Wastewater

Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Water Future

Alan Johnston from the City of Gresham Wastewater Services Division gives a tour of the energy positive Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oregon. In the background is the receiving station for fats, oils, and grease from local food establishments that increase biogas production for conversion to electricity Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

Alan Johnston from the City of Gresham Wastewater Services Division gives a tour of the energy positive Gresham Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oregon. In the background is the receiving station for fats, oils, and grease from local food establishments that increase biogas production for conversion to electricity
Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

By  Jeff Lape

This week, I visited the City of Gresham, Oregon’s wastewater treatment plant. This year the plant became the second facility in the country this year and the first in the Pacific Northwest to generate more energy than it needs to treat its water. Gresham has joined the growing number of facilities across the country and the world to value all of the inputs to the plant not as waste, but as a resource, and to capitalize on those resources, in the form of clean water, renewable energy, and nutrients that can be used to grow our food.

It’s vital that we continue to support innovative efforts like Gresham’s. The challenges that increasingly face our water resources will require new ways of doing things, holistic ways of managing water, and valuing water in all forms for the resources contained within in order to maintain a clean source of water for this generation and the ones to come.

Alan Johnston shows me the treatment plant is generating 112% of their total energy demand at that moment. Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

Alan Johnston shows me the treatment plant is generating 112% of their total energy demand at that moment.
Photo credit: Jim Swenson, New Media Magic LLC

In April 2014, Administrator Gina McCarthy issued Promoting Technology Innovation for Clean and Safe Water: Water Technology Innovation Blueprint – Version 2, to demonstrate the extent of risks to water sustainability, the market opportunities for innovation, examples of innovation pioneers and actions to promote technology innovation. These actions included ways that we will be a positive contributor to the effort along with utilities, industry, investors, academics, technology developers and entrepreneurs.

This week, we released “Promoting Innovation for a Sustainable Future – A Progress Report.” This document highlights even more examples of innovative pioneers and their efforts towards water sustainability over the past 12 months. You can find the Progress Report on our website, where we continue to showcase utilities and cities across the country who are getting creative in the ways they manage water.

If you have examples from your community, we’d love to hear from you! We’ll be at WEFTEC 2015 this year collecting stories from communities across the country on ways folks are working towards water sustainability. Come see us in September to tell us yours.

About the Author: Jeff Lape serves as Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology, Office of Water (EPA) where he helps lead water quality criteria development, water quality standards implementation and development of technology based standards. Jeff also leads efforts to promote technology innovation for clean and safe water. 

Previously with EPA, Jeff served as Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He has supported water resource protection efforts with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and three private sector firms. Jeff has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science (SUNY Plattsburgh) and Master’s in Environmental Science and Engineering (Virginia Tech). Jeff grew up in the Adirondacks of New York, on Lake George and Lake Champlain, where he gained an early and keen appreciation for the natural environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Advancing Sustainable Development in the United States

By Apple Loveless and Leslie Corcelli

A United Nations summit to adopt sustainable development goals will take place this September. Among these is a proposed goal to “ ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” which expresses global intent to provide adequate water and sanitation to everyone.

When we think about inadequate drinking water and wastewater treatment, it usually brings to mind developing countries. But in our work in the Office of Wastewater Management, we see examples in rural Alaska, Appalachia, the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as smaller communities like Willisville and Lowndes County.

Willisville is a small minority community in southwestern Loudoun County, Virginia. In the late 1990s, the Loudoun County Health Department surveyed Willisville to determine its water and wastewater needs. It found that the majority of residences had inadequate drinking water supplies and failing or non-existent sewage systems. Most residents used privies and outhouses.

Simply providing indoor plumbing to existing homes would have driven up property values so much that the average resident wouldn’t have been able to afford the taxes. However, Willisville was able to work with the county and nonprofit organizations to increase taxes incrementally, enabling owners to afford the payments.

In the end, the residences and an area church got indoor plumbing, a cluster system was installed to treat wastewater, and private land was purchased to build a drainfield.

