Launch Slideshow

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Getting to ‘yes’

Getting to ‘yes’

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    Initial plans called for an interceptor 35 to 75 feet in soft ground under high groundwater conditions. Instead, an 18-foot-diameter tunnel bored through bedrock more than 250 feet deep will connect to tunnels along the White River, Fall Creek, Pleasant Run, and Pogues Run (see map on page 34). Photo: Indianapolis Department of Public Works

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    Construction to double the Belmont plant's secondary-treatment capacity via oxygen nitrification includes converting two unused pre-aeration tanks into two 22-by-247-foot rectangular primary clarifiers. Under Indianapolis' long-term control plan, the project must be operating by Dec. 31, 2012. Photo: Indianapolis Department of Public Works

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    One major design change – replacing a 12-foot interceptor with an 18-foot deep tunnel running seven miles from treatment plants on the north and south sides of Indianapolis – opened the door to a plethora of tweaks to original long-term control plan designs that are expected to save $740 million, keep an additional 36% untreated sewage from flowing into local waterways, and enable public works to beat the renegotiated 2025 consent decree deadline. Scheduled for completion in 2017 and designed by AECOM, the tunnel holds runoff until one or both plants are ready to process it. Four smaller tunnels will run along four other rivers and creeks. Photo: Indianapolis Department of Public Works

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By Stephanie Johnston

OWNER:8City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works
PROJECT:8Renegotiate combined sewer overflow (CSO) consent decree
PROGRAM MANAGER AND TECHNICAL LEAD:
DLZ Corp., Indianapolis
PROGRAM MANAGEMENT TECHNICAL TEAM:
MWH Global Inc., Indianapolis
R.W. Armstrong, Indianapolis
Strategic Partners LLC, Baltimore
VS Engineering Inc., Indianapolis

U.S. EPA is more aggressively pushing communities with combined sanitary and stormwater sewers to lower the amount of untreated wastewater they discharge, putting infrastructure managers between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Last year alone the agency issued consent decrees to 13 jurisdictions that will require more than $7 billion in improvements.

Also last year, however, Indianapolis became the first city in the nation to successfully modify an agreement to increase environmental benefits for less cost. Using performance-management techniques gleaned from private industry, such as value engineering, managers reworked the original designs for a 20-year long-term control plan to save $740 million and remove 6.2 billion gallons from the system sooner than originally planned.

Founded in 1820 along the White River, Indiana's 400-square-mile capital has more than 800,000 residents. Like most communities established at that time, the city's wastewater collection and treatment systems are hopelessly undersized despite numerous capacity enhancements over the years. The state's already been bankrupt once by infrastructure: in 1839, trying to connect the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River. With residents and city managers wrestling to reconcile the fallout of the Great Recession, Indianapolis isn't eager to follow suit in an attempt to satisfy Clean Water Act requirements.

Public Works Director David Sherman joined the department two years after the consent decree was approved. His 38-year career includes serving as president of United Water, which has operated and maintained the city's sewer and stormwater collection systems and two wastewater treatment plants since 1994. Before that, he worked for the company in water and wastewater operations in Milwaukee as well as Burbank and Los Angeles, Calif. Now he oversees 1,200 employees who collect solid waste; build and maintain streets, bridges, sidewalks, and trails; and contribute to clean-air efforts. (Drinking water is handled by a different department.)

Elected in 2007, Mayor Gregory Ballard is an outspoken proponent of sustainable government operations. But even before he arrived on the scene public works was deploying innovative solutions, some of which we've covered.

CONSENT DECREE TIMELINE

1999/Negotiations begin between the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and U.S. EPA regarding Indianapolis' long-term control plan.

2006/Consent decree executed: $1.8 billion long-term control plan with 31 control measures and 2025 completion date. Goal: lower average annual overflow volume from 7.8 billion to 642 million gallons, a 92% decrease. Required improvements to be funded solely through sewer rate increases.

2008/Public works announces sewer rates will go up 10.75% instead of 18% every year for five years.

2008/Public works proposes first change to original designs — building a deep tunnel instead of an interceptor — that will reduce annual overflows 36% more to 414 million gallons.

2009/Indiana and EPA approve Amendment 1 to the consent decree.

2010/Indiana and EPA approve Amendment 2, enabling further design changes and adding six green infrastructure projects designed to remove 1 to 3 million gallons of flow each year from the city's combined-sewer system.

With elected leadership behind him, Sherman tried something that hadn't been done before: renegotiate a consent decree to exceed initial environmental goals. He and a Department of Public Works Program Team including Mike Musgrave, a program development director for engineering firm MWH Global Inc. who's helped negotiate agreements for cities including Denver and Kansas City, Mo., looked for ways to save residents money and satisfy regulators.

All infrastructure is interrelated. To increase the chance of success, Sherman also worked with state and federal regulators and environmental stakeholders as well as his own street engineers, whom he urged to find new ways of keeping stormwater from entering the city's collection system (more about that later).

The effort became the largest application of value engineering in the history of the city's public works department. When combined with an emphasis on sustainable “green projects,” the two initiatives created the foundation for a new long-term control plan. Here, Sherman and Musgrave share what they learned during the process of negotiating with state and federal regulators.

PUBLIC WORKS (PW): When you took over public works for Indianapolis, the consent decree was two years old and related projects were $300 million over budget. How do you even begin to sort things out and get back on track?

Public Works Director David Sherman: Mayor Ballard realized we had to be creative in our approach. Having made sustainability a priority, he allowed us to explore options — such as a deep tunnel and “green-for-gray” solutions that the EPA may or may not approve — that might have scared off other elected officials.

He also allowed me the management flexibility to change the way we did business. This included an emphasis on value engineering, which requires a higher up-front investment but delivers better results and long-term savings. When I came in, one of the first things we did was to invest in an independent review of all aspects, from planning to commissioning, of capital project development. This wasn't an easy decision. We eventually invested about $5 million in value engineering activities.

Having helped United Water optimize treatment processes and reorganize systems for a decade, I combined my experience with technical and legal experts — such as Mike Musgrave, who I met when he was Denver's public works manager — with the original program management team to identify opportunities for cost savings and the mechanisms to achieve those savings. We were able to approach the long-term control plan without restrictions or preconceived outcomes. This allowed us to quickly integrate Clean Stream Team — the consultants and local and regional infrastructure personnel initially assembled to address combined sewer overflows and headed by Mark Jacobs of DLZ Corp. — historical concepts with concepts developed by the new technical experts.

Each new member was chosen to represent a specific aspect of the overall challenge; the city's finance director and legal counsel, for example, gathered and presented information to the rest of us from their sources, like outside legal counsel Barnes & Thornburg LLP. I served as team leader.