In a recent Q&A article published on Water Online, Peter Nicol, CH2M Global Water Business Group President, offers his insight on the water market and several industry trends.

By: Peter Nicol, CH2M Global Water Business Group President

Kevin Westerling, editor at Water Online, recently published a Q&A with CH2M’s Global Water Business Group President Peter Nicol. Nicol offers 10 Pearls of Wisdom on topics such as utility operations, technology development, infrastructure funding and more. See highlights from the Q&A article below or read the full article on Water Online.

  1. As you begin your tenure as president of CH2M’s water business, what do you consider a good measuring stick for success and what water issue is closest to you personally?

An obvious indicator will be that our staff is happy and challenged, and that our clients are satisfied. Another clear measure will be meeting our 2016 business plan. Read more.

Personally, I am committed to making clean water and sanitation available to people in every corner of the world. Learn how Peter hopes to make a big impact on a water-secure future.

  1. Public-private partnerships are increasingly seen as a solution for municipal water issue, but the P3 model remains underutilized. Do you predict a tipping point for widespread adoption?

I don’t envision a P3 “tipping point” in the U.S.; there are too many unique stakeholders given the fragmented nature of both the municipal and industrial water structure. A major tipping point would require dramatic intervention by the federal and state governments and, although we see some movement, I don’t see unanimous agreement occurring among all these groups in the near term. However, I expect to see P3 continuously evolving in the U.S. as new models are adopted and successes are realized. Read more about the P3 model.

  1. What are the drivers and roadblocks for public-private partnerships?

The P3 drivers in the U.S. are pretty straightforward: aging infrastructure is reaching, or has eclipsed, its useful life and the rate of assets reaching this point continues to escalate. Traditional delivery methods can’t keep up with the demand for replacement and expansion, thus new delivery approaches will evolve to meet this demand. Read more to see the list of drivers.

I don’t see any true “roadblocks” because P3 is not the sole goal or solution. However, there are a few factors that can certainly disrupt P3 implementation. Find out what they are.

  1. Is the design-build model (or even design-build-operate) friendlier toward technologies with lower life-cycle costs, though they may be more expensive up front?

The answer is absolutely yes, and we see the driver for lower life-cycle costs as a primary reason that utilities use DB with whole-life criteria as a strategic procurement method. We’ve had concrete examples on our own DB and DBO projects where high-efficiency equipment drives up initial capital cost, which gets offset quite quickly by a significant reduction of operations and long-term maintenance costs.

  1. What is CH2M’s approach to recommending new, potentially cost-saving alternatives to familiar, “tried and true” technologies?

We recommend new technologies by first doing our desktop homework, including becoming familiar with the technology’s fundamental mechanisms of performance, CAPEX [capital expenditures] and OPEX [operating expenditures], and other non-monetary evaluation criteria such as carbon footprint, physical footprint, and installed reference facilities for comparison to existing available and proven technologies. If the technology looks promising from the desktop view, then we will visit the existing facilities and perform our own bench-top and pilot-scale evaluations to further assess and verify or deny our desktop evaluation assumptions and preliminary conclusions. Read more.

  1. What are the keys to narrowing the funding gap between critical needs and dollars to address them?

Without question, we are facing serious water infrastructure needs and sparse resources available to meet them.

There is substantial evidence that U.S. water infrastructure, a backbone of the American economy, is in need of a cash infusion. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the U.S. is over 50 years old, and more than 2,000 dams are rated as deficient high-hazard dams. Addressing this problem is estimated to cost more than $20 billion. Additionally, an estimated 240,000 water main breaks occur each year and a major overhaul would easily cost in the hundreds of billions. Significant capital investment needs to be made for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems, estimated to total nearly $300 billion over the next 20 years.

Since it is clear that the public sector does not have the financial breadth or political support to dedicate the necessary resources, a set of more complicated solutions is necessary. See what type of solutions exist.

  1. How are increasingly prominent water issues affecting the industrial sector? Is one industry or issue particularly noteworthy?

We’re seeing the impact of selenium as particularly noteworthy in the industrial sector. Implementation of federal and state industrial effluent limitations for selenium are now being rolled out and applied to most new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, cutting across many major industries. CH2M is seeing significant impact in the mining, oil and gas, chemical, and power industries.

Starting about four years ago, as surface coal mining companies renewed their NPDES permits, they were compelled to meet selenium limitations that required construction of treatment systems for surface water runoff to reduce selenium to local streams. More recently (November 2015), the U.S. EPA published Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) aimed at controlling a group of contaminants, and due to the uniqueness of selenium’s water chemistry, the impact of selenium is particularly prominent. CH2M estimates the ELG regulations will result in multi-million dollar retrofits at most existing coal-fired power plants over the next five to eight years.

  1. What are the main regulatory or environmental imperatives for wastewater and drinking water plant improvements?

Nutrient removal and wet weather treatment are prompting the most upgrades and retrofits at municipal wastewater treatment plants, while at drinking water plants it’s dissolved organic carbon removal.

  1. How can municipalities ensure that their new plant is ‘future-proofed’ to be resilient and efficient throughout its anticipated life span?

For drinking water: diversifying the water supply portfolio, providing additional storage, and providing multiple treatment barriers so failure or malperformance of one unit operation doesn’t lead to non-compliance.

For wastewater: industrial pretreatment, flow equalization, green infrastructure to decrease wet weather flows, and biosolids-to-energy to reduce dependence on the power grid.

  1. As a leader in sustainability, how does CH2M advise others on getting started down this path?

In a nutshell, I’d say our advice is to start small, but have the policy in place to enable wider buy-in. It’s important for a company to set ambitious goals, but the company must also have achievable goals to garner early wins and enthusiasm for sustainability.

A culture of sustainability can’t be turned on with a switch. Like a garden, it can grow and evolve, but needs regular tending to establish deep roots. Read more about the art of sustainability.

Photo By: Ashley Waldron

Peter Nicol serves as CH2M’s Global Water Business Group President. In his role, Peter has full profit and loss responsibility for CH2M’s global Water business and is responsible for all Water activities within CH2M, including overseeing consulting, program management, design, design-build and operations solutions for government, civil, industrial and energy clients, as well as public-private partnerships. Peter has more than 35 years of professional experience in the engineering industry and is based in our Toronto office.