Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MDEQ Request for Surface Water Data

Readers are encouraged to furnish the surface water data described below to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.


"The Water Resources Division (WRD) is requesting ambient water quality data (chemical, biological, or physical) that has been obtained by other governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, or the public for Michigan surface waters from January 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.

"All water quality data submitted to the WRD by March 1, 2015, will be evaluated and potentially used to help prepare Michigan’s 2016 Integrated Report.

"The WRD prepares and submits a biennial report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency to satisfy the listing requirements of Section 303(d) and the reporting requirements of Sections 305(b) and 314 of the Clean Water Act.

"The Integrated Report describes the status of water quality in Michigan and includes a list of water bodies that are not attaining Michigan Water Quality Standards and require the establishment of pollutant Total Maximum Daily Loads. 

"All ambient water quality data (including associated quality assurance/quality control information) provided for Michigan surface waters may be sent to Sam Noffke, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, WRD, P.O. Box 30458, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958; or if the ambient water quality data is in electronic form please email at

"If submitting electronic data, please let Mr. Noffke know if the data can be downloaded from a secondary location (e.g., WQX) or if the data will come directly from the submitter. Contact: Sam Noffke, WRD, at 517-284-5554."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Risk in Basing Future Rates on Dubious DWSD Financials

Both Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have recently reiterated their concerns about the accuracy of financial figures furnished them by representatives of the City of Detroit during bankruptcy negotiations leading to the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).  

GLWA was superimposed over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), which is notorious for its shortcomings in accounting.  GLWA is to lease certain DWSD assets for $50 million per year for 40 years.  The system is supposed to be sustained by water and sewer rate increases not greater than 4% per year over the next 10 years. Whether that goal is feasible depends on the accuracy of DWSD’s financial representations.

Some insight can be garnered from a report published a month ago by Veolia, an international water, waste and energy management and consulting firm.

The following excerpts are from the Executive Summary in the Peer Review Report furnished to DWSD by Veolia last month, intended to show cost saving opportunities through application of best practices in the water services industry.  

It is hoped that these quotes will serve as an introduction to further observations on this blog concerning DWSD, its accounting practices and the financial predicates of GLWA rate setting.

“As part of the bankruptcy process, Veolia responded to a Request for Expressions of Interest on April 7, 2014, to manage, operate and maintain DWSD, which was issued by the Emergency Manager.” (p.ES-2)

“This was followed by a Proposal on May 20, 2014, entitled, “Partnering to Build the New Detroit Water and Sewerage Department”, which was based on different financial information utilized in this analysis. The use of different financial information contributed to significant differences in savings potential, but the objective to enhance performance at reduced cost remained the same. Many ofthe concepts in that proposal are included, enhanced and clarified in this report.” (p.ES-2)

“Veolia’s approach has been to identify potential efficiencies in O&M that reduces costs and contributes to the $50 million Lease charge contemplated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the GLWA; but only to the extent the GWLA and DWSD performance is maintained or improved to the levels expected of utilities performing these critical services.” (p.ES-3)

“This section reviews the potential for savings that can enhance GLWA’s capacity to pay the proposed Lease charge. For clarity, the term ‘Lease charge,’ as used in the GLWA MOU dated 9/9/2014 refers to the $50 million annual payment to be made by GLWA to the City of Detroit for the lease of the DWSD systems. This payment is also referred to as the ‘Control Premium.’ “ (p.ES-3)

“It is important to note that Veolia has not performed an assessment of current costs, nor verified that the proposed projections fit the 4% revenue increase requirement. These two tasks were considered to be out of the scope of Veolia’s assignment.” (p.ES-3)

“Furthermore, Veolia understands that during the negotiations for the creation of the regional authority, the viability of the Lease charge was based on several sources of funds, including O&M cost savings estimated by DWSD in an amount between $10 million and $20 million annually. The details of these savings estimates were not provided to Veolia and, therefore, were not included in the assessment.” (p.ES-3)

