Editorial Round Table Panel 2024

2024 Editorial Roundtable: System Owners and Trenchless Technology

The 2024 Editorial Roundtable took place during the 2024 NASTT No-Dig Show in Providence, Rhode Island and was moderated by Trenchless Technology editor Sharon M. Bueno. Meet our panel:

Mark Hofmeister
Mark Hofmeister, P.E.,
Principal Engineer, Metro Water Recovery, Denver, Colorado

Jessica Lynch, P.E.,
Jessica Lynch, P.E.,
General Manager/Chief Engineer, Portsmouth Water and Fire District, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Dana Kallevig
Dana Kallevig,
Utility Project Manager, City of Yakima, Washington

John Struzierry, P.E.

John Struzierry, P.E.,
Director of Wastewater Operations/Assistant Director of Public Works, Town of Hull, Massachusetts

Dennis Walsh, P.E

Dennis Walsh, P.E.,
Senior Project Manager, PSE&G, New Jersey

Sharon Bueno
The 2024 Editorial Roundtable was moderated and written by Sharon M. Bueno.

For the 2024 Editorial Roundtable, Trenchless Technology delved deep into the topic of System Owners and Trenchless Technology — gleaning perspectives from active system owners/municipalities about the opportunities and challenges in today’s underground infrastructure climate. Our panel comes all walks of utility life — public and private and small, midsize and large in size.

The discussion offers insight into what utilities deal with on a daily basis when it comes to staffing, funding and what goes into running a utility in today’s world.

Describe the area you cover and type of system you have, as well as your role.

John Struzziery: I am director of Wastewater Operations for the Town of Hull, Massachusetts, and also the assistant director of Public Works. I’ve been in this role for seven and half years and prior to that, I was a consulting engineer for 42 years, with a specialty in trenchless technology.

Our system is 42 miles of gravity sewer and seven miles of pressure sewer and force mains. The pipe size ranges from 6 to 36 in. in diameter. Hull is a small coastal community of about 11,000 people. It’s a peninsula and a barrier beach — has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Massachusetts Bay and Hull Bay on the other. The beauty of the area is also its vulnerability because we are impacted by severe storms and the ocean. Storm surge and tidal impact are big factors in everything we do.

We use trenchless technologies primarily cured-in-place pipelining, in relining our interceptor sewer and for relining one of our pressure force mains. We’ve done collection system lining for the small diameter gravity sewers in size from 6 in. to 15 in. Right now, our focus is on lining asbestos cement pipes.

Jessica Lynch: I’m the general manager of Portsmouth Water and Fire District in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I have been the general manager for almost seven years. Prior to this, I was in consulting for about 13 years, working in water and wastewater.

Portsmouth Water and Fire District is strictly a water system. We don’t have sewers in Portsmouth at all and it is specifically septic systems. We have 132 miles of water mains in our system. We purchase all of our water wholesale, so we just have to deal with our pump stations, water mains and tanks. We do not supply all of the town of Portsmouth but we do supply most of the town. The City of Newport, where we purchase our water from, supplies a small part of Portsmouth, as well.

Dana Kallevig: I am the utility project manager for the City of Yakima, Washington.

We are centrally located in Washington on the east side of the Cascades. Our climate is actually semi-arid, not as rainy as the west side, such as Seattle and those areas. We have a population of about 100,000 but we have systems from two other adjacent cities that we serve, as well as a district that comes into our treatment plant. We serve close to 120,000 people in our area. We have a wide range of soil types from cobble river rock to clay. We have about 365 miles of sewer pipe. About half of it is old and made up of clay and concrete and the other half is newer, so PVC and HDPE. We also have about 150 miles of storm lines that we maintain. Our sizes range from 6 to 48 in. pipes. We have 12 lift stations and we do not have any combined sewers in our system. We treat about 10 million gallons per day at our plant.

Mark Hofmeister: I am a principal engineer at Metro Water Recovery and our coverage area is the Denver metro area and the surrounding municipalities.

