When combined with the fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) in the system, they can congeal, cause blockages, and impede the process of wastewater treatment.

WCAX’s article is indicative of  growing public awareness about  the problem throughout the country. A quick Google search brings up 300,000 news items about “fatbergs” — a new vernacular term referring to the huge masses of FOGs that too often accumulate in  sewer systems — including over 59,000 videos. Most are public service videos produced by water quality nonprofits and municipal governments, intended to improve public knowledge of the infrastructure beneath their feet and to suggest ways citizens can reduce their contribution to water pollution, particularly FOGs and flushables. (Above: A FOG/”flushable” clog, photo courtesy of Burlington Public Works Dept.)

As public awareness grows, people are starting to take action. “Flushables” are adding such a maintenance burden to public systems – costing the public many millions of tax dollars – that citizens’ groups in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities have launched class action suits against “flushables” manufacturers.

Vermont municipalities can keep the PR momentum going by using their websites and newsletters to inform customers about the problem and to provide tips on solving it. Burlington Public Works Department, for example, provides an online guide to help consumers reduce their FOG output: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/DPW/Grease-Management

It’s time to get the information out there. As Matt Dow summed it up, “People have to care.”

Thanks again to Matt Dow, Jennifer Costa, and WCAX-3! To see the whole feature, go to: http://www.wcax.com/content/news/Flushed-How-what-goes-down-can-really-mess-things-up-458906083.html

As always, GMWEA welcomes your contribution to this blog! If you have questions about or experience with fatbergs and flushables, please leave a comment here.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here: www.gmwea

A Day Without Water

On October 12, 2017, over 500 organizations and thousands of individuals nationwide will take part in Imagine a Day Without Water. It’s one of an increasing number of water-awareness events seeking to change perspectives about how we use water – and to promote direct action to better manage this crucial resource.

What makes Imagine a Day Without Water different from other initiatives is that it focuses attention less on natural waters and more on water and wastewater infrastructure. It  emphasizes the need to develop the political will and economic capacity to invest in replacing aging equipment and outdated technologies.

The Value of Water Campaign, which has taken leadership in organizing the event, offers a blunt  message:

“Most Americans take the water systems that bring clean water to and from their homes and businesses for granted. They turn on the tap and flush the toilet without thinking twice about where that water came from or where it will go.

“A day without water equals crisis. A day without water means no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth; when you flush the toilet, nothing happens. Firefighters have no water to put out fires; farmers can’t water their crops. Doctors can’t wash their hands.

“The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, having gone underfunded for decades. Drought, flooding, and climate change stress water and wastewater systems. Although regional challenges will require locally-driven solutions, reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.”

The organizers welcome participants and suggest a number of easy ways for organizations and individuals to help support the event: Visit http://imagineadaywithoutwater.org/ for more information.

The Value of Water Campaign isn’t the only effort to work at a national level on water quality awareness and systemic transformation. The US Water Alliance advocates for what it calls a “one water” program:

“The one water approach views all water – drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, grey water, and more – as resources that must be managed holistically and sustainably. Doing so builds strong economies, vibrant communities, and healthy environments.”

The US Water Alliance calls itself “a gateway to connect with resources”; they publish a blog, fund research and print publications, offer awards for significant achievements in water quality, and host a variety of activities. Visit www.uswateralliance.org for more information.

Whether you are a municipal water operator, public works official, mayor, educator, scientist, or just a concerned citizen, making contact with these and other organizations can help you do your job and get the message across.

If you know of other worthy water-related organizations, have participated in prior years’ Imagine a Day Without Water events, or have action suggestions for GMWEA blog readers, please send us your comments! We’ll post them here.

To return to our website, click here: www.gmwea.org.


Lake Champlain Aboard the Melosira

Written by Tom DiPietro. Photos courtesy of James Sherrard.

The skies threatened rain, but that did not dampen spirits aboard the Melosira, the University of Vermont’s Lake Champlain research vessel. It was on this cool September afternoon that over a dozen GMWEA members joined UVM Sea Grant staff aboard the vessel for a tour of Lake Champlain. It was a scenic tour — but one with a focus on water quality monitoring and management.

The tour set off near the ECHO Center in Burlington, made a stop above the effluent pipe from the Burlington Main plant, and then headed north to the mouth of the Winooski River before returning to shore. During the tour, GMWEA members learned about some of the sampling conducted as part of research conducted by UVM and Sea Grant. The Melosira’s crew demonstrated use of their CTD (Conductivity Temperature and Depth) meter near the Burlington plant’s effluent pipe and then again at the mouth of the Winooski river. This instrument collects valuable water quality data for researchers as they continually assess lake conditions.

(Left: The CTD meter used by researchers aboard the Melosira.)

In between stops and sampling, UVM Sea Grant staff shared their on-going research efforts with the group. This included discussions on “data buoys” located throughout the lake, phosphorous pollution and blue-green algae, lake sturgeon migration, microplastics in the water column, and the impacts of road salt on the lake.

