Editor’s Comments: All in a Day’s Work

Aug. 16, 2018

If you stand back and look at what you’ve done on the job over the last few months or the past year, what comes to mind? Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you started out? Are there pieces of your job that surprise you? Anything you wish were easier to handle?

This issue focuses on several of the challenges we typically face as we switch hats to perform the different aspects of our jobs. Whatever your role in your county or municipal or state program, or in whatever capacity you might support an ongoing water-quality project or effort, you’ve likely dealt with (though possibly not enjoyed) all of these at one time or another.

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The challenges fall into three broad categories. The first is the one you probably expected when you took the job: how to maintain and improve water quality. Case in point: Lake Erie’s western basin recently received a designation of “impaired” because of nutrients from agricultural runoff, urban stormwater, and combined sewer overflows; toxic algae blooms are the most visible problem. The article on page 20 examines how the Ohio Lake Erie Commission and other organizations are tackling the situation, including using vacant lots—some where houses were abandoned during the housing crisis and demolished—to infiltrate large amounts of runoff. The article shows how many organizations, working together, are finding solutions that might be beyond the capacity of any one of them individually.

The other two challenges are things you might never have pictured yourself doing when you set out on your career in engineering or hydrology or biology. One is public outreach. “Why Presenting ‘Just the Facts’ Fails” on page 42 describes why this process—getting up in front of ratepayers and city officials and the many other stakeholders for any given project and convincing them of something they quite possibly do not want to hear—is so excruciating for many of us, and why we so often fail to convince them. The article offers some new ways of approaching the task that might help, and that, very likely, the people responsible for the successful projects around Lake Erie understood when they set out to get approval for some of the less conventional solutions they’re now employing.

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The third challenge is funding, without which all the rest is impossible. The article on page 10 looks at ways in which different cities—including Toledo, OH, on the shore of Lake Erie—are handling issues ranging from paying for day-to-day operations to funding special projects and capital improvements. What’s a fair way to charge for stormwater services? What will be acceptable to the public? What course is most likely not to land you in court defending your choices? The article looks at stormwater utilities as well as public-private partnerships to fund stormwater infrastructure.

I hope some of these articles provide new and useful ideas or inspiration to help you on your own projects. In the meantime, what’s the most unexpected (either unexpectedly rewarding or unusually frustrating) thing you’ve faced on the job recently? Feel free to share your comments.