Our service area is about 800 square miles. We have 230 miles of interceptor pipe, ranging from 8 to 90 in. We have two treatment plants, one that is rated at 220 mgd and one that is rated at 28 mgd. We have 43 interceptors and 60-plus municipalities or special districts that come into our system. We review about 10 percent of our interceptor lines every year and then each year we put together a rehabilitation project on what we determine to be very poor, usually about 10,000 to 15,000 lf of pipe. Our rehabilitation projects are typically cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) or sliplining.

Dennis Walsh: I am senior project manager at PSE&G in New Jersey and we are the largest utility in New Jersey. What I do is support the manhole and conduit groups for the underground constructors.

Most of our facilities are overhead. We consider ourselves an overhead electric utility but there are times we have to go underground. My team will put in the conduits, the manholes and get the jobs set up for the cable pullers. In that regard, trenchless technology enters into it with jack and bores under railroads and culverts. I’ve had one HDD project in my time here.

I’ve been in the utility business my whole life. I’ve worked out of Brooklyn Union KeySpan in New York City, retiring in 2005. Was a consultant for about 10 years and then got this opportunity to work for PSE&G for the last seven years. It’s an interesting job and trenchless plays a big part of it.

How has trenchless been used within your utility? Have there been any limitations to the use of trenchless in your utility?

JL: We just completed our first trenchless technology project [in March]. Portsmouth Water and Fire was created in 1952. We are a newer utility when you compare us to some others in this area. We are just starting to look at our pipelines.

Portsmouth is located on Aquidneck Island with two other towns, Newport and Middletown. Our original source of water was actually a pipe that crosses the Sakonnet River from Portsmouth to Tiverton. We have a small station, which was originally just an underground pit, that they would supply all of our water. Unfortunately, Tiverton promised its water to others and they couldn’t supply us enough to meet our demands so we start purchasing water from the City of Newport. The line is now an emergency source of supply. We haven’t used it in 25 years, but Stonebridge Water in Tiverton does use it once in a while, typically during water main breaks.

This pipeline has had three breaks over the course of the last 20 years. We decided to inspect and clean it to determine what condition the pipe was in. It was in generally good shape but it had significant amounts of bends. There are a bunch 15- and 30-degree bends and a 45-degree bend; its length is 1,600 lf.

We decided that we needed move forward with rehabbing the pipeline and, really, our only viable option was lining with Primus Line, which is a hose liner. The project was a success, it was quick, efficient and reasonably priced considering we really didn’t have any other options. Every other rehab method told us no, we won’t touch it, between the bends and length.

DK: About 10 years ago, the City of Yakima Wastewater Division started its rehabilitation program for our aging infrastructure underground, with CIPP being the focus of what we really wanted to do. Since then, we have done almost 45,000 lf of CIPP. We’ve also done a pipe bursting project and one liner project. We have not done any boring projects due to the soils we have.

In our rehabilitation program, we have had to do open-cut projects and during that same time, we’ve only been able to accomplish about 8,500 lf of that. Whenever we can, we try to use trenchless technologies. We only do open-cut when it’s required. Such as when there are large offsets or bellies or sizing problems.

Right now, we are doing a large open-cut project to replace a neighborhood of 6-in. concrete sewer pipe that needs to be replaced due to root intrusion, offsets, and other issues. Also, we no longer install 6-in. pipe in our city so we are upsizing it to meet current standards. We considered bursting for this project but with all the side sewer reconnects, we would have had to dig up most of the road any way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use trenchless for that one.

With HDD, we haven’t tried to tackle that one yet. With what we have investigated with HDD or any sort of boring, we run into too many issues with our cobbly soil. Trenchless technology has been and continues to be our primary method for rehabilitation of our aging system for both storm and sewer.

MH: Ten percent of all our sewer lines are videoed/CCTV’d every year, so every 10 years we review all the pipes in our system. We look at the data, rate them and then choose the very poorest to address and that usually comes to 10,000 to 15,000 lf that we are relining each year. The majority of it is CIPP and, in specific cases, we slipline.

