2011 NCPPP Infrastructure Award
Project Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Public Sector Partner: Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans
Contact Name: Bob Moeinian, P.E. Chief of Operations of Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans; firstname.lastname@example.org
Private Sector Partner: Veolia Water North America—South, LLC
Contact Name: Kevin Servat, CHMM, Senior Project Manager; email@example.com
In 1992, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy signed a 5-year contract with Veolia Water North America to manage New Orleans’ wastewater facilities and to ensure compliance with ever evolving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The public-private partnership contract signed by former Mayor Barthelemy was the beginning of a relationship that provided the expertise and resources to help New Orleans’ wastewater infrastructure quickly rebound from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Veolia Water was able to import resources from around the country and provide working capital for immediate wastewater plant recovery. The company was able to regain primary and secondary wastewater treatment within an EPA mandated deadline of 60 days; the tight deadline was implemented because wastewater treatment is vital to the public health of the city. This was also an opportunity for $6 million worth of cost-saving and innovative technologies to be installed in the renovated facilities. Veolia participated in more than $42 million worth of restoration and recovery projects after Hurricane Katrina.
Additional endeavors include education and environmental projects. Veolia has donated more than $1.6 million to the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation since 1992. The company donates computer and science resources to schools in the New Orleans community. They provide scholarship funds for education and internship opportunities for youth to learn about wastewater management in a variety of capacities—administration, laboratory, operations, and management. These students learn real-world employment skills through the program.
Tulane University is another beneficiary from the partnership between Veolia Water and the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB). Veolia donated money to Tulane for students to research wetland assimilation and alternate disinfection processes. The wastewater treatment plants and staff provide a field laboratory and samples to study effluent disinfection. These efforts contribute to the initiative of restoring the wetlands and cypress forest in Louisiana.
Veolia Water manages two wastewater treatment plants that handle 142 million gallons per day (MGD). The Fluid Bed Incinerator also handles 44 dry tons per day. The company maintains these facilities with preventative maintenance and cost efficient technologies; these measures allow for long-term strategic planning. This planning was important for handling Hurricane Katrina and future environmental disasters.
Community efforts include participating in local environmental and educational programs. The company provides resources to schools for education, such as computers and scholarship funds. They also instituted an internship program where students learn job skills. A partnership with Tulane University allows students to study wetland restoration and alternate disinfection processes in the field.
The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans is the public sector partner on these projects. They sought a partner for an operation, maintenance, and management contract of one of the largest wastewater treatment operations in the United States. It became necessary for the City to hire a private company with expertise and resources to keep the water treatment within EPA regulations. They have shown willingness to work with the private company to overcome many obstacles, including Hurricane Katrina and its ramifications. They have also been open to cost-saving innovative solutions for treatment, planning, and upgrades suggested by the private partner.
Veolia Water North American Operating Services, the water division of the international company Veolia Environnement, is the private sector partner on these projects. Veolia Water won their contract with the City of New Orleans in 1992. The company is a world leader in providing sustainable environmental solutions in water management, waste services, and technological solutions. Their qualifications make them an ideal partner for this project.
Implementation Environment—Legislative and Administrative
The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board had ongoing difficulty with the EPA in the early 1990s regarding non-compliance and discharge requirements. The S&WB’s General Superintendent at the time drafted a proposal to have the City’s wastewater plants operated by a private firm to alleviate the problems. The proposal was a new solution to this public case and required approval from the City Civil Service Commission because it would transfer jobs from civil servants to private contract laborers. This agreement took effect in 1991 with options for renewals. Veolia Water North America won the contract in 1992 and has held it since implementation.
The contract between Veolia Water and the S&WB is an operations and maintenance costs contract, which includes capital financing. Operations and maintenance costs are based on an annual fee, which adjusts for costs of inputs, such chlorine or power, and costs of execution, such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) or total suspended solids (TSS). The private firm is also responsible for capital payments up to $5,000, excluding labor. The Board pays sums over $5,000.
These agreements dictated post-Katrina renovations. With all projects, Veolia must obtain a minimum of 3 bids for work to be performed. A large amount of damaged equipment was replaced as dictated by FEMA project worksheets. Items that were not paid for by FEMA were repaired.
Veolia Water manages the New Orleans East Bank and West Bank water treatment plants. The East Bank treatment facility handles 122 MGD. This is also the site of the Fluid Bed Incinerator for handling solids with a capacity of 44 dry tons per day. The West Bank facility handles 20 MGD, which is a result of an upgrade in 2002 to double its capacity from 10 MGD. The scope of Veolia’s contract includes capital improvements, hurricane recovery, septage receiving, and biosolids disposal. In the first year of the contract Veolia helped the S&WB to plan and supervise $1.7 million in capital improvements.
