I have been an employee at D.L. Howell and Associates for about five months now. It has been a non-stop learning experience since my foot entered the door. From simple AutoCAD commands to ordinance interpretation, everyone here has been more than willing to lend a helping hand.
Most of what I’ve been learning I have an idea about from classes completed at Temple University. The university’s department of engineering requires civil engineers to take an AutoCAD course, a project management course, several stormwater management courses, and a series of senior design courses, which teach you the importance of working on one project with different engineers. It is fair to say that I have not been completely blindsided by my first job in the engineering field. However, the other night I was thrown for a loop.
I had the opportunity of accompanying Denny and Joe to a township meeting for approval of Preliminary/Final submission of a project. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The meeting began with the board members going through their reports. Everything was running smoothly, questions were asked and answered when presented without tension. Then we came to the land development section. When our project was called, Denny, accompanied by an attorney, stood in the front of the room and presented the project, which was pasted to a poster board. As he spoke the Board of Supervisors and constituents listened. This was very similar to my senior design class in college. As a group, my team and I collectively worked on one project and at the end of the semester, we presented it to faculty and students. We dressed up in business attire and answered whatever questions we were presented. This was not a challenging task, as our audience consisted of fellow engineers with a basic understanding of our project.
After the project was briefly explained, the Chief of Supervisors opened the floor for comments/questions from the public. Hands shot up. Initially, one person would be called on to speak and their question would be answered. But it quickly turned into disarray. People were cutting Denny and the board off mid-sentence. Voices were being raised, and some tears may have been shed. I began to see something that good old Temple hadn’t prepared me for. These questions were coming from (some) people who didn’t have an engineering background. Additionally, these people weren’t just at this meeting because they got extra credit in a class, which had been the case in senior design, they were there because they were emotionally invested in the project. They were neighbors and community members.
It was eye-opening to witness. In college professors constantly told us the field of engineering is changing. Which is true. Long gone are the days where an engineer would get lost at their desk working solo on their project. We now work in groups and pass along the work we’ve done only to have another engineer pick up where we’ve left off. This has allowed us to shy away from the stereotypical engineer that sits in front of a huge pile of papers doing countless math problems and designs. We have social skills, we make jokes! But now it would be in our best interest if colleges took us a step further, forcing us to leave our engineering community bubble work with people who emotionally invested in our projects with no knowledge of how or why these projects work.
(**DISCLAIMER: My knowledge of how the field of engineering used to work came from my professors)
It seems in this day and age there are so many lines on our plans that they have almost, I say almost, become unreadable. It isn’t just property lines and easements anymore. It is now different pipe sizes, every utility known to man (and woman) (both existing and proposed), seepage beds, steep slopes of varying degrees, different size trees, streams, stream buffers, wetlands and wetland buffers etc. The list goes on and on. With every project we, as designers, are requested to add more and more information to our plans and our plan legend continues to expand. We are literally starting to run out of ideas to differentiate between lines.
The simple “one dash” or “two dash” line type just doesn’t work anymore. So….in an effort to make our line types different as well as have them “communicate” their purpose we have come up with (and will continue to come up with) new line types over the next year. Our first new line type will be to delineate wetland boundaries, communicating to ALL that you “can’t touch this”(them).
Now, the first 3 people to take a picture of this new line type on one of our plans and email it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) will get a $100 gift certificate to Sullivan’s Steakhouse or Fogo de Chao…your choice. Sorry vegetarians.
Denny L. Howell, II PE
D.L. Howell & Associates assisted Henkels & McCoy in securing approvals for the expansion of their operations facility in Cliffwood (Aberdeen Township), NJ. The project entailed a roughly 2000 SF office expansion to their current office building and 12 new parking spaces to support the new office space. The approvals were complicated by decades-old zoning relief and the need to confirm whether conditions associated with that relief were adequately complied with. DLH submitted plans to the Township and Freehold, NJ Soils Conservation District for approval. In late January, DLH attended a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting where site plan, variance, and waiver approvals were all granted. Final plan revisions will be made to comply with the conditions of approval and the project should be on track for construction this Spring.
Based on current projections, Cape Town, South Africa will likely run out of water in April of this year, which would make it the world’s first major city to run out of water. It is being called “Day Zero” and this day will likely be real, suggested by the weekly calculations based on current reservoir capacity and daily consumption. Above is a photo of Theewaterskloof Dam outside Cape Town, which is running at extremely low levels and unfortunately is Cape Town’s main water supply. The city will not literally “run dry”; in most cases, reservoirs can’t be drained to the last drop because of the silt and debris in the water which makes the last 10% of the dam’s water unusable. The cities authorities have decided to turn off the municipal water supply once the Theewaterskloof dam reaches 13.5% capacity, which will then be used for what has been determined to be essential services, like hospitals and schools. There are efforts to secure alternative sources of water, but these efforts have yet to be completed. Of the seven (7) projects listed on the city’s water dashboard, six are running behind schedule, and no one is more than 60% complete.
The three (3) main factors leading up to this water crisis are, the worst drought in more than a century, a rapidly growing metropolitan area with a current population of four (4) million, and a rapidly changing climate. In addition to those factors, the majority of residents have been unwilling to significantly reduce their water usage, therefore the city has had to lower the water pressure in its main to stretch out the water supply. Starting February 1, it has been reported that residents will only be allowed to use a little over 13 gallons of water per person, per day.
Do you think you could survive using only 13 gallons of water per day?
Studies state that the average person in the United States uses from 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. This includes the average American shower using five (5) gallons per minute, brushing teeth using a faucet flowing at a rate of 1-2 gallons per minute, flushing the toilet using from 1.6 to 4 gallons per flush, and washing dishes using a facet flowing at a rate of 1.5 to 2 gallons per minute. To put this into perspective, a three (3) minute shower using five (5) gallons per minute would exceed the daily allowable usage of water in Cape Town starting on February 1st.
Then, you would then have to travel to some 200 municipal water points throughout the city where they will be allowed to collect a maximum of 6.6 gallons per day, which will be regulated by armed guards. The residents will likely have to stand in lines of up to 20,000 people to wait for their daily ration of water until it rains enough to fill the reservoirs, which may not be until June or July. On top of long lines, Cape Town has been warned it will face riots, as civil strife will lead to increased levels of conflict. Panic has already set in and stocks of buckets and bowls have run out in hardware shops across the city. People are buying anything that can hold water. Cape Town has attempted to prevent panic-buying and hoarding by rationing bottled water in shops.
In addition to facing panic and potential riots, residents are reporting an increase in health issues from drinking the water that is left in reservoirs. One of the local water bodies has already been contaminated by high levels of a species of blue-green algae, which has the potential to produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and animals if ingested. Health officials have already seen an increase in serious diseases like typhoid and listeriosis. This crisis does have some positive stories, like the water that continues to be donated by residents of surrounding cities like Durban and Johannesburg, where they have been experiencing record rainfalls.
The water crisis in Cape Town makes me wonder if this is the first of many cities around the world that could face similar situations? Could a water crisis happen in a city in the United States? If so, is the water infrastructure designed to function in a similar crisis and will our cities be prepared, or would it be a similar situation to Cape Town?