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All too often I am reminded of the American industrialist, J. Paul Getty’s quote, “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”  Even though Mr. Getty was an oil baron, these words ring true within the civil engineering community.  How many times have you been in a meeting and heard an experienced person make a comment like, “we have always done it this way and see no reason to change.”  So why are these comments so disturbing?  

According to the EPA’s 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey, a capital investment of $271 billion will be needed to upgrade our nation’s publicly-owned stormwater and wastewater treatment facilities along with their associated conveyance systems.  This will take place over the next twenty years to meet the water quality requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  This is a tremendous financial burden for the many cash-strapped communities across the country.  So how can we in the civil engineering community assist in relieving some of this burden?

First, we can help by looking for new and innovative technologies that can offer cost-effective solutions to our aging sewer infrastructure, instead of being complacent and thinking this is how we have always done it.  An example of this type of innovation was a project called Bryan’s Lift Station Improvements in Monticello, IN.  To become compliant with the CWA, the city’s long-term control plan needed to address its six combined sewer overflows that were discharging into nearby streams during peak rain events.  The challenge was how to store 500,000 gallons of water during these events to reduce the overflows.  Traditional methods of storage would have been large concrete or steel tanks.  Another method would have been to utilize a large diameter tunnel.  However, due to site constraints, cost and aesthetics these options were dismissed.  Instead they chose to use a multi-barrel underground storage system made from DuroMaxx Steel Reinforced Polyethylene (SRPE) Pipe.  This innovative pipe technology offered the city an affordable solution with minimal footprint which presented a more visually appealing greenspace above the system.  The project’s success was evident when it was the recipient of the Indiana Engineering Excellence Honor Award.

A second way we can assist in alleviating this burden is by increasing product options in specifications.  Opening up specifications will create competition among suppliers.  On their website, the Federal Trade Commission states, “Competition in America is about price, selection, and service.  It benefits customers by keeping prices low and the quality and choice of goods and services high.  Competition makes our economy work.”    When this happens the consumers are beneficiaries, who in this case, are the American tax payers (who is also everyone reading this blog).

We in the engineering community have a fiduciary responsibility to our customers to provide them with innovative and competitive solutions that will give them more purchasing power to address their aging infrastructure needs.  Let us remember J. Paul Getty’s quote and not let, “we have always done it this way,” thinking become our worst enemy. 

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