We do have a new, second creek interceptor project currently being constructed that goes to our new treatment plant. The Second Creek interceptor project recently installed 19 tunnels and should be wrapping up this summer. We had to use a wide variety of tunneling techniques to get this interceptor installed.

Some of the challenges/limitations of using trenchless we find are pipe sags, irregular shapes, deformed pipes and sometimes utility conflicts. Even though those are some of the limitations to using trenchless technologies, we are big proponent of the technology and we try to use it as much as possible to minimize the impact to the public.

DW: We mostly use auger boring, going under railroads. We don’t do pipe ramming, although that is an option. Occasionally, we might get a microtunnel.

The things that cause us the most problems, probably the first few are systemic in terms of how you lay out a job, do you have the right of way to work with, do you need easements, etc. Once you get past those and you have something on paper, then you go for the permits and that can take years. It’s amazing how much time it takes.

A railroad job could be two or three years and once you get the permit, you are talking about getting a railroad flag person to be out there while you are out doing the work, even if you are outside their right of way, they want to have a flag person there to make sure. Resources are always constrained and the railroads, to their defense, have a lot of people in the queue. We are just another customer to them. Finally, the contractor resources.

By the time you get the job going, the contractor or subcontractor you thought you were going to use, is busy somewhere else. You are constantly juggling the team. Submitting up to date plans and insurance. Most of it is general project management issues, but really when it comes to trenchless it’s getting the contractors, getting the permits and educating all of the people of what’s going to happen, proving to them the technology is good.

JS: We like to be proactive but occasionally we do have the emergency sewer breaks. Those aren’t good for anybody and end up costing us a lot more money. We realize that we need to continue to do our condition assessment program and we have a lot of information from the past.

Back when I first started in Hull, we CCTV’d about 60 percent of the entire area and we also categorized and prioritized what needed to be done. We focused on the highest priorities and then other priorities came in, even though we did the first few years in the collection and interceptor system, we also had needs in the treatment system. The last few years has been a lot of focus on the treatment facility. And when you take your attention off the collection system, that is when you have a problem. We had two big breaks last year, involving the asbestos cement pipe. We are starting our condition assessment of those areas and in others so we can better cover the entire area and not be as reactive.

One of the limitations we have also found is the service laterals. In one of the projects that we did, it was in the older section of town, we were putting in a new collector sewer and the service laterals were small diameters, no cleanouts, and different configurations and/or diameters, and they would go over or under different utilities. We realized that the lateral lining that was proposed was not practical. We had to use dig-and-replace in those areas. In the newer parts of the system, installed in the 1970s and 1980s, that may not be as much of an issue.

We know we have significant infiltration and inflow in our system, and I believe it’s the service laterals and sump pumps that are biggest culprits. So, tackling and addressing those areas are what our focus will be to reduce that excess water in the system. The last big area is the pressure pipes. The force mains, we have had limited success. Probably the biggest challenge there is dealing with the condition assessment of those mains.

What are the main problems that your system faces?

DK: We have two issues that are our biggest concerns. One is our aging infrastructure and the maintenance that is required to keep those lines running and operating. It takes a lot of our maintenance crews’ time, energy and effort to make that happen. Second, is the access. We have many developed neighborhoods with old sewer systems in their backyards that cause access issues that our maintenance crews deal with. If there are any backups or problems, it’s typically very difficult to get access to repair or replace those pipes. That’s a big challenge.

Also, we have a secondary issue that is on the horizon, though we are not there yet. But specific to capacity, we have ongoing development happening west of our city. We just completed a master plan for our wastewater collection system and it identified that as these developments start to build out, this is going cause some capacity issues going forward so we have to look at those things in the very near future. We are looking into solutions to deal with this now so we are not behind in providing the services required for these developments.