In Lowndes County, Alabama, inadequate wastewater management had become a public health hazard and environmental issue that could no longer be ignored. Mostly rural and primarily African-American, Lowndes County did not have a centralized wastewater management system, and is built on impermeable clay soils that made septic systems cost prohibitive. The county also has a 27 percent poverty rate. Many of the county’s residents disposed of raw sewage in fields, yards and ditches. It was estimated that 40 to 90 percent of households had either no septic system or an inadequate one.

Beginning in 2010, we entered into a four-year financial assistance agreement with the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise to develop a decentralized wastewater management approach for rural Lowndes County. This grant is an important first step towards improving basic sanitation services in Lowndes County.

There are many communities like Willisville and Lowndes County in the United States. Funding and technical assistance can help them improve inadequate water and wastewater services. It takes collaboration by local, state and federal government to achieve environmental justice for those in underserved communities.

About the authors: Apple Loveless has a graduate degree in environmental management with a focus on water resource planning and management, and is adapting to life in the Mid-Atlantic region. Leslie Corcelli has a graduate degree in environmental science and policy, and lives in northern Virginia with her partner and a menagerie of rescue animals. Apple and Leslie are Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education research participants in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Slowing the Spinning Wheel

electric meterby Ken Pantuck

Whether we live in houses or apartments, we all probably share the same sense of hesitation when we open our monthly electric bill…especially after some frigid winter months.

Keeping the environment and our household budgets in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to reduce these bills with more efficient appliances, and conservation measures to use less energy whenever possible.

Just like homeowners and renters, most operators of large water and wastewater treatment plants are always looking for ways of lowering energy consumption and the costs that come with it, and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The difference is that their power requirements are enormous.

Did you know that nationally, electricity accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the operating budgets for wastewater utilities and approximately 80 percent of drinking water processing and distribution costs? In fact, drinking water and wastewater systems account for nearly four percent of all the energy use in the United States.

EPA’s Net Zero Energy team is helping utilities to lower their costs by reducing waste, conserving water, and lowering power demand.

I recently attended a meeting at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the regional planning group for in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia where energy conservation and reductions were the chief topics. Each authority had used experts in the field to assist them in examining energy saving actions, and estimating the costs of implementing them.

While many of these energy projects involved little or no cost, others carried a more significant price tag. Each authority selected what actions would get them the biggest “bang for the buck” within their capital improvement budgets, and would pay for themselves within one to 10 years in energy savings.

While many large water and wastewater authorities are already benefiting from these energy saving measures, some of the smaller ones are just starting to learn about them. A couple of EPA publications entitled “Energy Efficiency in Water and Wastewater Facilities” and “Planning for Sustainability: A Handbook for Water and Wastewater Utilities” can provide the necessary first steps for a community or authority to begin such an effort.

Why not encourage your local utility to check out the savings?

About the Author: Ken Pantuck is the team leader for the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Innovative Technologies Team.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Boring Subject

The 26 foot diameter "cutting" head of Nannie, built in Germany at a cost of $25 M

The 26 foot diameter “cutting” head of Nannie, built in Germany at a cost of $25 M

by Ken Pantuck

DC Water dedicated its second Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) on December 12, 2014. It has been named “Nannie”, in honor of Nannie Helen Burroughs, a prominent 20th century African-American educator, civil rights activist, and Washington resident. This TBM will join another – called “Lady Bird” – as part of Washington’s strategy to reduce combined sewage overflows into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers when it rains.

The huge cutting head – 26 feet in diameter – will soon be lowered down a nearby drop shaft 100 feet below the surface and placed on railroad tracks.  Like a caterpillar, more segments will be added to the drilling machine, growing Nannie to a total length of 350 feet and a weight of 1,248 tons (the equivalent of nearly six Boeing 747s) when fully assembled and functional.  As the TBM moves forward, curved six-foot cement pieces are pressed against the tunnel wall to create a strong circular structure.  On average, Nannie is expected to create 52 to 64 feet of tunnel each day.

Four workers are dwarfed by the enormity of the shaft where Nannie will be lowered

Four workers are dwarfed by the enormity of the shaft where Nannie will be lowered

The Catholic archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl; EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water, Ken Kopocis; DC Water Board Chairman and City Administrator Allen Y. Lew and DC Water General Manager George S. Hawkins, spoke at the dedication event.  Mr. Lew christened Nannie with a bottle of DC tap water.  Cardinal Wuerl blessed the machine and asked for God’s protection of the miners.  We often forget that tunneling, whether it is for mining, subways, highways, or sewers, is not without risk.  I was told that a statue of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, is often placed near tunneling construction sites.

