Advancing technical tools to improve municipal wet infrastructure
Meet Doug Jenkins, PE
Charles Douglas (Doug) Jenkins, PE joined OBG in March as Director of Wet Infrastructure, bringing leadership in the water industry and specifically in conveyance, water supply and distribution, and sewer and manhole repair and replacement. For more than 25 years, Doug has been the technical lead for major programs and projects in the U.S. and around the world, from Hawaii to Saudi Arabia. These projects have included multimillion-dollar sanitary sewer overflow programs in Baton Rouge, LA and Knoxville, TN, and for the MCC Jordan water and wastewater projects in Zarqa and Russaifah, Jordan.
Doug has extensive experience in small and large diameter pressure and gravity pipelines and pump systems, as well as with multiple pipeline rehabilitation and construction techniques. He is experienced with a wide variety of pipeline materials, while incorporating sustainable solutions that consider long-term impacts on cost, people, and the environment. Doug has also served as the committee chair for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Condition Assessment of Sewer Collection Systems Technical Committee, and frequently publishes and presents in the field. He most recently contributed to the ASCE manual of practice, Water Pipeline Condition Assessment.
Q: Much of your work over the last 25 years has centered around wet infrastructure, including major programs across the U.S. What led you to this field, and how has it evolved over the years?
A: My first job out of graduate school involved designing yard piping for a water treatment plant expansion. From there, my career evolved to projects going cross country, and I’ve worked on linear projects ever since. I enjoy the challenge that comes from conditions changing for each linear foot of a project. Long gone are the days of drafting tables—we have moved to using computers to assist us in our endeavors and for the design of these projects. This has led to improvements in the pipe materials that we use, while also taking a renewed look at sustainability and our environment. During the past 25 years, we’ve made great strides in pipeline installation techniques, including bedding, backfill, and trenchless technologies.
Q: What are some of the most difficult wet infrastructure challenges facing municipalities, and what are the most effective methods of dealing with them?
A: As the average age of wet infrastructure increases, the largest challenges facing municipalities lie in the struggle to operate and maintain services in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Some of the factors that impact this struggle are related to human resources (current employees are spread thinly, and there’s difficulty in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced professionals); financial constraints (many municipalities have not raised their rates in years, thus budgets are set low while costs go up); and operational deficiencies (due to budget constraints, maintenance may get cast aside with only system failures addressed). These can result in the rapid deterioration of municipal assets, followed by catastrophic component failure with regular and prolonged disruptions in service.
An effective method in dealing with these challenges is to address them in three separate categories: short-term goals, funding, and long-term goals.
First, short-term goals can include establishing an institutional memory through the collection of accurate record drawing data, updating of asset registers, adhering to maintenance plans and schedules, and developing strategic infrastructure plans. Second, regarding funding, a rate study may be required to determine a fair market value for services rendered, an additional search for grants and low interest loans to assist in infrastructure improvements. Third, a proposed long-term goal could include developing the repair and maintenance program (RAMP) in the planning and implementation of projects, which can include the development of condition assessments and replacement, rehabilitation, and repair strategies and best practices programs.
By implementing these steps, municipalities can have a definable and defendable process to proactively address their system needs.
Q: In what technological areas do you see the potential for the most improvement?
A: As municipal infrastructure continues to age, and regulatory requirements become more stringent—together with our clients increasingly looking for greater sustainability features and requiring more with less—optimizing investments and system performance is key. The need for all tools used by wet infrastructure professionals should be constantly evaluated and improved upon for performance.
The area in which I’ve recently seen the most improvement (and which still has the potential for more improvement) is in the condition assessment tools used to assess pressure pipelines. This area is still in its infancy and has introduced many new tools to help engineers with assessing pressure pipelines. Many of these tools are limited by pipe material, entry into the pressure pipe, and off-line versus on-line inspections. The industry is working to improve their technological expertise, while making it more cost effective.
Q: What innovations have you seen in water transmission/distribution and wastewater collection and conveyance projects?
A: The age-old question among municipalities for water transmission and distribution and wastewater collection systems is how to best manage, or operate and maintain, their buried assets. Because of the size of the assets and the variability of materials and ages, it has been difficult to come up with best practices that work for every utility.
Since I’ve been a part of this business, the progression of computer generated data, modeling and asset management, along with new administrative systems and management tools, has allowed municipalities to adapt to the increased regulatory requirements and environmental complexities that they face. These new tools allow municipalities to operate their systems on a business model for long-term sustainability, and to help address the issues of new and stricter regulatory requirements, growing populations, increased service demands, limited water supplies, a highly variable climate, aging infrastructure, and limited state and federal funding.
By properly applying these asset management tools, municipalities can make better operational decisions; improve emergency response; plan and pay for future repairs and replacements; increase knowledge of the location of their assets and determine what assets are critical; create a more efficient operation; better communicate with customers; create rates based on sound operational information, which can provide an increased acceptance of rates; and produce capital improvement projects that meet the true needs of the system.
Q: On a personal note, why did you decide to join OBG?
A: What first drew me to OBG were the people I met during the interview process. Not only do OBG’s core values align with my own, people are at the center of the company’s values.
Accountability: I'm responsible for my own actions, both at work and at home, and I accept the outcome of those actions. Integrity: honesty and ethics, not just when people are around but more importantly, what I do and how I act when no one is around. Excellence: quality is something I advocate for everywhere I’ve been, and providing a safe and environmentally friendly workplace while delivering on innovative and sustainable solutions. Respect: treating others the way you wish to be treated. And teamwork: it takes a group of individuals, each with a unique skill set, to work as a team to successfully complete a project.
I am very excited to be here at OBG, and I look forward to mentoring and being mentored, as well as to sharing the things I’ve learned and exchanging ideas with everyone here.
Doug can be contacted at: Doug.Jenkins@obg.com.