Current: Greeley and Hansen is one of Current’s corporate members. You’re also on Current’s Board of Directors. What specific aspects of Current’s mission and programming encouraged you to become so involved?
Andy Richardson: Greeley and Hansen is the only premier global provider of comprehensive services in the water sector headquartered in Chicago. And, for over 100 years, we have been recognized as a leader in developing innovative engineering solutions to our clients’ most complex and challenging problems. Without a doubt, our mission and vision as a company are strongly aligned with Current’s mission of advancing innovation and research in the water industry and its three core program areas of Current Research, Demonstration, and Connect. In addition, we’re committed to working together with the City of Chicago, MWRDGC, and Current’s other innovation partners to promote applied research and innovative water-related businesses in Chicago and elsewhere to meet the ever-evolving needs of the water industry. Chicago has always been a great “water city” and has led the way in advancements in our industry. Certainly, other cities around the world could also benefit from Chicago’s water industry achievements.
Current: You have been with Greeley and Hansen for forty years. How have the water and wastewater industries changed in your four decades with the company, and what are some emerging industry trends and innovations that you’re focused on currently?
AR: Forty years ago, the federal government contributed about 63 percent of total capital spending on water infrastructure as a result of the construction grants program that was in its heyday when I started with the firm. Today, the federal government funds only nine percent of our water infrastructure spending. This means that today, utilities themselves are responsible for providing an essential 24/7 service to the public, while facing a number of stark fiscal challenges that are a result of inadequate rate structures, declining revenues, and aging infrastructure, as well as large fixed costs to maintain those assets initially provided by the grants program. While the challenges are great, current trends in the industry are driving leaders to new levels of creativity and innovation, which include looking for ways to monetize and get more out of the assets they own. Clearly, for utilities the top priority is to meet customers’ requirements. To do that today, they are focusing on three key areas: being more efficient and effective through technology innovation; aiding in identifying new sources of revenues through waste recovery; and finding ways to reach economies of scale through greater collaboration and coalition building in their service area or watershed.
Current: You previously directed Greeley and Hansen’s southwestern operations and have worked on projects for cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. How do increasing regional—and global—concerns about water scarcity shape the type of work that your firm engages in and how have you adapted to these changing demands?
AR: When you spend time in the west, you clearly understand that water is an essential, but finite resource that absolutely supports everything from quality of life to commerce. And, it quickly becomes apparent why the One Water Approach is gaining popularity in this region and other water scarce areas across the globe today. This approach recognizes that water is best managed in ways that respect and respond to watersheds and natural ecosystems, geology, and hydrology. Communities in the same watershed may have either too much water or too little water, or poor-quality water. So, it’s within the watershed context that these communities must reconcile their water demands with the need to sustain this finite resource for future generations. Watershed-level management brings together regional partners from within and beyond the water sector in joint planning and collaborative action. Having a complete understanding that water is essential to everything we do and is the lifeblood of our economy is a major driver for pursuing watershed management. That’s why we must continue to enlighten the public and key decision makers about the One Water Approach and the “Value of Water.” One-fifth of the US economy would grind to a halt without a reliable and clean water source. Forty-six percent of water consumed in America is used to produce the products we buy. In fact, every job we create in the US water sector helps add another 3.68 jobs in the national economy, and every $1 spent on infrastructure improvements generates $6 in returns.
Current: Your firm’s work often addresses public, environmental, and business concerns simultaneously. How does the idea of a triple bottom line shape your work and the solutions you provide?
AR: In many ways, over the course of our over 100 years in the industry, Greeley and Hansen has consistently worked toward balancing the aspects of “people, planet, and profit” for client projects, even before it was popular to describe it as the triple bottom line approach. One of the first items we discuss with our clients is what outcomes, beyond just the function of a project, are they trying to achieve. By understanding the overall outcomes that our clients are trying to provide to the communities they serve, there is an opportunity to use their project dollars more wisely to achieve long-term sustainability goals. A few years ago, our firm got on board as a charter member of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), which is the hub of a unique community of organizations and professionals involved in the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of infrastructure that created the Envision Rating Program. Greeley and Hansen subsequently designed the first wastewater treatment project in the United States to receive an ISI Envision Rating System Award for sustainable infrastructure for New York City.
Current: What are the challenges in identifying new technology solutions for water and wastewater utilities and verifying their efficacy? What kind of benefit can an organization like Current bring to solution providers like Greeley and Hansen?
AR: It’s not surprising that most public utilities are risk averse to trying new technologies, based on their appropriate overriding concerns of providing for the public health and protecting the environment, coupled with the use of public funds. So, obviously, public utilities are not usually the early adopters in our industry. However, times are changing. Because the drivers in our industry are requiring utilities to do more with less, they are looking to get more out of the current assets they own. One effective way to do that is to pool their resources with other utilities and perform applied research on technologies that offer the opportunities to maximize their assets by either providing more treatment capacity of current treatment systems, or creating “smart” distribution and collection systems. Partnering with Current definitely provides the opportunity to achieve those goals.
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