EAS 6920 Course

WRI will teach a seminar-style course on water and wastewater infrastructure issues. The course is titled “Water Resource Infrastructure: Assessment, Management, & Planning” and will meet every Tue this semester from 2:55 to 4:10 pm in 1102 Bradfield. All the lecture videos will be posted here.

Course description

Through a series of multidisciplinary guest lectures, this course will cover engineering, economic, planning, and regulatory aspects of water-related infrastructure, including water supply and wastewater treatment facilities; distribution networks; decentralized treatment installations; dams; and green infrastructure. We will discuss both private and public financing of water infrastructure systems, as well as the costs and benefits of source watershed protection strategies and pollution trading schemes. Infrastructure and broader municipal planning will be highlighted, with a focus on smart growth and its implications for water related infrastructure development and water quality.

Course seminar schedule

January 28th: Brian G Rahm & Sridhar Vedachalam – NY State Water Resources Institute

Infrastructure; financing; policy: it’s all connected

February 4th: Ruth Richardson & Monroe Weber-Shirk – Civil & Environmental Engineering

Drinking water at home and abroad: doing more with less


February 11th: Todd Walter – Biological & Environmental Engineering

Hydrology, natural systems, and green infrastructure


February 25th: Rebecca Schneider – Natural Resources

Runoff management: what you didn’t know about ditches


March 4th: Jery Stedinger – Civil & Environmental Engineering

Risk and uncertainty in infrastructure planning


March 11th: Mildred Warner – City & Regional Planning

Water privatization: Is it cheaper?


March 18th: Katherine Bunting-Howarth – NY Sea Grant

A policy perspective on infrastructure and water quality


March 25th: Chelsea Morris & guests – Biological & Environmental Engineering

Red tape, green infrastructure: NPDES permitting and innovation in water management


April 8th: David Kay – Development Sociology

Smart growth: What does it mean for water infrastructure and how is NY doing?


April 15th: Kieran Donaghy – City & Regional Planning

Helping municipalities with complexity: decision support tools


April 22nd: Rick Geddes – Policy, Analysis, & Management

What is the right size? Scale economies in NY water resource infrastructure


April 29th: Sridhar Vedachalam – NY State Water Resources Institute

Media coverage and public opinion of water infrastructure


May 6th: Brian G Rahm – NY State Water Resources Institute

Wrap up and discussion

Posted in Infrastructure, Policy, Wastewater | Tagged | Leave a comment

Recent activities

Here’s a summary of recent WRI activities:

1. Brian Rahm interviewed by WSKG/Innovation Trail on Marcellus Shale:

Brian Rahm of Cornell’s Water Research Institute says these sorts of systems are likely to be used in New York if hydrofracking moves here. And the water that can’t be recycled will probably be shipped to disposal plants in Pennsylvania.

“To truck the waste from Broome County down to Williamsport is probably not that big of a deal. I think they’ll probably use that capacity,” says Rahm.

He says that the most important thing isn’t whether or not wastewater can be treated. It’s whether the Department of Environmental Conservation can enforce the rules they’ve spent the last five years creating.

“That to me seems the biggest problem right now is not being quite sure how New York DEC is going to undertake all the things they say they’re going to undertake,” says Rahm.

According to Rahm, there needs to be a lot of drilling before water treatment plant operators, which need permits from the state and the federal government, start building new plants in New York.

2. Homeowner education workshops in Chautauqua County: Workshop on wastewater management for lakeshore communities was conducted in Ashville, NY on March 6. This was the second of the four workshops planned for communities around Chautauqua and Canadarago lakes. See coverage of the event from The Post-Journal pre– and post-event.

3. Our comment on an article that was published last year comparing a small decentralized wastewater treatment system with a large centralized system was accepted and published in the Environmental Research Letters. From the abstract:

In the article ‘Energy and air emission implications of a decentralized wastewater system’ published in Environmental Research Letters (2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 024007), Shehabi et al compared a decentralized and a centralized system on the basis of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, and claimed that economies of scale lower the environmental impacts from a centralized system on a per-volume basis. In this comment, we present literature and data from New York State, USA to argue that the authors’ comparison between a small decentralized system (0.015 MGD) and a large centralized system (66.5 MGD) is unconventional and inappropriate.

