Conferences Deal with Key Topics

Two meetings I attended recently addressed topics with important implications for the future of the water and wastewater industry. I'm referring to NO-DIG '96, which took place in New Orleans from March 31 to April 3, and the Third Annual Water Industry Summit, held in Washington, D.C., April 30 and May 1. Both had significant personal meaning for me in entirely different ways. Let me deal with the second one first.

Organized by a private company, Strategic Research Institute of New York City, the Third "Summit" focused on privatization of publicly-owned water and wastewater entities. SRI describes itself as a knowledge-based, market-driven company which provides information in a conference format to private, public and government organizations. Its Washington seminar brought together an audience/speaker mix of upper-management-level public, private, legal, financial, and operational individuals to share ideas about privatization in its various forms and applications.

The personal connections here were two in number. First, Dan Kucera, who writes WOL's legal column "Under the Legal Spigot," gave one of the principal presentations at the meeting. Covering the legal ramifications of privatizing water and wastewater plants, he discussed many aspects of the privatization process including: public utility status; authority to sell; rate-making and rate design; extent of facility acquisition in a privatization agreement; financial constraints; environmental compliance and liability; permits; upgrades and expansions; and many other topics.

Dan provides an overview of the meeting in a new "Under the Legal Spigot" article which went on the WOL Web Site at the same time as this column. He mentions at one point that one speaker talked about the Internet, and its potential usefulness as a communications medium which, using privatization as the example, can keep interested parties right up to date on the field's latest views and developments. I was that speaker, and there lies the second connection.

NO-DIG '96, a conference name which more and more people in the water/wastewater field are becoming familiar with, was all about replacing, repairing, rehabilitating and installing the underground facilities that make up a major segment of this broad industry. The New Orleans event was organized jointly by the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT) and the International Society for Trenchless Technology (ISTT). Trenchless technology is being used increasingly around the world, and the NASTT is a member of ISTT.

This conference covered the various methods for installing new underground pipe and cable (the gas, electric and telephone utilities have done much to foster the development of the systems), as well as repairing existing facilities which have deteriorated or have been damaged by some intrusion.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of this technology is that it minimizes surface disruption. For example, no huge trenches along busy city streets are required to fix entire pipelines below. The most common methods for new pipes are mini-horizontal directional drilling and microtunneling. Pipe bursting is often used for entire replacement. It entails breaking up old pipe from inside and pulling an entirely new pipe into the space. Polyethylene is a common replacement pipe type, and it is possible to even increase the diameter in some cases. Several methods are available for rehabilitation. Among these are sliplining, relining with folded plastic pipe, spiral winding, and cured-in-place pipe.

The last is where my personal connection lies, going back to the first NO-DIG in the Washington, DC area in 1988. The event was small, the exhibit hall was just a big room, and the attendance was low. By comparison, this year's conference had about 1800 attendees, over 100 exhibiting companies, and 42 technical presentations. This was up significantly from '95, and the event has shown steady growth since the start.

My main recollection of the '88 meeting was of this man sitting patiently in a booth for two days trying to make his latest gadget work. It was a device which would crawl into a newly-relined pipe, a sewer for example, and cut in a lateral. He was Eric Wood of Insituform, and said by some to be the engineering brains behind the whole concept of cured-in-place pipe. He was one of the founders of that company, whose product today is installed worldwide, and is the pioneering standard of the system. Listening to him talk, I realized he was an expatriate Scot who had moved to England at a young age, and who had come from my "neck-of-the-woods" on Scotland's east coast. A genuine technical expert and scientist, he continued to look for ways to improve the Insituform method. And his lateral cut-in machine was indeed refined for real use. Many who knew him and the company were saddened last year when he and his son were killed in the crash of their private plane in England.