Client profile: Brian MacEwen

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Name: Brian P. MacEwen, P.E.
Title: Director of Engineering
Company: Chester Water Authority (CWA) in Pennsylvania, USA, provides drinking water to more than 200,000 people. Its Octoraro Water Treatment Plant treats up to 227 ML/d (60 MG/d).

Tell us about yourself.

I've been working with the Chester water Authority (CWA) since 1999, firstly in charge of capital projects and more recently as the Director of Engineering. I'm a civil engineer and have worked in the water industry all my life. It's an industry that I love, because while the infrastructure is mostly buried and out of sight, every time you turn on the tap you get to see the results of your efforts. My passion for water is in my blood. My father is a civil engineer who also worked in the water industry his entire career, so I grew up with it.

CWA embarked on a large improvement program to modernise its plant 10 years ago. Tell us about it.

The treatment plant was built in 1951, and we have now tripled its capacity. While the general structure of the plant was in good shape, we needed to upgrade some of the ageing process and treatment equipment to meet water demand and to address increasing regulatory requirements for drinking water.

We engaged GHD to conduct a comprehensive study and establish a phased approach to modernise every aspect of the plant. To date, we've completed all but two of the phases. Our partnership with GHD has enabled us to achieve successful outcomes.

The improvement program included the construction of the new Octoraro Water Treatment Plant High Lift Pump Station, which is the largest capital project we've ever undertaken. The new facility has replaced ageing infrastructure and provides increased pumping capacity, full emergency generation capabilities, and flood protection.

Why renew assets instead of replacing them?

Renewing or rehabilitating assets instead of investing in new infrastructure is certainly more cost-effective, and it allows us to maximise the return on our original investment. For example, in the distribution system we are currently rehabilitating our older water mains, some of which date back to 1868, if they are deemed structurally adequate.

CWA is proactive, not reactive, in its approach to enhancing operations. We have performed significant distribution system rehabilitation projects each year since 1974, and renewal projects to improve water quality, fire flows, and overall system redundancy.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you face?

As a municipal authority in Pennsylvania, we don't have shareholders like investor-owned companies that are focused on earnings. Any surplus income is automatically reinvested in our infrastructure.

This structure enables us to provide water at 55 to 75 percent of the rates of neighbouring investor-owned water utilities. Since we're tax exempt, our cost of capital is low, which allows us to economically invest in enhancing our operations.

The increasing regulations can be challenging at times, but this is the same for all other water treatment plants. Having said that, we have recently completed Phase IV Excellence in Water Treatment – the final and voluntary phase of the Partnership for Safe Water Treatment Program. CWA is one of only 13 water treatment plants in the USA to earn this designation, and we're extremely proud of this achievement.

How are you financing projects?

With a combination of bonds and surplus net income.

How can water utilities keep pace with demand and population growth?

When it comes to water, we need to educate the public on the issue of affordability. After all, it's the only utility product that people ingest, so we should value it accordingly!

Unfortunately, the only time people seem to value water is when it's not available. As an industry, we need to get the message across that water is a valuable resource and, as such, is not free and has to be paid for.

People need to understand that municipalities have to invest in infrastructure and treatment operations in order to maintain the quality of drinking water to a high standard.

What's next for CWA?

In 2016 through to 2018, we will be investing in additional auxiliary generators, architectural improvements and residuals handling at the treatment plant to streamline productivity.

After this, we will be focusing on our transmission mains and related facilities.

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