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Growing a Team to Meet the Challenges of the Water Industry

Jun 9, 2022
STV and CP&Y logos over water

Last year’s passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act marked a watershed moment for an industry that was already at a crucial juncture regarding the urgency for investment and innovation. Rapid urbanization, skyrocketing demand and insecurity, global climate change and emerging digital technologies and advancements in project delivery are all stress-testing the water industry. These issues embody the need for new and improved infrastructure that increases capacity, is more resilient against natural and manmade disasters, meets evolving standards and local and federal guidelines, and can be executed efficiently and quickly.

With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issuing a memorandum to outline a strategy to invest more than $43 billion in water infrastructure – the single largest investment the market sector has ever seen – the need is clear. At the same time, STV, and its national team of planners, engineers, architects, environmental scientists and program and construction management professionals, is growing its team and becoming more versatile and diverse as it relates to serving the firm’s water industry clients.

Last Fall, STV acquired CP&Y , an employee-owned engineering, architectural and field services consulting firm with professionals in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida and Virginia. Among other key market areas, CP&Y’s experience in providing a full suite of services in support of a vast array of water and wastewater programs in some of the fastest growing regions in the United States has further increased the scale for which STV can provide value for its clients.

In this roundtable conversation, experts representing the joint STV/CP&Y, an STV Company team come together to discuss some of the pressing needs currently facing the water industry, and how the combined expertise at the firm is best prepared to help clients meet these challenges head on. Participants are Marisa Vergara, P.E., senior vice president and director of water for CP&Y, an STV Company (and a presenter at the American Water Works Association ACE22 Conference June 12-15 in San Antonio, TX); Robert DeGiorgio, P.E., CPESC, CPSWQ, STV vice president (and a presenter earlier this month at the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) Spring Technical Conference & Exhibition in Syracuse, NY); Phil Cook, senior technical advisor and associate vice president at CP&Y, an STV Company; and Michael Sciarrillo, AIA, a senior architect at STV that specializes in water and wastewater facility design.

Vista Ridge Regional Supply Project

How are our clients addressing long-term water security in fast growing cities, and in what ways can our team support clients and communities that are implementing programs to increase capacity and meet future demand?

Marisa Vergara: This is an important topic for our clients in Texas and Oklahoma, as well as in all growing metropolitan areas around the country. In Texas alone, recent population statistics show about 1,000 people are moving to the state every day, and while there’s this tremendous growth in the state that’s expected to continue over the next 20-to-40 years, the amount of available water is going downwards. What’s needed is a holistic approach that not only addresses supply and demand, but also the unique needs of each individual region.

To help with this, our clients are looking at innovative strategies, including alternative project delivery and public private partnerships (P3). Our team was recently a part of a historic P3 with the Vista Ridge Regional Supply Project which brought in water from Central region of Texas to the San Antonio metropolitan area and increased capacity by 20%.

Phil Cook: In the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio – one of the fastest-growing regions in the country – long-term demand for water resources has been identified at about 600,000-acre-feet of water annually. That’s a lot of water considering there’s no pool or reservoir in that region to draw these resources from. From a regulatory perspective, the Texas Water Development Board requires that all utilities participate in long-term water planning to meet the needs of what the state determines to be the growth metrics in each region. A project like Vista Ridge is one outcome that started with that planning exercise. State funding programs have helped many large initiatives move forward at much lower costs. CP&Y has a long-standing history of supporting these initiatives as program manager, designer and with funding expertise, including several for the San Antonio Water System and Dallas area water utilities. Water programs range from $50 million up to $500 million and involve infrastructure like cross county pipelines moving water from surface water reservoirs into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Rob DeGiorgio: Nearly 50% of all utilities in the country reported that they’re not prepared to meet long-term water supply demand in their respective areas. In the Northeast, where we’re focused more on maintenance of existing sources rather than developing new raw sources, our clients have prioritzed developing water conservation methods to maintain the proper balance of supply and demand.

Water Facility

What are some of the technological developments that are currently driving the water and wastewater industry and investment and delivery?

Rob DeGiorgio: What’s exciting about the water industry right now is there’s a toolbox of options as it relates to technology to help us address challenges such as sustainability, resiliency, energy conservation, carbon neutrality, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission control. These include traditional technological methods like mechanical and electrical systems and membrane bioreactors for wastewater treatment, as well as natural systems that are being married with traditional methods, like wetlands and green infrastructure. STV has a deep bench of MEP engineers, structural designers who specialize in flood protection infrastructure, and architects who provide enhancements to treatment facilities that will make them more resilient against the impacts of climate change.

Marisa Vergara: There are several water treatment advancements that are allowing us to better strategize how best to deliver projects for our clients. Membrane bioreactor technology is playing a key role in reuse applications as it has become an efficient and effective wastewater treatment process. To help support water supply concerns, we’re looking at inland alternative water sources. Our clients are also very invested in exploring different technologies that help to facilitate advanced treatment for various water contaminants like PFAS.