“Veolia did not include potential capital expenditure savings in the Lease charge analysis as such savings would not have a dollar-for-dollar impact on GLWA’s ability to make a lease payment.” (p.ES-4)

“As noted in the Report, there is potential for additional revenue to GLWA from the enhanced calibration and/or replacement of the large wholesale meters. This additional revenue could be as high as $30 million a year (water only – not including wastewater) if the meter inaccuracy is at the high range (about 10%) of estimates, which Veolia has seen in other jurisdictions. This additional revenue could also contribute to GLWA’s ability to pay the Lease charge, and it has not been included in Veolia’s savings analysis.” (p.ES-4)

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dense Mini-Forests Absorb More Stormwater

Expanding the tree canopy is one component of controlling combined sewer overflows (CSOs).

An engineer in India has developed a process to increase the density of small reforestation projects, thereby enhancing stormwater absorption. Shubhendu Sharma, a disciple of Akira Miyawaki, plants mini-forests which he says are far more dense and grow much faster than typical reforestation efforts.

His method:

  • Determine nutritional deficiencies in the soil.
  • Select best tree species, depending on soil composition, climate and the plot’s purpose.
  • Supplement the site to a depth of one meter with nearby biomass like manure or other agricultural waste.
  • Plant three to five saplings (around 80 cm or 2.5 feet high) per square meter in a plot at least 100 square meters (33 ft. x 33 ft.).
  • Water and weed for two or three years.
  • Then disturb as little as possible.

This grows into a forest so dense that after eight months, sunlight can’t reach the ground. At this point, every drop of rain that falls is conserved, and every leaf that falls is converted into humus.”

“The methodology has already been used to in [sic] massive reforestation schemes in Thailand, Japan and India…”

“Using multi-layering, these forests grow 10 times faster, have 100% more biodiversity and are 30 times more dense than a typical forest.”

We need to do a lot more tree planting for CSO control in southeast Michigan. Sharma’s ideas deserve serious consideration.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reassessing Small Wastewater Treatment Plants

The observations below by Bill Gates describe a concept for economical wastewater treatment in poor countries.  But if the idea pans out, why wouldn’t it work just as well for small communities in southeast Michigan and throughout the U.S.?

The innovation by the Janicki organization could be the impetus for several dozen new, small wastewater treatment plants in our region, enabling us to cut sewer rates, reduce polluted stormwater overflows and gradually dismantle the Detroit WWTP.

The new processor is relatively small.  It is said to have cost about $1.5 million.  

Gates wrote, “The occasion was a tour of a facility that burns human waste and produces water and electricity (plus a little ash).”

“...[T]he goal of the project I toured—is to reinvent the sewage treatment plant.”

“The machine runs at such a high temperature (1000 degrees Celsius) that there’s no nasty smell; in fact it meets all the emissions standards set by the U.S. government.”

“Through the ingenious use of a steam engine, it produces more than enough energy to burn the next batch of waste. In other words, it powers itself, with electricity to spare. The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity.”

Don’t we have a responsibility here in southeastern Michigan to take a closer look?

Omni-Processor caption TK

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Using Fungi to Destroy E. coli in Stormwater

For years, Paul Stamets, Dr. Marc Beutel and Katherine Brownson, separately and together, have been studying the ability of certain species of fungi to clean up polluted water.

Stamets’ base of operations is Fungi Perfecti, LLC, a mushroom farm, research and distribution center in Oregon which Stamets founded with Dusty Yao.

Dr. Beutel is an engineer and associate professor who teaches and conducts research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Washington State University.

Katherine (Katie) Brownson is a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and integrative conservation at the University of Georgia.

One facet of their research is the capacity of Stropharia rugosoannulata (aka wine cap or garden giant mushroom) to destroy E. coli bacteria in water.  The research commenced after Stamets observed that one of his mushroom beds eliminated E. coli  in water draining from an animal pasture.