4. Estuary Resilience Project website: A partnership effort between NYSWRI, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Hudson River Estuary program of the NYSDEC, this project is a combination of research, outreach and education efforts to address the challenges of flooding and extreme weather. More details will be added to the page over time.

Posted in Climate change, DEC, Infrastructure, Marcellus Shale, Policy, Septic systems, Wastewater, Workshop | Leave a comment

Septic systems education workshop in Otsego County on Feb 2

Cornell University will host a homeowner education workshop (see flyer) on septic systems in Otsego County next Saturday, Feb 2, 2013. This workshop is one of 4 workshops to be hosted in Otsego and Chautauqua counties in Winter 2013, facilitated by a grant obtained from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. More details on WRI website. Topics include components and maintenance of basic septic systems, indications of failure, advanced treatment options, to name a few. The workshop will also feature talks on local issues such as the septic management plan implemented in Otsego Lake and resources available to homeowners. Speakers include:

1. Eric Murdock and Bob Eichinger, Onsite Engineering LLC

2. Holly Waterfield, SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station

3. Scott Fickbohm, Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District

Workshop will be held at at:

Richfield Springs Community Center

6 Ann St, Richfield Springs, NY 13439

Time: 1-4 pm

Posted in Septic systems, Wastewater, Workshop | Leave a comment

Working paper on Marcellus Shale wastewater management released

WRI recently released a working paper* on the management of wastewater arising out of the Marcellus Shale gas development. The paper, led by Dr. Brian Rahm (WRI), is available for download at the SSRN.


Extraction of natural gas from tight shale formations, which occur globally, has been made possible by recent technological advances, including hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. Shale gas development is being lauded as a potential energy and geopolitical “game-changer.” However, widespread concern exists with respect to possible environmental consequences of this development, particularly impacts on water resources. In the United States, where most shale gas extraction has occurred thus far, the Marcellus Shale is now the largest natural gas producing play. To date, over 6,000,000 m3 of wastewater has been generated in the process of extracting natural gas from this shale in the state on Pennsylvania (PA) alone. Here we examine wastewater management practices and trends for this shale play, as well as the tracking and transport of shale gas liquid waste streams in PA. Between 2008 and 2011, state regulations and policies, along with low natural gas prices, have led to increased wastewater reuse, decreased POTW use, and more complete data tracking, while the average distance traveled by wastewater has decreased by over 30%. Regional differences in wastewater management are influenced by industrial treatment capacity, as well as proximity to injection disposal capacity. Using lessons from the Marcellus Shale, we suggest that nations, states, and regulatory agencies facing new unconventional shale development implement wastewater reporting and tracking systems, assess local and regional wastewater treatment infrastructure in terms of capacity and capability, promote well-regulated on-site treatment technologies, and review and update wastewater management regulations and policies.

* The study is currently under peer-review.

Posted in DEC, Marcellus Shale, PA, Policy, Wastewater | Leave a comment

Baltimore feels the pain of aging infrastructure

A utility crew working on a water main break (source: The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore joins the growing list of Northeastern/Midwest cities that are staring at the issue of aging water and wastewater  infrastructure. Giving voice to that issue are Mr. Ben Cardin, U.S. Senator from Maryland and Ms. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore in a recent op-ed in the The Baltimore Sun.

The cost of preventing infrastructure failures like the ones on Lombard and East Monument Streets is far less than the expense of dealing with structural damage, flooding, and business disruption after a break occurs. And even beyond catastrophic failures, small leaks and breaks take a major toll. Each day, the United States wastes billions of gallons of drinking water due to leaks, according to a recent environmental report published by Green For All; this is water that has already been subjected to expensive treatment. These costs will only increase unless we act now to reinvest in this infrastructure.