MH: I second you, Dana, on that. I think most of our issues are maintenance issues, mainly H2S corrosion. Most of our lines were put in during the 1960s and the 1980s and we are now seeing corrosion throughout all of our RCP pipe. Even our brick-and-mortar pipe, ones that were originally part of Denver — Denver had its own system and then we took over the whole metro area during the 1960s — and some of those pipes go back to the 1890s early1900s. They have held up relatively well but we are now seeing a lot of the brick pop off and deface so we are starting to rehabilitate those lines also.

Like I said, H2S is what we are dealing with the majority of the time. Fortunately, with low flow toilets and water conservation out in the West, even with the growth we’ve seen in Denver, right now our capacity in most of our lines is still doing relatively well.

DK: Can I ask a question to that point, Mark, regarding water conservation? We are not getting the scouring velocity now in some of our pipes that don’t have a lot of flow, and we think it might be caused by the water conservation requirements. Is that an issue you are having?

MH: I think its twofold. We have had a lot of growth in Denver, but also people are using less water. So that is helping capacity, but also not affecting scouring velocities.

JS: With regards to water conservation, we have found that it is affecting our revenues, big time. Every year for the last three years, we have seen a decrease in our revenue stream. As a result, we have had to re-budget midway through the year. We try making reductions in each budget and it’s still not enough. That is a real challenge. We receive our water from the next town over and we’re working with them because they are having the same problem. We’re finding that 30 percent of the water system is either no reads, zero reads or it’s seasonal. So, it has a big impact on both of our utilities. The water utility is changing over to new meters for everyone so that should help.

DW: The backyard situation is the big problem for us because of the trees and wind storms, and we have the overhead lines going over the backyards. We can’t get access to the right of way.

On the PSE&G side, 15 years ago, we decided to expand our 69kv system. Up to that point our system was mostly 13 or 26kv. From a gas perspective, I know we have different systems and pressures, so the 69kV, for me, was the equivalent of them getting to transport more electric with less lines, so to speak. That causes a problem on this side, because on the electric side, there are certain clearances you have maintain between the lines. Just not enough real estate. If you got a 13/26 kv system here, you have a sewer, you got a water main, try to find a lane to put in a 69-kv system in and maintain 10-ft separation with the 13/26 kv lines. That is a challenge for us.

Where trenchless has helped us now is where our buried underground direct systems are. In a lot of developments, we have underground cable. We are now replacing them using HDD. It’s an extensive project that will take a couple of years to do. We’ve identified lines and have done continuity tests on them. If a line passed the test, we left it alone. If it didn’t, we replaced the line using HDD. We’re in the midst of that program now. Because we are public utility, we have to go to the NJ Board of Public Utility and show them what you are going to do, how much the investment is and get their approval.

JS: Some of the big challenges we face of the aging infrastructure is that some of our oldest sewers date back to the 1860s, particularly on the hills of the town. Back then, it was a combined sewer system, both the storm drains and the sewer, wastewater would flow into one pipe and go out into the bay or the ocean. Back in the 1970s, that was all separated; however, I still think that is one of our biggest problems: that it wasn’t totally separated, that there are still some cross connections. Occasionally, we will find something but for the most part it is considered fully separated.

The other challenge is the aging workforce. Trying to find people to fall in after me when I retire. The plant manager recently retired, and bringing in a new staff to support what they did has been problematic. There is a lot of younger talent that they have but they are still not experienced in what has to be done to maintain the treatment facility and collection system.

We have greater needs than the availability of time and money. That goes for all of us. We are a relatively small utility with two full-time staff. That makes it difficult when we have a break or we have to address something else. We have been fortunate in trying to position ourselves for additional funding. Over the last seven years, we have successfully gotten over $10 million in grant money from various sources and that has helped us tremendously. For every million dollars we get, it takes about 30 cents off the user rate, so it does make a difference. And we have one of the highest user rates in our area.

Another factor that impacts everything we do is the sea level rise and climate change. Again, the vulnerability of being right on the ocean. We can get impacted at the same time or at different times from the ocean side or the bay side. People don’t think about the bay side overflowing as much as it does.