Phil Cook: More recently, we’ve seen an evolution in how clients choose to approach water resource management. Many large utilities have implemented conservation programs that have extended their water resources by 5-to-10 years. Beyond that, they are considering a variety of measures to meet water demands including unaccounted for water programs, recycled water systems, conjunctive water resources development programs, aquifer storage and recovery, and brackish desalination. Our team works with clients to help them better understand emerging alternatives and legislation as it relates to water resource management, and storage solutions.

PVSC Exterior Flood Wall Rendering

Given the increasing severity of natural disasters, how has the need to make our water infrastructure more resilient changed the way we do projects in recent years? Regarding manmade security threats, how can our expertise support efforts to enhance water system security?

Rob DeGiorgio: In the Northeast, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a lot of the investment has focused on the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure to make it more resilient against flooding. Our design team is currently engaged with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) to develop resiliency solutions at several wastewater treatment plants including the Owls Head Wastewater Resource and Recovery Facility, Wards Island Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility and the Red Hook Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility. In New Jersey, STV is working with the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission to analyze a host of resilience upgrades at its facility in Newark.

Michael Sciarrillo: Our architects are playing a key role in accommodating these needs and facilitating the ideal placement for equipment that will better protect a plant or water facility against a future flooding event. Architects, in concert with engineers, are critical to these programs because we understand the building envelope better than anyone. Meanwhile in New York, the city has mandated that certain sustainable and resilient elements are incorporated into any new structure that is built, including green roofs and blue roofs. That puts the onus on architects to help develop buildings that are not only beautiful but can perform exceptionally well during a natural disaster.

Marisa Vergara: The passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 provided funding to assist public water systems in small and disadvantaged communities with reducing lead in drinking water systems, while also requiring utilities to provide resilience and emergency response plans. We have provided analyses for several Texas utilities to support these types of plans.

Regarding manmade threats, the most prominent one that is top of mind for our clients is cyber security. We have a group in-house that works with various cities and municipalities to harden access and egress points and strengthen protocols for SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems.

A winter storm that caused a massive power outage in Texas in February 2021, further demonstrated some of the vulnerabilities in the state’s systems relating to redundancy and backup power. We’ve been working closely with our clients to help perform assessments and other planning activities that have been mandated by the state in the aftermath of that storm.

Wards Island

In what ways are we working with clients to address increasing environmental regulations related to water infrastructure, especially greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at wastewater treatment facilities?

Rob DeGiorgio: GHG emissions are an emerging topic in wastewater industry, and our team is at the forefront of that discussion. The existing approach for quantifying GHG emissions is primarily based on emission factors (EFs), of which default values provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are utilized. The EF approach has been critiqued for a lack of accuracy that stems from there being a wide variability range of measurement results observed. We’re currently partnering with the University of Calgary in Canada to conduct pilot studies to develop an innovative remote-sensing technology that will measure GHG emissions at wastewater treatment facilities while also integrating a machine-learning model that correlates plant operating conditions with the emissions. This approach, already proven in the energy sector, is expected to measure GHG emissions more accurately at wastewater treatment facilities at significantly reduced monitoring costs. Alongside Bo Zhang, STV project manager, I presented our first case study on this topic at the NYWEA, and we’re excited to be able to keep building this expertise internally.

Marisa Vergara: The challenges related to GHG emission are an emerging topic that is being closely monitored by our region, so the fact that our STV team is at the forefront of this topic will allow us to grow and learn from each other and better serve our clients.

Water Pipes

How is the combined STV/CP&Y company better able to serve our clients in the water industry? What kind of synergies currently exist and how do you see the practice growing?

Marisa Vergara: For CP&Y, we have experienced a tremendous amount of growth in recent years, but the STV team provides us with more resources for project delivery. That includes expertise in technology like advanced CAD design, which allows us to grow our capabilities in architecture and structural designs. There’s also a national presence in tunneling and geotechnical engineering, corrosion and cathodic protection and MEP design that all play a critical part in a holistic water and wastewater program.

Rob DeGiorgio: The key thing in my mind is the diversity we now offer our clients. As Marisa mentioned, we offer tunneling, MEP and process engineering, architecture and SCADA systems expertise. These are essential elements in the water business. STV and CP&Y together have an incredibly robust and diverse team that can deliver for clients.

Michael Sciarrillo: My architectural background is unique to water and wastewater facilities, and I’ve been supporting the team in the Northeast where there are a lot of opportunities for architects. For example, the NYCDEP project portfolio consists of some architecturally unbelieve facilities, including those that are in the center of Manhattan and are highly visible. By coming together with our CP&Y team members, we now have a deeper bench to execute these kinds of initiatives.

Phil Cook: We are winning more and more work together every day. One of the things that I have noticed over my career in Texas is how many of our clients are looking for regional teams and expertise. By expanding our service offerings to include specialized experience in tunneling, clients that we already have built relationships with will now see how our increased capabilities can better support their projects.