Q: How has CCMUA changed its approach to water and wastewater management over the years?
A: Traditionally, the goal of a utility has been to “meet the permit” where water has to be treated to minimize the level pollutants to a certain permissible level. Permit compliance was the ceiling of accomplishment and aspiration. At CCMUA we look at permit compliance as the floor, not the ceiling. Our goal is to optimize operations, which often means going beyond the permit. For example, 30 parts per million is the permit requirement for pollutants, but by making some operational changes, we are at four parts per million with no additional costs. We made a conscious decision to run the same plant better despite already meeting the permit. Now, even though we are removing more solids to prevent them from going into the river, we are drying the solids out to 90% instead of 18% as we did in the past. And because we are removing so much more water from the solids, there are significantly fewer solids to remove and our costs have gone down.
Q: What is your approach to problem solving?
A: After meeting or exceeding the permit, the first thing we do is try to optimize environmental performance. The second is to look for other opportunities to make a positive difference in the community. These solutions must be either cost neutral or provide a cost benefit. An example is green infrastructure where instead of just solving a storm water problem with a pipe or tunnel, you can solve the problem and provide both community and environmental benefits. Water utilities should become environmental and community champions instead of just factories complying with permits. My hope is that innovation and considering the community and environment in problem solving will become the norm versus the exception.
Q: Could you provide an example of this type of thinking in action at CCMUA?
A: Given CCMUA’s location in the city of Camden, odor control is very important to city residents. When I first started at CCMUA there were no odor control attempts at all. Now we address it by adding a chemical base to neutralize odor. It’s morally wrong not to address it. I tell my crew, “If you are fixing the chemical pump that neutralizes odors, you are protecting an entire neighborhood. You are an environmental champion, you are a community service champion.” The most important paradigm shift that needs to occur is moving from thinking about the single bottom line of maximizing profit to the triple bottom line, which includes environmental and community responsibility. Indifference is harmful. When we put in odor control at CCMUA, we graduated from indifference to doing no harm. Now CCMUA is neutral, but it’s not a final solution. We are working on being a pro-active good neighbor and becoming an anchor institution where we are invested in creating a good quality of life for Camden residents.
Q: How has CCMUA tried to be a good neighbor to Camden residents?
A: Camden city has significant challenges associated with stormwater flooding and brownfield remediation. The CCMUA wanted to be strategic in helping the city and its residents with these challenges, and as an anchor institution in the community we wanted to do our job but also serve the community in new and positive ways. So we started the Camden Collaborative Initiative to create a green infrastructure project that would provide green space and a park for the community. The Camden Collaborative Initiative is an organization with 60 different environmental and community non-profit partners including CCMUA, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, The New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Rutgers University and many community neighborhood groups. Each partner acquired funds separately through grants for which only they were eligible then we combined the funds to build the park.This effort shows how collaboration and a common goal can bring a community together to create a better quality of life for its residents.