In 2012, Stamets secured a Small Business Innovative Research award from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop technology for the removal of bacteria from stormwater runoff.

“Termed mycofiltration, this approach uses the web-like tissue of mushroom-forming fungi to capture and degrade environmental pollutants before they can reach sensitive water bodies.”

The research sought “ identify which fungal species and cultivation methods can filter pathogens from storm water while meeting the physical and temporal demands required for use in the field.”  The project was expected “ confirm that fungal mycelium can remove E. coli from flowing water, and that mycofilters can be developed to meet design requirements to treat municipal storm water runoff.”

“As mycofiltration is low-cost, low-impact, and requires relatively little installation space, it may soon provide municipal storm water managers with the perfect tool to help them meet their legal obligations under the Clean Water Act.”

“...[T]he current status quo BMPs [Best Management Practices] and other proprietary filtrations systems often require large capital investments and have significant additional maintenance costs that may not be appropriate for dense urban areas or for small and/or remote water treatment systems.”

Conclusions from Phase I of the research were published in 2013.

“...[T]here are fungal species that are appropriate candidates for the concept of mycofiltration. Of eight fungal strains that were tested over the course of the research, one clearly demonstrated resilience to harsh environmental conditions and a second showed promising characteristics. These species may therefore be considered as technically feasible for stormwater treatment applications. The second notable conclusion is that the permeability of mycofiltration media was generally in the range of 0.07 to 0.10 cm/sec—roughly equivalent to medium grain sand, which confirms applicability for field-relevant hydraulic loading. Additionally, mycofilters demonstrated a significant ability to remove suspended E. coli from flowing water. The final conclusion is that, as with other stormwater BMPs, mycofiltration may be more effective against sediment-bound bacteria—in some cases approaching 100% E. coli removal."

"The conclusion from the Phase I research on this innovative product is that specific fungal strains are resilient enough and biologically active enough to be considered for stormwater treatment applications against a variety of targets including pathogens, but that more research is needed to clearly define treatment design and operating parameters."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fraud in Regional Water Deal?

On Sunday, January 4, 2015, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson appeared on Carol Cain’s Michigan Matters television program (CBS, Channel 62, Detroit).

I thought I heard Mr. Patterson say that the new Great Lakes Water Authority is on shaky ground financially because Buckfire, a consultant and negotiator for the City of Detroit in secret, court-ordered negotiations to create a regional water authority, had given suburban negotiators fraudulent numbers concerning the finances of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).

Readers may recall that DWSD’s last two annual audit reports have not been made public,* apparently on orders from Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr; thus the dearth of financial information during water authority negotiations, apart from what Buckfire presented.  

If, upon investigation, fraud appears probable, it seems to me that, by its very nature, it would qualify as RICO fraud,** which ought to be prosecuted by Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney in Detroit.

>>>>>   JL  <<<<<

* Note, for example:

From: [sender omitted]
Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 3:18 PM
Subject: Re: 2013 Annual Audit Report
To: James Lang <>

Thank you for your email.  The Water and Sewerage Department welcomes your comments and requests.  Please be advised the 2013 Annual Report has not been released by the City of Detroit. Unfortunately, a time frame is not available.

[sender omitted]
Detroit Water and Sewerage
735 Randolph #1001
Detroit, MI 48226
313-964-9575 office
313-964-9370 fax
Mike Duggan, Mayor

** Excerpts from USA Today, citing Nathan Bomey in the Detroit Free Press, July 10, 2014:

“But the debt-cutting goals — which will still face extensive scrutiny and opposition during a sweeping mid-August bankruptcy trial — come at a steep price, with investment banking firm Miller Buckfire expected to charge $28 million for helping the city restructure, the documents show.”

“Miller Buckfire will collect the full fee ‘upon a successful recapitalization or restructuring’ of the city's debts, bank President Ken Buckfire said in an ‘expert report’ prepared privately in advance of court hearings and acquired by the Free Press.”