Additionally, Veolia Water is under contract to provide assistance with the Bayou Bienvenue Central Wetlands Triangle assimilation project, a collaborative effort of Tulane University, New Orleans S&WB, and Veolia Water. During the development phase, Veolia will help with biosolids handling and site logistics. The staff has also helped Tulane students with collections sample for research concerning wastewater effluent disinfection.
Veolia Water manages two water treatment facilities that handle a total of 142 MGD. This system served about 450,000 people pre-Katrina. Operations also include a Fluid Bed Incinerator for handling solids. The company is responsible for ensuring all facilities comply with EPA regulations.
The partnership has saved nearly $26 million over two decades. This is a result of capital improvements supervised by Veolia. A new sludge drying system will phase out a multiple-hearth incinerator, saving over $500,000 a year. The development and implementation of an incinerator ash reuse project has saved the City an additional $158,000. This technology meets new EPA permit regulations and is more environmentally friendly than previous practices. The first year of the contract included $1.7 million in capital improvements. Veolia also undertakes about $1.5 million in capital repairs annually, and $6 million in capital improvements in 2006 alone. In total, Veolia Water took part in about $42 million worth of hurricane recovery programs to restore the East Bank plant after Hurricane Katrina.
The improvements include a Process Control Management Program (PCMP) for efficient operations. This system monitors upper and lower limits, and sets off an alarm to diagnose problems and start corrections as the problems occur. This approach helps avoid EPA compliance problems. A Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) was added to maintain a comprehensive preventative maintenance initiative. This system is one step on in long-term strategic planning. Additionally, a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system was put in place at the East Bank plant and the Fluid Bed Incinerator. This allows the most modern control of plant facilities.
During preparation for Hurricane Katrina, the goal of the water treatment plant was to stay running as long as possible, despite evacuations. An emergency team of four people was chosen to stay in the in the fourth floor control room during the storm. After the storm, Veolia was able to quickly assess their workforce, condition of facilities and equipment, and environmental impact. This allowed the East Bank plant to be dewatered within a month and to resume pumping wastewater. The next focus was to recover secondary treatment, including rehabilitation of the oxygen reactor, pure oxygen system, re-establishment of the microbial population, final clarifier repair, and rehabilitation of the sludge disposal system.
While some experts thought the water treatment plant would be inoperable for a year, the EPA gave Veolia 60 days to get it running. The tight time limits were set because wastewater treatment is a service crucial to the welfare of the city. Despite damaged equipment and personal losses with nearly 40 employees losing their homes, Veolia managed to meet the EPA deadlines. Their success relied on industry expertise and the ability to draw resources and manpower from around the country to help with clean up and rehabilitation.
Additionally, Veolia Water is involved with the New Orleans community. Veolia has contributed more than $1.6 million to the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation since 1992. The company has also donated computers, printers, internet, other school supplies, charter school funds, and scholarship funds to New Orleans schools. They also paired with two schools to provide summer internship programs for students.
Research collaboration has taken place between Veolia, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, and Tulane University. Veolia funded university research concerning wetland assimilation and using alternate disinfection processes. These projects help build an analytical database for research. The efforts will continue efforts to restore wetlands and the cypress forest.
Methods for Overcoming Impediments
Hurricane Katrina was a major challenge for Veolia Water and the City of New Orleans. Water treatment is considered critical to the welfare of the city, and required a faster recovery compared to other city projects. Communication systems were down or overloaded for weeks after the storm, making recovery efforts more difficult. Employees were also dealing with personal losses, including losing their homes to flooding. Facing these odds, Veolia successfully met the EPA deadline of 60 days, despite estimations that reinstatement of the plants would take up to a year.
The resources Veolia provided were significant to overcoming the aftermath of Katrina. The company was able to obtain capital funds and manpower to clean up and rebuild quickly. Cash donations, clothing, personal items, and gift cards were donated company-wide to the victims of the hurricane. The company and its North American affiliates were able to donate $1 million to charities involved with Hurricane Katrina.
Key Points of Success or Failure
New Orleans faces a unique challenge to water management due to its location below sea level. This constant challenge plus the obstacle of inclement weather, especially storms like Hurricane Katrina, make the daily operation of these facilities a success itself. Improvements and upgrades supervised by Veolia will help the facilities stay in good condition, and help maintain service.
Veolia and the wastewater treatment plants have received numerous awards from the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies including Silver Awards for outstanding environmental compliance in 2010, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, and 1996; and Gold Awards for perfect environmental compliance in 2010, 1998, and 1997. In 2010 the East Bank plant received a Silver Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies for its environmental compliance, and the West Bank plant received a Gold Award for zero permit violations.