You get used to the smell…

By Elizabeth Zollner (member of the West Middle School Future City team in Lawrence, Kansas being mentored by CH2M HILL wastewater project manager Stacey Lamer)

When you think of field trips, you don’t really think of going to a waste water treatment plant. At least I don’t. And yet there I was, riding along in a white van, going to see what happens after you flush a toilet. This was supposed to help us with our Future City competition, but I wasn’t so sure. As the van stopped in front of a normal looking building, I hoped that this was worth my time.

On our tour we first saw (through these amazing protective goggles) the place where they began to filter all of the large objects. Our guide then showed us how they sifted out all of the smaller objects, such as sand and gravel. Outside there were huge basins filled with water where objects left in the water would either float to the top or settle to the bottom. After blades skim the surface and the bottom of the basins, the water is 85 to 90 percent clean. But that was just the primary treatment.

In 1976, the waste water treatment plant was granted a new expansion for secondary treatment. The secondary treatment begins when water is pumped into aeration basins where the water is then cleaned by microbes. At this point in the water cleaning process the water is over 99 percent clean! After the water is chemically disinfected, it flows back into the river.

I can honestly say that I learned a lot on this crazy-sounding field trip.  I learned that there are different types of microbes such as water bears, oligochaetes, rotifers, nematodes, suctorians, and ciliates. I also learned that, unlike some cities, Lawrence does not have a combined sewer system. So if someone offers to take you to a waste water treatment plant, say yes. You get used to the smell.

Clarifier Shadows

Historic problem, modern solution

By Scott Young, Education and Community Investment Executive for Thames Tideway Tunnel

In the UK, construction of London’s main sewerage system started way back in 1859. This was just a year before the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

It’s amazing to think that today much of that network remains operational and is in surprisingly good condition for its age.

But that system is under increasing strain. London faces challenges similar to those you might have identified in designing your Future City:

  • A growing population puts pressure on water and wastewater infrastructure
  • Natural drainage is replaced by impermeable surfaces like roads, parking lots and buildings
  • Natural features like London’s famous River Thames is under increasing threat from pollution

For too long, these issues have not been tackled in London.

When it rains sewage often overflows from the sewerage system into the tidal River Thames causing damage to the river’s wildlife and posing a health risk to those that use the river for leisure or business.

It’s a problem London faced in the past too. In 1858 the British summer was unusually hot. In those days the River Thames was an open sewer and the warm weather encouraged bacteria to thrive. The smell this created was so overwhelming that Parliament made plans to relocate to another city.

The “Great Stink” crisis resulted in Sir Joseph Bazalgette being appointed to build a system of interceptor sewers. He came up with a series of ingenious solutions for his “Future London City.”

He significantly increased the capacity of the sewerage system predicting that the population of London would grow. At the time London had 2 million residents. Today it has 8 million.

He also built in a safety mechanism so that when it rained and the system filled to capacity, sewage would flow out of overflow points – called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) – positioned along the river. This prevented sewage backing up in to streets and homes.

His foresight has allowed London’s infrastructure to last to the modern day. But it is increasingly under strain, with pollution entering the tidal River Thames as often as once a week after as little as 2mm of rainfall.

It shouldn’t require another Great Stink before these problems are addressed.
Thames Water, the company responsible for managing drinking water and wastewater in London, is working with CH2M HILL engineers to design a solution – the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The fifteen mile long tunnel, as wide as three London buses side by side, will capture sewage from the 34 most polluting CSOs. It will be stored and then transferred to a sewage treatment plant for processing.

Construction will last for seven years and involve work at 24 sites along the river.

A major project like this means working closely with residents, business, politicians and other organisations to address concerns and reassure people that our proposals work and provide value for money.

But it also means some disruption for those close to our work sites.

However, once the Thames Tideway Tunnel is completed in 2023, overflows into the tidal River Thames will be reduced by around 95 percent.

Learning lessons from past experiences like the Great Stink can be really helpful in responding to the challenges we might face in our cities of the future.

London has grown massively over the last 200 years. The growth has meant an increased strain on natural resources and our ability to protect them.

It’s important that once we’ve addressed the issue of sewage overflows in the tidal River Thames through the construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel we ensure the river is protected for future generations.

That means promoting other solutions that will prolong the life of the tunnel and reduce the amount of water entering the sewerage system. Sustainable Urban Drainage systems (or SUDs) can stop water getting into the sewerage network as quickly by reducing the amount of impervious surfaces across an area and capturing storm water for reuse.

