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
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
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
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you
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
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
How are you financing projects?
With a combination of bonds and surplus net income.
How can water utilities keep pace with demand and
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