Cardinal Wuerl blesses the TBM

Cardinal Wuerl blesses the TBM

Having myself been underground in the main tunnel being mined by Lady Bird, I can attest that it is among the hardest and most challenging jobs in construction.  The workers or miners come from all over the world.  Because they are experts in what they do and in the operation of this type of machine, the workers that are in DC today could be constructing a subway system in Dubai or a highway tunnel in Europe next year.

A third TBM will start next spring to complete the 13-mile Anacostia River segment.  When finished, DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project is expected to capture 98% of storm-related combined sewage overflows into the Anacostia River and improve its water quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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America’s Water Future: Smart, Green, Distributed

By Charlotte Ely

I was raised with the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To save water, I started making changes in my own home. Following the advice I’ve given to drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities through my work with EPA’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, I assessed our use, identified ways we could save water, and made improvements.

I replaced inefficient fixtures and appliances with WaterSense and Energy Star models. I fixed leaks. Most recently, I installed a graywater system. Residential graywater is water from showers, baths, bathroom sinks or washing machines. Graywater can be used instead of drinking water to safely and beneficially irrigate gardens. The graywater system meets much of our outdoor water needs. Since installed, our household consumption has dropped to an average of 19 gallons per person per day — 60% less than the San Francisco average of 49 gallons per day and 80% less than the national average of 100 gallons per day.

 

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

 

As California enters its fourth year of drought, I’m struck both by the immensity of the challenges ahead, and the incredible potential to re-think how we manage our water resources. Innovative water management practices, such as residential graywater and on-site commercial re-use are examples of the kinds of investments that will help communities adapt to water scarcity. One good example is San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s headquarters building which uses 60% less water than similar sized buildings by reclaiming and treating all of the building’s wastewater on site.

I’m especially encouraged by organizations helping to re-envision our water infrastructure as a smart, green and distributed network:

  • Smart: Uses data analytics to optimize utility management.
  • Green: Use strategic landscaping to capture rainfall for reuse or recharge.
  • Distributed: Has onsite treatment and reuse.

Organizations, like Imagine H2O, are cultivating innovative concepts, technologies and entrepreneurs to help communities adapt—not only to climate change impacts such as drought, but also to an escalating need to invest in our nation’s drinking and clean water infrastructure. This year, Imagine H2O’s annual challenge will honor scalable, cost-effective solutions that improve water and wastewater infrastructure. I’m excited to see what the contestants come up with!

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” If we could change how we manage water, could we also change the ‘tendency’ of the water? Would it be less scarce? Less polluted? How do you think we can make our water infrastructure smarter, greener and more distributed?

About the author: Charlotte Ely joined EPA’s San Francisco office in 2006. She works for the Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, helping communities throughout the southwest increase the water and energy efficiency of their water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Make Purple Your Favorite Color!

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

by Alysa Suero

What comes to mind when you think of purple? Likely you conjure images of grapes, flowers, or your favorite socks. How about a purple pipe? Most states require pipes to be colored purple if they carry reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is an important component in water conservation and one that is rapidly gaining in popularity for many uses.

Reclaimed, or recycled, water is highly treated wastewater that’s used again for a variety of purposes such as irrigation, industrial processes, and cooling towers. Often the treated water flows through purple pipes to the end user. Purple pipes offer an easy way to distinguish recycled water from the potable water distribution system.

There are many benefits to using reclaimed water. Using it for golf course irrigation or toilet flushing, for example, reduces the demand on our fresh water resources, reduces the nitrogen loading to the watershed from the wastewater treatment plant, and offers the end user a financial savings since it’s often cheaper to use reclaimed water than to operate a ground water well or purchase potable water from the local water supplier. It also saves energy that would otherwise be used to treat raw water at a drinking water treatment plant.