In designing your Future City, how might you avoid some of the difficulties London has faced in the past and can the solutions our engineers are proposing for London help you with your project?

To find out more about the Thames Tideway Tunnel watch this video on our plans.

CH2M HILL is serving as the program manager for the Thames Tideway Tunnel to modernize London’s 150-year-old sewer system, which will include tunnel diameters wider than three of infamous London double-decker buses placed side-by-side.

Field trip

In learning about their own City and its infrastructure, West Middle School Future City students toured the Bowersock hydroelectric power plant in Lawrence, Kansas on November 15, 2012. This post is written by Future City Student Jane Schinkel

New Bowersock Dam

When we got into the van that would drive us to Bowersock, I didn’t expect much. It’s just a big wall holding back a river, I thought. It won’t be any fun.Wrong.

When we got out of the car, my first thought was that this would be a great place for a photographer to take family pictures. Rustic red brick, stone walls draped in ivy—it was perfect. The pungent smell of river water was fresh in the air.

A big white dog padded up to us, followed closely by a man who introduced himself as Mark. We followed him into a large building full of boxes and crates with machine parts inside. Using the diagrams on the wall, our guide explained to us the history and construction of Bowersock Dam. Originally the Bowersock Power Company had been a mill, using the river to generate mechanical energy. This energy turned a series of belts and pulleys that used to be suspended over the City of Lawrence. Then the river flooded in 1903. Water as high as 28 foot above normal levels washed away the dam. But the folks at Bowersock saw this as an opportunity. They built a new dam, one that could generate electricity.

Bowersock is still changing today. The company plans to install four larger generators on the other side of the river by early next year. These new units are larger than the seven they already have, and can produce up to three times more energy! The generators took three months to ship from China, the world’s leading producer in smaller hydroelectric parts. There’s only one problem: the instruction manuals are in Mandarin!

We also learned about how the dam makes electricity. The dam stacks up water, or “piles up energy” as Mark said. The difference in height between the water level behind the dam and the water level flowing away from the dam is called the head. The more head there is, the more energy can be produced. The weight of the water turns a turbine which spins an electromagnet far above. The electromagnet is surrounded by insulated copper windings. When the electromagnet moves past the windings, it causes electricity to flow. Originally the windings in the Bowersock generators were all facing the same direction and DC power was made. But after the War of Currents in the late 1880’s, the generators were modified to convert the DC power to AC. All in all, Bowersock produces 2.3 megawatts annually, enough electricity to power 1,500 to 2,000 homes.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the class enjoyed the trip immensely, and we’re planning to go back next year to see the new modifications. Bowersock Dam was definitely worth the visit!


For more information about Bowersock Dam visit

Solving the puzzle

My name is Cindy Miller and I am mentoring a team of 8th graders at Queen of Angels Catholic School in Roswell, Georgia for the Future City Competition. I am a project manager/civil engineer at CH2M HILL and work in the Atlanta office. This is my forth year as a mentor and it is such a rewarding and wonderful experience to see these young kids get excited about engineering and seeing them realize that they can make a difference in the future.

One of the funniest things that I find every year is that the students often have a hard time understanding how to scale their physical model. I’m not sure if kids don’t play with model cars or miniature doll houses anymore but we seem to spend at least an hour talking about how do you scale a city to fit in the approximate 2’x4’ physical model area. Once they get it, they have a great time finding recycled items to use to make their city. It is amazing to see how creative they can be with some trash, paint and glue!

This year, my students are going out on a limb and designing a city in space. It is so much fun to watch them work out all the issues from being able to physically live, building their city and producing power in space. It has spurred a lot of fun and interesting conversations! As a mentor, I often start the conversations by asking questions on issue they haven’t discussed yet of but in a matter of minutes, they are running the whole show and I am there just there to keep them on track and to throw out more questions.

Once the students start to realize that they can figure things out and that with a little research, they can learn things that even their parents don’t know, they quickly realize that “solving the puzzle” of their city is fun. When I told one of my students that “solving the puzzles” is what engineers do, he responded, “Now that is really cool!”

If you were thinking about helping with Future City or another STEM program, I would encourage you to make the commitment. You will soon realize that you are getting more out of it than the kids!

Sharing stormwater expertise

From flood to drought and biting cold to blistering heat, extreme weather is increasingly prevalent throughout the world. Politicians, academics and engineers are working to do their part to manage this issue and reduce the effect of climate change. Starting this fall, middle schoolers from across the country, participating in National Engineers Week Foundation’s 2012-2013 Future City Competition, will act as engineering leaders to develop their own solutions to combat the devastating effect of flooding after prolonged drought, which is often brought on by these severe weather events.

