There has never been a more exciting time to be involved with the water industry. As our global population grows and our commitment to providing safe drinking water and sanitation continues, advances in water technology are key to building smart cities and strong communities. As I look at the work my colleagues at CDM Smith are doing in partnership with our clients around the country, certain areas are especially notable:
As a wastewater process engineer early in my career, I’m amazed by our industry’s recent innovations. The drive toward net-zero in water reclamation is of particular interest to me; not only is it important to move toward 100% reuse of water, but we’re now also able to unlock the value in resources that were once considered waste products. We are helping our clients recover phosphorus cost-effectively and return it back to the environment for reuse. We’re working with wastewater facilities to create pipeline-quality digester gas that can be sold to local utilities. And with DC Water, we’ve implemented the nation’s first thermal hydrolysis process, which produces a Class A biosolid that can be used as a soil amendment while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Business Technology group is using “big data,” or what we call Digital Capital, to allow communities and utilities to benefit from predictive modeling. The goal is to analyze thousands of data points for smarter decision-making and to maximize the use of infrastructure. If utilities can avoid building a bigger sewer by optimizing their existing system’s hydraulics with the use of predictive tools, they are unlocking value and freeing up limited capital dollars for other projects. That’s why we focus on smarter infrastructure at CDM Smith—using technology to enhance decision-making, drawing more value out of the systems we have today and more accurately planning for the needs of tomorrow.
Encouraging investment and innovation in water supply can be challenging because our water infrastructure is essentially invisible. The drought conditions in the West have driven new and more open public interest. We’re seeing rapid increases in people’s willingness to explore water reuse in areas that in past there was resistance. The value of water is much more widely understood. When you couple that growing public awareness with the innovative work that our water professionals are doing to make water reuse more reliable and practical, the advancements are remarkable. As a young engineer, I looked forward to a future when water reuse would be common; and here we are.
In New York and New Jersey, we’re focused on rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy; in Florida, we’re advancing effective stormwater management; in the West, we’re proactively developing integrated plans to manage water resources as “one water.” But the main value we deliver to our clients is a full-service team that can address every aspect of resiliency. We bring together experts who understand the science behind climate change with the engineers who know how to strengthen or relocate facilities, and with the innovators who help cities use green infrastructure to absorb stormwater more sustainably. This isn’t traditional process engineering! Building strong, diverse, and multi-discipline teams with wide ranging expertise allows for the innovative problem-solving that is needed to create lasting solutions.
In this era of revolutionary water innovation, it’s an honor to serve as a water professional. Our challenges are many, but our opportunities are boundless. I am confident that through creativity, collaboration, and technology, water professionals will continue to meet the challenge of providing safe drinking water and sanitation to our customers and the global population.
Anthony B. Bouchard, PE, is CDM Smith’s President and Chief Operating Officer, based in the firm’s Chicago office. He has over 30 years of experience in the engineering and construction industry. He possesses deep experience in water combined with wide-ranging experience in the management of large operating units delivering water, transportation, and environmental services across the U.S. His leadership in client service, smart growth strategies, sales and delivery, risk management, and mergers and acquisitions, is a vital part of CDM Smith’s ability to deliver superlative results to its clients.