Reclaimed water in those purple pipes isn’t just for physical processes, either. Highly treated reclaimed water can be used to indirectly augment drinking water sources. In the mid-Atlantic, the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority has been discharging recycled water into a stream above the Occoquan Reservoir since 1978. The sewage authority can send as much as 54 million gallons per day to the reservoir ensuring that a potable water supply source is consistently ready to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

As an individual, you don’t need a purple pipe to recycle water in your own home. Try watering your garden with rain water collected in a barrel. Feed your houseplants with water from your half-full water glass instead of pouring it down the drain. Every time we reuse water, whether through purple pipes from a wastewater treatment plant or even in our own home, we’re taking another step to conserve our precious water resources, and that’s a “plum” reward we can all appreciate.

About the author: Alysa Suero is a licensed professional geologist in the Water Protection Division’s Drinking Water Branch. When not in the office, Alysa, who was recently married, enjoys cooking, family game night, organizing closets, and caring for her two rabbits.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dedication to Service

Water treatment plants are staffed 24 hours a day by dedicated professionals

Water treatment plants are staffed 24 hours a day by dedicated professionals

 

 

By Jennie Saxe

As we prepare to commemorate Veterans Day, I’m reminded of how proud I am of the members of my family who have served our nation through military service. From my father, grandfathers, and uncles who served in the Army and the Navy, to my grandmother who served in the Navy Nurse Corps.

At a time when many of our returning veterans are reentering the jobs market, their skills are often easily transferable to the civilian sector.

In fact, many of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines have served as water treatment specialists, utilities men, water support technicians, and water systems maintenance personnel.

In my work at EPA, I’ve been fortunate to meet many public servants who serve our communities in different ways, including water and wastewater treatment plant operators who keep safe water flowing to our faucets and protect our waterways. From Hazleton, PA, to Washington, DC, and many towns in between, I’ve seen how much of a difference well-operated drinking water systems have on our daily lives.

EPA recognizes that jobs in the water and wastewater sector can be a great fit for our highly-trained, dedicated military veterans, and has prepared this guide on how military occupational specialties can translate into water industry jobs. The Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water has been working with the Army for the past few years to help their water treatment specialists become state-licensed operators. State drinking water staff also assist veterans as they search for jobs.

As we look back at 40 years of safe drinking water, let’s also look ahead to plan for sustainable, resilient water infrastructure that is operated by dedicated professionals – including our nation’s veterans.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She extends a sincere thank you to everyone who has served – and continues to serve – our country.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting an Education on Septic Systems

By Leslie Corcelli

Most of us don’t think or talk about where things go when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s a little awkward. However, I’m fortunate enough to be an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Around here, wastewater is the topic. Guess what? There’s a lot more to it than you think.

Did you know that nearly one million households in Virginia have onsite wastewater treatment systems? Many of these are septic systems. For many households and communities, there are site limitations that prevent traditional systems from being practical. That’s where alternative systems are essential.

During EPA’s annual SepticSmart Week, I attended a tour that demonstrated five types of alternative onsite wastewater systems in northern Virginia. The tour covered Fairfax and Loudoun counties and was hosted by Virginia Department of Health, which was accompanied by the Fairfax County Division of Environmental Health and the Loudoun County Health Department.

We visited five very different sites — a residential home, a volunteer fire department, a low-income community, a commercial center, and a residential community with 25 homes. They ranged in age from old to new, and the amount of wastewater generated per day varied from 750 gallons to 22,000 gallons. There were dispersal systems, black water recycling, drainfield systems and sand filters.

In addition to the technical information, I took something else away with me. There are some seriously dedicated wastewater and health professionals at the local, regional, state and federal level who are committed to ensuring public health through effective wastewater management. They have to consider planning, design, installation, and ongoing operations and management, not to mention local, state and federal laws. They also engage with a variety of stakeholders, including the individuals and communities for whom the alternative systems are necessary. It’s quite a feat.