Amy Gao, CH2M HILL Water Engineer, and students she mentored at the Future City CompetitionThe 2012-2013 Future City Competition, with the theme Rethink Runoff: Design Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution, is expected to attract more than 35,000 students from various middle schools in regions located across the country. The annual challenge has received national attention and acclaim for its role in encouraging middle schoolers nationwide to develop their interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Through hands on applications, Future City participants discover how engineering is both accessible and can make a difference in the world.

This year, CH2M HILL is actively supporting Future City through mentors and sponsorship of regional competitions in Georgia, Ohio, and New York City. Check back soon for details on the CH2M HILL Future City blog that will be launching later this month to chronicle the design-build journey of middle schoolers across the U.S. who are being mentored by CH2M HILL employees.

In addition, in October, Brian Marengo, CH2M HILL Global Technology Leader for Watershed Services, joined Bentley System’s Richard Zambuni on a Future City webinar to help set the stage on the Rethink Runoff topic for students and teachers. The webinar, which was recorded and is available for viewing here or below, shared how engineers have been tackling this problem for thousands of years, the basics of low impact development and green infrastructure for stormwater management, the drivers for implementation, and how low impact development and green infrastructure can be effectively integrated with other city infrastructure.

Marengo shares, “Future City encourages students to take a holistic and collaborative approach to creative problem solving to address some of the most critical challenges facing our world. We are excited to be teaming with Future City to help engage students across the country in developing solutions and are excited to see their out-of-the box thinking come to fruition through their designs and city models. Mentoring a team of bright, innovative students is an incredibly rewarding experience and we at CH2M HILL encourage our clients and partners to consider making a difference by volunteering with Future City—especially those water professionals who can help increase understanding and incite enthusiasm for the profession by putting this year’s Rethink Runoff theme into context.”

Future City Competition NYCStudents are now off and running with their projects, and will begin by submitting a research essay describing their solutions for this year’s stormwater theme. As students analyze the most damaging effects of extreme weather, they will imagine and design new and creative ways to manage stormwater that make city landscapes act more like natural landscapes. Using SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition software, participating students will work with an educator and volunteer mentor to design a virtual Future City model incorporating their ideas. Then they will build a physical model using recycled materials which can cost no more than $100 to build.

As each team addresses its stormwater runoff solutions, students will consider the safety, cost, efficiency and appearance of their ideas. They will also learn about the engineering disciplines that encompass their solutions, including learning and identifying the steps of the design process.

We hope you will join us in supporting this fantastic program that is supporting the development of the next generation of engineers and problem solvers.

Planning a city

Gary Ostroff, Civil Engineer and Geographic Information Systems Specialist

On October 25th, just a few days before Hurricane Sandy gave NYC an object lesson on drainage and flooding, Amy Gao, Kate Marney, and Gary Ostroff (me) from the CH2M HILL NYC office spoke with two classes of middle-school students at the Columbia Secondary School in upper Manhattan. Both classes are involved in the national Future Cities competition, and will be developing city plans using the program SimCity, with a thematic focus on urban stormwater drainage.

With my educational background in engineering, architectural history, and geography, I started the presentation with an open discussion about how, and if, cities are planned. Living in the biggest city of the USA, the most famous part of which is laid out in a Cartesian Grid, the students were quick to note that at least NYC was planned, in part. The discussion covered what planners should and do take into account, and what might happen if they don’t. Many of the students had experience of other cities in the country, and elsewhere in the world, and they were quick to offer their opinions and insights. Social services and sanitation topped their lists of what should occupy the minds of planners. I finished my portion of the presentation with a series of slides about the history and contemporary practice of city planning, including some truly awful images of streets in NYC from the 1890s, and flooding in the new central district of Beijing.

Kate Marney used her background in engineering and urban hydrology to give the students an overview of the latest thinking on how to deal with urban stormwater. The students were familiar with the water cycle concept, but not with how it might apply in their actual neighborhoods. Kate showed images of actual project work in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that employed green infrastructure concepts to keep city streets free from puddles and floods, while not fouling local streams and waterways with sewer discharges.

The students showed a lot of enthusiasm for city life and finding ways to make it work better. I am looking forward to seeing the plans they come up with, especially ones related to Green Infrastructure. They are the designers of the future, and it’s really fun to hear their ideas.