Also aboard was Joel Banner Baird, a staff writer for the Burlington Free Press. Joel had the opportunity to engage with GMWEA members and also learn a little more about the lake. In the article that he prepared for the Burlington Free Press he recapped, “Lake Champlain is much more vulnerable to terrestrial pollution than are the Great Lakes… The land area that drains into Lake Champlain, measured against the lake itself, is huge compared to the ratio of watershed to water of the Great Lakes. That unusually high ratio means that the consequences of what happens upstream can add up quickly.”

(Above photo: GMWEA members Karen Adams, Chelsea Mandingo, and Tom DiPietro aboard the Melosira.)

The entire article can be found here: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2017/09/09/lake-scientists-launch-lesson-plan-landlubbers/636864001/

The event was well received and the attendees are looking forward to a similar event next year. Special thanks to the Melosira crew, Kris Stepenuck and the rest of Sea Grant team for organizing the event.

If you were also aboard the Melosira, or are interested in Lake Champlain and its waters, please leave a comment on this post!

To return to the GMWEA website, click here: www.gmwea.org

Chris Cox’s Vision for Montpelier’s WRRF

Chris Cox has been in the news a lot recently.

He has earned his fame: He works as chief operator of Montpelier’s Water Resource Recovery Facility, he’s a member of GMWEA’s board of directors, he won the Bob Wood Young Professionals Award for 2015, he’s been featured in newspaper articles and industry magazines, and he inaugurated Vermont’s highly-popular Poo & Brew event in 2016.

Add to all that, he’s chief of a plant that – if Montpelier voters approve a bond to fund it next spring – will receive a $13.5 million upgrade. Chris helped initiate the project and has been closely involved with its development, which will make an already green facility even greener. (Montpelier’s WRRF won the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2015.)

The $13.5 million upgrade has two main components. Five million dollars will go to replacing or refurbishing equipment that is approaching the end of its duty life – tanks, motors, and primary and secondary clarifiers. (Above, Chris inspects some of this aging infrastructure.) The more exciting part is the $8.5 million to be spent to increase the plant’s anaerobic digestion and methane production/processing capacity.

With increased anaerobic digestion capacity, the plant hopes to take in new waste streams and increase its revenue from tipping fees. New feedstocks in the form of dairy industry by-products, brewery and distillery waste, FOGs from restaurants and food products production, and, surprisingly, de-icing agents from airports will supplement typical waste materials. The substantial increase in biogas output can be put to innumerable uses.

Chris is hard to ruffle. He is entirely upbeat about the project: “I’m excited about it. I’ve never been through a major upgrade like this, and I’m looking forward to it.”

How about his staff – are they concerned?  “I am very lucky to have a skilled and motivated staff who are excited and ready to learn,” Chris says. He believes the staff’s attitude and abilities will play a big part in the project’s success.

Won’t construction create disruptions at the plant, or result in service interruptions? No. Chris believes the existing redundancy in all systems will accommodate temporary partial downtimes, with the main impact being some reduction in haulage the plant takes in during construction.

But won’t the new technology require extensive training for staff? Again, Chris isn’t worried. He says the primary contractor, Energy Systems Group, will conduct trainings on site, and his excellent staff is ready to take on the challenge. He himself has done extensive homework on the concepts and technology including reading, vetting technical materials, working with visiting engineers, and consulting other operators in New England who are using similar technologies.

Surprisingly, the additional processes will not require hiring new staff. Chris says that the new systems are highly automated and can run without human assistance.

Chris has a lot of praise for the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee (MEAC) — contact email: netzeromontpelier@gmail.com) — whose enthusiasm and support has accelerated development of the project. MEAC is working toward the goal of making Montpelier a net-zero energy consumer by 2030, and, dependent on feedstock availability, the WRRF could actually contribute to, not draw upon, the city’s energy supply.

One of the best things to emerge from Chris’s fame is the accurate description, in a recent article by Carla Occaso in the Montpelier Bridge newspaper, of his role. While the public too often thinks of wastewater plants only in terms of the occasional CSOs, she describes Chris as “an eco-warrior . . . who speaks of making it his mission to keep pollution out of the watershed.”

Occaso ends her article by quoting Chris on the 24/7/365 job of wastewater management: “This is the ‘boots on the ground’ of saving the environment.”

Here’s hoping Montpelier voters understand the benefit of the project and vote to support it. And congratulations to Chris and to Montpelier for their vision and determination.

GMWEA invites you to share your own experiences with renovation, construction, biodigestion, or other aspects of wastewater plant operation.

To return to GMWEA’s website, click here.

GMWEA Co-Sponsors Clean Water Week

Governor Phil Scott has proclaimed August 20 – 26 as Clean Water Week. It’s a time to celebrate Vermont’s natural waters and the businesses, organizations, and communities working to protect them. GMWEA and dozens of other Vermont organizations will be offering educational (and fun) experiences throughout the state. Learn more at: http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/cwi/clean-water-week

GMWEA is helping to coordinate a number of open houses at water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities. Tours are free, fun, and are a great way to learn more about the  importance of water quality management to Vermont’s natural waters and way of life.

For a complete list of Clean Water Week events – including water/wastwater plant  tours, water quality monitoring workshops, hydro plant tours, a rain garden tour, flood-resistance workshops, and much more – go to: http://dec.vermont.gov/calendar/list?field_event_type_tid=261&field_event_location_tid=All

Return to/visit our website: http://www.gmwea.org