JL: For us, I would say it’s declining consumption. We are seeing less people purchasing water yet our purchase price keeps going up. We are struggling with how to start building revenue and building our capital improvements plan to start replacing pipe.

A significant amount of our system was installed around the same time so we are looking at how we can start doing projects without having outrageous rates. Because we are separate from the town, we find that some of the grant funding is not always available to us, which is problematic. We are working through that and working with our water rates to come up with rates we can still start building for the future so we do not have significant increases.

The City of Newport is a regulated utility, which we are not, they will go every few years for a rate increase and there is no set plan for their increases, making it hard for us to budget for the future. One year they might request a 20 percent increase and then four years later, 15 percent and then 30 percent. So, it is hard for us to plan for our future when we don’t know what they are going to be charging us or when they will request an increase.

Let’s talk about technology. What developments in technology have made the biggest impact for you.

MH: For me, the last 10 years that I have worked on trenchless projects, I’ve started to see with CIPP that they have been able to do the work using a smaller installation footprint. I think that just by minimizing those footprints and minimizing the time, specifically with the amount of population growth and more impacts on the road and less access for us. The ability to do things in a smaller footprint and quicker times, those are some of the improvements I’ve seen over the last 10 years.

DW: It impresses me with the technology of how far it has come. I’ve been involved in trenchless for a long time and the strength and power of the equipment and the capability of the equipment…every year, they are breaking records for an HDD crossing, using intersect drilling. You talk about jack and bore, combining with pilot tube auger boring and now you can go 300 or 400 ft. I think that’s the kind of stuff that continues to open up avenues for us to use trenchless technology.

JS: We’ve used a collection system digital and predictive data management system. We’ve hired a specialty company that can look at trends going on in the system and identify what we might expect under various storm conditions or flow conditions for I/I trends. They provide us with quarterly reporting. That gives us an understanding of what flows are doing in the system, because we have the tidal influence being so close to the ocean. A lot of our I/I is coming into the pipelines during high tide events. If we can predict that and monitor that, particularly during storm events, we will be able to identify better locations where that is happening.

The other area we are looking into is the collection system artificial intelligence with the closed-circuit television inspection. We haven’t used it yet, but we are looking into it. We just don’t know enough about it, but it might be an area in the future that will be prominent in what we do. The last area would be in force main condition assessment and rehabilitation. That’s still a relatively untouched frontier here. There are new technologies being developed and others are using them with success.

JL: We have some new meter reading software. We’ve had it for a while and I do think it’s helpful. You can read right from someone’s house so you know how much water people are consuming. You can track your data a little better. Our GIS system has a whole work order component that is connected so when our crews are out, they can keep track of everything they do. All the new technology is helpful; for leak detection, hopefully in the future we can, look at options for our water mains. Approximately 74 percent of our water mains are asbestos cement (AC) pipe; I don’t know too much about trenchless technology related to AC so that is something we will be looking at in the future.

DK: The biggest technological upgrade that we have had in Yakima that has benefited us has been the condition assessment technology, robotics specifically. The ability to do a full system assessment now to fairly quickly and at a relatively low cost has had a great impact on us. We are wrapping up our full assessment right now with RedZone. We consulted with them and it has taken about a year to do all 365 miles of our pipe. It’s really impressive.

When we first started the rehabilitation program, we relied heavily on our maintenance crews and information they were given us back about problematic pipes. We have a TV crew that we use and we were able to identify a lot of the low-hanging fruit and got those projects taken care of. We did a good job with that but going forward, to be able to plan for the future and to have this assessment, it helps us with our planning, it helps us with our funding and our presentations.

With RedZone coming in, we’ve realized that there is a significant amount of our larger pipes that are starting to show signs of wear and we want to get ahead of that. One of the things I’m looking forward to in the future and, is my hope, is that the boring will develop a bit better for soils like ours. It’s just not there yet for our soils.