While there has been some focus of late on rebuilding infrastructure in the US, the conversation has largely stuck to roads and bridges. Emphasis on sub-surface water infrastructure by a U.S. Senator is really a shot in the arm for the issue, even if it (sadly) comes after a couple of major incidents in the city.

In other news, The Cornell Daily Sun covers a resolution from the Town of Ithaca opposing the Cornell-DEC agreement on Lake Source Cooling and a forum held yesterday on hydraulic fracturing.

Posted in Infrastructure | Leave a comment

Desalination plants on the coast

Last week, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, NJ. Atlantic County and Cape May County (see map) were under mandatory evacuation orders. Cape May County is home to the city of Cape May and the first desalination plant in Northeastern U.S. Here is a little primer on Cape May from Vedachalam and Riha (2012):

Cape May (38°56′24″N 74°54′19″W) is a coastal town on the southern tip of New Jersey and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Although the population of the town is only 7000  during  much  of  the  year,  the  summer  population  swells  to around 45,000.  Cape May has historically depended on the Cohansey Aquifer for its water supply

Although there were no reports of damage to the desalination plant, this is an issue worth considering. All the desalination plants, for obvious reasons, are located either on the coast or in brackish waters close to the coast. Large storms like Sandy can potentially knock off these plants (even temporarily) and render nearby regions water-deficient in the short-term. Another long-term concern would be the safety of these plants due to the rise in the sea levels. It is not clear if the 3 desalination projects in the Northeast considered the storm surges in their construction plans, but new/forthcoming* projects will have to do so.

*I think the Haverstraw plant in Rockland County, NY has included some climate change scenarios in its DEIS.

Posted in Desalination, Infrastructure | Leave a comment

Sandy and wet

Hurricane Sandy is headed towards the East Coast. The New York Governor’s office is making preparations for emergency management.

The Crisis Response team at Google Maps has an excellent storm tracker that provides information on the current location, projected path and other advisories along the path of Hurricane Sandy. The eye of the storm will pass through near Ithaca in the next couple of days.

For coastal areas, watch the Storm Surge Warning System from Stevens Institute of Technology. Water level at Cape May, NJ has already crossed the flood mark, even though Sandy is yet to make landfall.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cayuga, Hudson and cheesesteakes

1. Cornell received a draft permit from NYSDEC for the continued operation of the Lake Source Cooling in exchange for a $2.1 million study of phosphorus entering the southern end of Cayuga Lake.

The NYS Water Resources Institute at Cornell will work with local and regional stakeholders in developing sound science and community-based action agendas using the best tools and practices for protecting Cayuga Lake to be included in the updated plan.

Susan Riha, director of the Water Resources Institute, said, “This collaborative effort is something we in the Cayuga Lake watershed have all wanted for a long time. With the support of DEC, Cornell faculty, staff and students have been engaged in research to help implement watershed protection action agendas in the Hudson and, more recently, in the Mohawk River basins.”

2. The proposed Haverstraw desalination plant continues to be on the Rockland County Legislature’s agenda.

The Rockland County Legislature approved two resolutions in regards to United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw.

The first resolution supports the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply. The second resolution requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant.

3. Meanwhile in neighboring Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA averages 750 water main breaks per year. The city has about 3,100 miles of water mains, so that’s about 221 breaks/leaks per 1000 miles of mains. The same figure for Boston, MA is 192 breaks per 100 miles as per data from MassDEP (2008).  A recent break in a 36-inch transmission pipe in Philadelphia released 5-6 million gallons of water. Officials realize that these incidents are due to the aging infrastructure.

“There’s really no consistency from one water-main break to the next,” said Nutter, who visited the site. “Some of it certainly is aging infrastructure, but sometimes they get a hairline crack because of the amount of water and pressure, which could blow a part of it out.”

Posted in DEC, Desalination, Infrastructure, PA | Leave a comment