Making it real—rethinking runoff

Stacey Lamer receiving Friend of Education Award in 2009 (front – Brooke Fox, 2007 Future City Student, Stacey Lamer, mentor, and Myron Melton, Principal; back – Joan Parr and Pamela Simpson, Gifted Education Facilitators)

Stacey Lamer has been a Future City mentor for West Middle School in Lawrence, Kansas since 2005 leading six teams to top three finishes. (2006 Team Nebula 3rd Place, 2007 Team Arethusa 3rd Place, 2008 Team Ydropolis 2nd Place, 2009 Team Baracoa 3rd Place, 2010 Team Memphis 2nd Place, 2011 Team Punarjamna 2nd Place)

Forty-six students from West Middle School and Southwest Middle School are competing in the 2012-2013 Future City Competition. In embracing this year’s theme, Rethink Runoff Design – Clean Solutions to Manage Stormwater Pollution, eleven of those students participated in a Rain Barrel Workshop hosted by the City of Lawrence. The students learned about the importance of stormwater management and, with sponsorship from CH2M HILL, constructed a rain barrel to install and monitor at their homes.

The students were very excited about installing…and decorating…the barrels. The West students learned to calculate the volume of rain water collected based on roof area and rainfall amount. The first ¼ inch rain event proved the overflow port was an important feature of the barrel design, “the barrel was completely full” said Cailyn Zicker.  The drought experienced in the Midwest this year highlighted to the students that water scarcity is a real issue now and in the future. The students plan to use the water for gardening, cleaning, and their pets. Parents commented on keeping their house foundation backfill moist.

The Future City program allows students to apply real-world science and engineering concepts in planning their future city while also improving teamwork, time management, communications, and citizenship skills. The Great Plains Regional competition will be judged based on a virtual city design, essay, to-scale model, and presentation at Kansas State University, College of Engineering on January 26, 2013. There are typically over 50 regional teams that participate each year and both West and Southwest consistently finish in the top five. The 1st place regional team competes in Washington D.C. for the National Title.

The West and Southwest teams are coached and mentored by Kate Welch and Stacey Lamer, CH2M HILL, and Danielle Lotton-Barker and Chris Storm, Landplan Engineering respectively.

Our commitment to school outreach—why Future City?

Tessa Anderson has led CH2M HILL’s Engineers Week outreach efforts since joining the firm in 2005.

Back in 1946, CH2M HILL was founded by an Oregon State University civil engineering professor and three of his students. With our firm’s roots in education, CH2M HILL has a long-standing commitment to reaching out to students, sharing our technical expertise, and mentoring and inspiring the next generation of technical talent.

Since 1997 we have sponsored Engineers Week (EWeek) in the United States. Each February our employee volunteers visit classrooms to give presentations, lead students in hands-on engineering activities (building bridges out of newspaper, making water filtration systems with two-liter plastic bottles, and more!), and judge local science fair competitions. Our employees often comment that they get just as energized working with the students as the kids’ do participating – reminding them why they choose to become an engineer in the first place and reinforcing pride in the profession.

While it’s fun to introduce students to engineering through a one-time visit, this year we’ve opted to support EWeek’s 2013 mission through the Future City Competition because it allows more ongoing mentoring and engagement with the world’s future problem solvers and innovators.

The Future City Competition is strongly aligned with our core business and allows us the opportunity to help students see the interconnectivity between various engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, electrical, environmental, structural, etc.) and markets (such as water, energy, transportation, environment, and urban planning). And, because the Future City program involves so many components, there are opportunities for all CH2M HILL employees, regardless of job function or technical degree, to be involved. We also have a strong operations and maintenance group that helps cities run smoothly and efficiently and we’re attracted to the fact that 85 percent of students who participated in last year’s Future City Competition said the program helped them learn and appreciate everything that goes into planning and maintaining a city. As the first firm in the heavily-male dominated engineering and construction industry to receive the prestigious Catalyst Award (recognition of our efforts to recruit, advance, and develop women in the workforce), we’re also attracted to Future City’s high concentration—nearly half—of female students.

We are excited to take on a new EWeek program and look forward to sharing our technical expertise with teachers and students – providing context for the Future City challenge, financial support to regional competitions and the national awards program, and most importantly leveraging the enthusiasm of our employees to mentor and coach student teams across the country. We hope that you will follow this blog to track the progress of the teams we’re supporting and learn more about the work we do developing future cities and providing stormwater management solutions—expertise that will serve as resources for Future City Competition teams.