What are some of biggest concerns utilities in general face in today’s climate (regulatory, environmental, funding, etc.)? How do you deal with them?

DW: Circle all of the above!

You try to get out in front of all the different issues in the front end of any project in terms of regulatory and working with any of the various environmental agencies. We have a good group of licensing and permitting people who get out in front of that. We have governmental relations and public relations teams. You come down anyone’s block and they get upset with you. Why did you pick my block? That’s a sales job sometimes, convincing them.

Funding-wise, we have a funding set up with the BPU and the PJM (the Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland Power group) and get a lot of our projects funded through them. That seems be getting a little stressed now. We do our best to stay ahead of it and collaborate with whoever we have to.

JS: Changing regulations and reporting seem to be more extensive. Our state regulatory agency, is now requiring more frequent inspections as part of the NPDES permit for our ocean outfall. There is also a requirement for PFAS testing of both the wastewater and sludge on a quarterly basis. You know over time that will probably increase and, fortunately, we haven’t found anything to be of concern but, when they do, that will be a large expense if we must start removing that from either of those sources. That is a big concern that we have because that will impact cost.

The I/I, that contributes excess flow, another concern. The cost associated with the pandemic, along with equipment lead times are also concerns. Any of the new construction that we have, electrical switchboxes, pumps, generators, HVAC systems — they are all having a long lead time and that is impacting us. Costs have just gone up for both labor and materials and with the rising interest rates and rising inflation, that just becomes more problematic. We haven’t seen that get under control yet.

With all, our user rates get affected. Although we have had a predictive rate over the last five years, for the next five to seven years, we’ll be looking a different rate structure to better account for the different factors that we are dealing with now and the next few years.

JL: I agree with all of the above, as well. Water, specifically, regulatory. With the PFAS and the lead and copper rule, all of these things they are requiring costs money and they can potentially require significant amounts of time. Being able to pay for those things and also, as a smaller utility, to tackle those things is difficult. The lead inventory requirement is significant and you really don’t have a choice in completing this requirement.

Additionally, if you do not have good records, it is going to be even more difficult and expensive to complete. We have good records but not in regards to our service lines, so now how do you tackle of all of these things and who is going to pay for it? Definitely is a struggle. We are lucky that we do not have a PFAS issue but you still have to test for it.

And you have customers who are hearing all of these things in the news and seeing what people are posting on social media and they are freaking out. These environmental groups are coming out and saying this water is not safe or that water is not safe, don’t drink it — how do you deal with all of that?

DK: For Yakima, and it’s already been touched on a bit, our biggest issue is personnel. Trying to staff and offer a pay scale that is equivalent to the private sector. Being government, we don’t offer what people are making on the private side. Many of the staff in Yakima, including myself, are doing jobs beyond their expected duties due to retirements. I spend a lot of time helping out our engineering division, even though I am a wastewater employee, due to retirements. That is one of the issues we are having — bringing in qualified personnel, getting them trained and then watching them go to another job. We’ve had that happen multiple times at the treatment plant, our collections crews and management positions.

Tied into that is the budget and funding. We currently do fairly well and my team does a good job expressing a need for funding our rehabilitation program. We started with only $500,000 a year and now we are up to $1.5 million a year and we think we can even go higher because the City’s upper managements sees the importance and impact of it. We have the funding and support we need but we don’t have the staff to manage those projects, unfortunately. We are doing the best with the time we have but we are spread pretty thin.

MH: I think funding is always a major priority. I think we are just getting less bang for our buck right now. Everything with inflation and everything has gone so far up. And then with our aging infrastructure we are seeing more and more pipes needing to be rehabilitated and we are just not getting as many feet of pipe lined as we used to be able to do.

The other thing is coordination with other entities and getting permits. It’s just a challenge and drags out the process. We always get through it but I don’t think a lot of entities do not have as many resources as they used to, to get the permits through any quicker.

