Sometimes the best way to learn what’s going on with the various markets we serve along with the projects and challenges that make up those markets is to ask a professional! We recently asked Chip Smith, a project director within our Infrastructure Management group, about some of the projects he’s involved with and the challenges he sees some of our clients facing.
Tell us about your technical experience?
I have over 30 years’ experience in the civil engineering industry and have taken on some truly unique projects during this time frame that have shaped my technical expertise to give it a very broad range of experience over a large geographical area. In a nutshell, this experience has been with the planning, design, rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of water, sanitary sewer and storm drainage infrastructure (wet infrastructure) in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida and Virginia.
What projects are you currently working on right now?
I am currently working on three projects right now that include initiating and completing the requirements of a regulatory compliance with either a state or EPA regulatory action involving their sanitary sewer systems. These types of programs are quite complex because they involve assisting our clients in making improvements to their engineering department activities as well as operations and maintenance departments through the development and implementation of their CMOM. My role as program manager is to make sure that all the different facets of our clients’ organizations are involved in the process of meeting the requirements of the regulatory action within the required deadlines. This can be a real challenge because our clients also have to perform their everyday jobs. So far, we have been successful in meeting these deadlines and satisfying the regulators.
What are some of the biggest challenges your clients face?
Our clients’ biggest challenge: all wet infrastructure is financed through our clients’ paying customers who depend on them daily for drinking water, sanitary sewer and adequate storm drainage when it rains. The factors contributing to this challenge are:
- Maintaining regulatory compliance. Our clients are faced with compliance with the Clean Water Act (1972) for sanitary sewer conveyance and treatment and also for its stormwater discharges, and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) for its water distribution systems by the EPA. In simple terms, these regulations by the EPA are constantly changing and thereby increasing costs for our clients.
- The clients’ customers and their ability to pay for these services because their own economic stability has been stressed by the Great Recession. One of my clients told me they have recently seen a 15% delinquency rate of customers not paying their bills.
- It is widely recognized that water supply is a limited resource and conservation is needed to maintain it. This has resulted in a reduction in total water use of approximately 0.5% annually per customer.
- Maintaining regulatory compliance. Our clients are faced with compliance with the Clean Water Act (1972) for sanitary sewer conveyance and treatment and also for its stormwater discharges and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) for its water distribution systems by the EPA. In simple terms, these regulations by the EPA are constantly changing and thereby increasing costs for our clients.
The long and short of it is our clients are constantly challenged to do more with less each year.
What technologies or services do you see playing a key role in advancing the industry?
Since our clients are doing more with less, and the future does not show signs of significant improvements in terms of higher revenues, our clients are starting to look for improvements in efficiency. This can be achieved through the use of technology in everyday activities as well as applying technology in making business decisions. At Woolpert, we are able to integrate our engineering expertise with these new technologies to ultimately improve efficiencies. A good example of this includes the implementation of infrastructure management systems to improve efficiencies in sanitary sewer operations or maintenance and management of a capacity assurance program for one of our clients as required in their Administrative Order with EPA. Once completed, this will be a maintenance management system that will be integrated with the engineering department so that the entire utility makes more informed and economically sound decisions.
What made you decide to pursue this profession?
My dad was a civil engineer and he used to take me to his office when I was little. I was exposed at an early age to the process of how engineers can take someone’s idea, design it and then construct it so this idea becomes a functional piece of our country’s infrastructure.