I just got back from WEFTEC, the Water Environment Federation’s 89th annual convention. Like the American Water Works Association convention in June, there was much talk about how wireless communications, big data, and the cloud will transform wastewater and stormwater operations and maintenance.

Instead of regularly cleaning all manholes, smart covers equipped with sensors tell operators when a pipe is almost clogged so only those in danger of backing up get cleaned. You know those kits you can order online to test your DNA? You can do the same thing with water samples to improve biological nutrient removal. New, porous membranes remove more nutrients without building new infrastructure.

These are exciting developments. Assuming your utility can afford new technology, it will vastly improve your ability to do more with less.

But ya still gotta deal with Mother Nature’s wildcards.

WEFTEC was in New Orleans. It was also my first Airbnb experience.

The home was built in 1834 with bricks and cypress wood, which is pretty impervious to water and termites. As Hurricane Katrina approached, my hosts stocked up on water and food and made sure the emergency generator worked and had plenty of fuel.

They were all set to stick it out when the city lost water pressure. Unable to flush toilets or shower, they took their 14-year-old out East to relatives and didn’t return for a decade.

The city is spending $14 billion to, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in his welcome address, rebuild levees, dams, and other infrastructure to live with rather than against water. “We went from being victim of a manmade disaster to a laboratory for innovation in living with weather.”

True. But it’s an old, old city with lots of old, old infrastructure. Sometimes you just have to do things the old-fashioned way. And that’s OK.

Many, many thanks to Jennifer Hughes (left) and Eric Dargan (right) for letting me (center) tag along with them at the American Public Works Association convention in August. Jennifer later spent a day educating me and Public Works Digital Projects Producer Zack Zerndt about her work as Village of Oswego, Ill., public works director. Eric is deputy director of Houston’s Street & Drainage Division. He looks pretty relaxed for a guy who oversees more lane miles than the state DOT, doesn't he?
Many, many thanks to Jennifer Hughes (left) and Eric Dargan (right) for letting me (center) tag along with them at the American Public Works Association convention in August. Jennifer later spent a day educating me and Public Works Digital Projects Producer Zack Zerndt about her work as Village of Oswego, Ill., public works director. Eric is deputy director of Houston’s Street & Drainage Division. He looks pretty relaxed for a guy who oversees more lane miles than the state DOT, doesn't he?