There are a lot of challenges of just trying to explain to people what we actually do. I think a lot of times they just say no if they do not understand the project instead of understanding if it will work. It just takes iteration after iteration to try to get a meeting set up with somebody just to let them know that this won’t impact them. That’s what I see as the biggest challenge, working through a lot of outside entities that aren’t familiar with trenchless technology.

Let’s flip the question. What do you see as the biggest opportunities for utilities going forward?

JS: Since I came on board, I’ve had a focus of three objectives: reliability of operations, redundancy of operations and resiliency. By keeping those three things in mind, and I think that can apply for all of us, you can achieve a lot of what you have in your program.

Reliability, making sure things operate the way it was intended to operate. Redundancy, make sure you have backup systems. And the resiliency to deal with the climate change and sea level rise.

By being open to new ideas and thinking differently on how projects get done and being aggressive about seeking funding or expertise when needed — these are all items that will help us get through these types of projects and deal with what we are facing. You just need to be opened to looking at things differently and trying new approaches and not doing things the way they were done in the past.

JL: All of these new technologies that are coming out and the way we can look at all these different types of projects. Different types of technologies and rehab options will help us in the future be able to work on our water system for less money and in a more timely matter. Technology will help us be able to find leaks easier and really tackle some of our projects more cost-effectively.

DK: I’m so glad you asked this question because there are a lot of really cool things happening. The technologies have come so far.

We have kept track of our numbers on our rehabilitation projects. With the CIPP projects we’ve completed over the last 10 years, we estimate that we can rehab these old lines at about $82 per foot and get over 200 ft per day. That gives us a payback rate, when we just take into account our maintenance, that we are saving money at three to five years. It’s been incredible, actually.

In comparison, in that same amount of time, we have had to do some open-cut projects in that same amount of time. We’re about $560 per ft compared to the $82 per ft and we only get about 30 ft per day. And that payback rate is about 12 to 15 years. We still do it because we have to at times and it still does have a payback rate but in comparison with the trenchless technologies, the farther they come along, even though there is inflation, we are seeing with our projects, that number is pennies on the dollar and that has been great.

I have already discussed the opportunities with the technologies in robotics to get the system assessment done. When we complete that work, we will be able to use our funding not just on immediate needs, but be able to plan for needed future projects to serve our community. These technologies have allowed us to do the underground work that we need, at a lower price and impact. That impact, being able to get in there and get three blocks of pipe rehabbed in a day and get out is really amazing.

MH: I agree with what you said. We can do a lot and we have been able to do a lot. I think the challenge that falls back on us, is that we need to educate the public a little more on what we are doing is not impactful to them.

We’ve figured it out as an industry that we can get in there and do this work. They see the impact but they don’t understand what the impacts would be if we did it without a trenchless technology. That falls onto us and our public relations to get out there and say, it would be a lot worse if we did it the other ways and trenchless technologies is minimized these impacts. I think the technology has helped minimize those footprints and minimize down to about as far we are going to get.

DW: Frankly, the education never stops. And that is our role. Whether it’s on an individual level, like myself where I look at a project and might think of an out-of-the-box solution. We have a county that wants us to replace a brick culvert. Right away, I thought of CIPP. Working with a company now to put together a proposal to see if they buy into it.

It’s always thinking of the out of the box solutions and educating people. The more people we get at things like the No-Dig Show where we are at, the better off we will be. It’s a great effort and has come a long way in the 30 years I have been involved and it still has a long way to go.

Some communities and agencies are just used to doing it the old-fashion way and we have to show them there’s a better way.

Regarding the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. What impact has this had on utilities?

JL: We haven’t had any experience with this.

DK: This has not had a lot of impact on us. Because of the magnitude of what is required, this is what I have been told, and how expensive it is to just apply for the funding. For utility specific jobs, it doesn’t make sense for us unless we are able to tag onto a large engineering project where we can get our utilities in during that possibly, it has come up for Yakima yet.

MH: We haven’t either. The best thing that I can see that has come out of it has been that we are talking about and educating the public that there is a need to do some of this work on aging infrastructure.
DW: Same here. Our funding is primarily BPU and rate cases.