They’re amazing folks, but they need our help. I now realize how important it is for us to do our part. For those of us with septic systems, we need to think much more about what happens when we flush. These systems require maintenance and ongoing management. Maintaining your septic system will save you money and protect your property and environment. Go to http://epa.gov/septicsmart to learn how.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an ORISE research participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Energy Champions: Making a Difference

Outfitting aeration tanks with fine pore diffusers is one way to achieve significant energy savings

Outfitting aeration tanks with fine pore diffusers is one way to achieve significant energy savings

by Lori Reynolds

As part of the EPA mid-Atlantic Energy Team, I talk with water and wastewater treatment plant operators across the region and they’ve shared with me this eye-opening fact: energy is a facility’s largest controllable budget item. Since energy accounts for about one-third of the operating budget for drinking water and wastewater systems, it’s a logical place to look for savings. I’ve also learned that operators have a good understanding of where the energy is being used in the facility and have great ideas for cost-saving equipment or process changes.

How can those energy-saving ideas make it from concept into practice? One approach is enlisting an “energy champion” for these facilities that are on the front lines of protecting public health and the environment. Having someone who can work directly with operators and speaks the language of the municipal decision makers can provide the key to saving energy (and money!) at these facilities.

If a community is looking to save money or reduce its carbon footprint, water utility energy efficiency is a great way to jump start those efforts. EPA has resources and success stories – including an energy management guidebook – that are valuable references.

The work of an energy champion usually begins by reviewing the energy bill with the operator, and determining what simple operational changes could save money right away. For example, staggering the start-up of motors and equipment to reduce the demand charge or filling storage tanks at night to avoid peak rates.

Energy champions also play a critical role in documenting savings, which can help a facility gain support for additional energy efficiency projects. We all know that sometimes you have to spend a little money now to save a lot of money in the long run. That’s where those savings from the early operational changes come in handy: as those savings accrue, they can be reinvested in capital projects to further reduce energy use. Bigger projects, like installation of energy efficient pumps and motors often have a longer payback period, but have the potential to reap the rewards of even bigger savings.

The decision by a water or wastewater treatment plant to invest time and money in energy savings is a commitment to lower utility bills. An energy champion who can work with operators, decision makers, and municipal engineers can make a real difference for a community by turning a huge energy consumer into one that uses “net zero” energy.

 

About the author: Lori Reynolds works in the Region’s Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, which provides funding to states for water and wastewater infrastructure. To sustain the investment, Lori and others in the office promote energy and water conservation and proactive operation and maintenance planning to extend the useful life of infrastructure assets.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure

By Marguerite Huber

I am about to turn 25 years old—the quarter century mark! Yikes! While I may start to feel “old” when I consider that number, I am in considerably better shape than some of the pipes and sewer mains that make up the country’s water infrastructure, some components of which are more than four times my age.

Homes, apartment buildings, and businesses in nearly every neighborhood and city across the country are connected to miles and miles of pipes carrying wastewater and drinking water. That’s a lot of pipes to take care of!

Large bulldozer and crew at work on  a city street.

Aging water infrastructure: fixing old, leaking sewer pipes in downtown Washington, DC.

The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods of digging them up and patching or replacing them could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions?

To answer this question, scientists and engineers from EPA’s aging water infrastructure research program reported on innovative and emerging technologies in their study, Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program (Matthews, et. al., 2014). They and their partners conducted field demonstrations to test these new technologies, such as those that aim to repair existing pipes “from the inside out,” under real-world conditions.

EPA’s work with industry partners gathered reliable performance and cost data on technologies that line the inside of the aging pipes to fill in the holes and cracks, prolonging their life. They shared what they learned with water and wastewater utility owners, technology manufacturers, consultants, and service providers.

They tested two types of liner technologies. One was a cured-in-place method that essentially is a pipe-within-a-pipe. The second was a spray-in-place method that uses a computer-controlled robot to apply a new pipe liner.

The researchers provided reliable information on the performance and cost of the emerging technologies. Stakeholders can benefit from the work: water and wastewater utility owners can reduce the risk of trying out unproven technologies by using technologies that have undergone evaluation; manufacturers and developers will realize the opportunity to advance technology development and commercialization; and consultants and service providers will have the information they need to compare the performance and cost of similar products.

Overall, these innovative technologies can be efficient and economical alternatives to full-blown replacements of water infrastructure. I hope I have similar options when I pass the century mark myself!

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Literature Cited: Matthews, J., A. Selvakumar, R. Sterling, AND W. Condit. Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. Elsevier BV, AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 39:73-81, (2014).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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