JS: Not with this funding act specifically, but we have had some limited success with other federal government opportunities. The Congressionally directed spending has been part of it; however, it is a difficult process. They give you a week or two to fill out the application, which is a brief application, and then it is another year to review it. And then after that, if you get selected, it is passed off to either the EPA or FEMA. Then, you must go through their administrative process to get approved for the funding.

It has taken us two years to get $2 million for a pump station we are replacing. That’s the good part of it. The bad part is that it takes two years to get there. Then you get tied into all the Buy American clauses and American Infrastructure and Steel Act. There is a lot of protocol to be followed and makes it very difficult.

We all have projects that need to be implemented a lot faster. This pump station really needed to be replaced five years ago and we have been able to keep it functional. With the American Rescue Plan (during COVID), our county administered that program, and we were fortunate to get $1 million to clean and inspect our ocean outfall. We’re just completing that. It was a bonus, and we weren’t expecting that. There is funding out there, it is just not readily accessible and difficult to receive.

How would you describe the state of utilities? What is needed to help them run smoother?

DK: Again, it’s our aging infrastructure. It’s the hot topic and it’s a big part of the No-Dig Show and your magazine. It keeps coming up.

Water and wastewater across the board. We started our rehabilitation program almost 10 years ago. We don’t just want to continue our efforts going forward we want to expand them to complete them. If we keep at our current rate, it’s going to take us a little bit over 100 years to finish. So, we want to get it done a little faster than that. We want to expand and move that forward. Trenchless technologies, specifically CIPP, has been incredible and incredibly successful both in cost and impact.

What is needed is for utility personnel and underground utilities, both management and labor, to make known the issues of their specific system that they are working with. Keep letting people know the issues they deal with and foresee coming in the future by utilizing the technologies we have today. When we do our job, nobody knows what we are doing and that kind of hurts us when we go for funding and no one knows what we’ve done.

I think a complete system analysis is a good starting point for cities. Yakima did well starting its program 10 years ago, doing the obvious repairs to our system that were needed, but going forward using our system assessment we will be able to do greater work with the funding we have.

MH: Well said. It’s really the aging infrastructure that we are dealing with every day. Fortunately, our board and our management understand this but I think it’s getting to the next level of educating the public of what we need to do and how we are doing it and how we are trying to minimize their impacts.

DW: Not being in the water and wastewater business, but the utility business, the impact on us from a damage prevention perspective, the more you can do trenchless, is better for us. If a sewer can reline instead of replaced that’s a big benefit to us because it means the impact of construction will be less on us. At the end of the day, the better the water and wastewater industry does regarding rehabilitation is better for us in the long run.

JS: None of us are different here. We all face the same challenges and needs. We all work hard and have great programs that we are doing. We’ve made improvements in our systems. We just need continued investment and it’s going to take a long-term investment because we are still a long way from getting there. We need increased funding availability, easier access to that, and less stringent permitting requirements.

By being aggressive in going after funding and finding the opportunities to upgrade our systems, we all know that water and sewer systems make will continue to improve to help make our economy thrive and that’s what is going to help us.

JL: Yes, it is the aging infrastructure but I also think that the aging workforce is an issue. We have a lot of people in the industry who are retiring, people don’t really think about how they get their water or where their wastewater goes, it just happens.

We really need to figure out how to get the word out to young people, in either trade schools, high schools or colleges, to let them know about these job opportunities. Instead of just considering plumbing, a trade can be in water or wastewater and there are so many jobs and so many opportunities with good pay and good benefits that this generation doesn’t even know about. We need to start looking at how we can build programs and get the word out to try and get more people in the industry.

The consultants don’t have enough people. The state agencies don’t have enough people. The utilities don’t have enough people. We really need to get people in, especially as we are seeing people retire.

Sharon M. Bueno is editor of Trenchless Technology.

// ** Advertisement ** //