We have been privileged to work with a town that is strongly committed to sustainable city planning and looking toward long-term environmental development. Our team was able to make a trip to Lenox in October, which provided a wholesome experience of the Town’s true pledge clean air, water, infrastructure, and recreation.
Our client, Lenox, Massachusetts, is a small town of roughly 5,000 people on the western border of MA. The team consists of Fernando Ortiz, Nidhi Singh, Tyler Taba, Marielena Rios, Niko Martecchini, and Emily Lee. Everybody comes from a diverse set of disciplines, such as ship engineering, wastewater management in India, non-profit business administration, and more, which helped bring a well rounded assortment of ideas to the table. Most of the students are new to the consulting world, so having Celine Solsken Ruben-Salama as the faculty advisor was invaluable given her expertise in consulting and CSR reporting. We have been working directly with Lenox’s Town Planner, Gwen Miller, and the Water Department Superintendent, Bob Horn. SUMA Net Impact delivered a project to Lenox last semester, drafting an EMS report with some ideas for the town’s Master Plan. This semester, the scope was narrowed to focus on sustainable water management, specifically water supply, targets, purification, and wastewater treatment. This time around, the project scope included:
- Creating a monitoring and implementing plan for the targets related to water for the short, medium and long term.
- Assessing options for processing bio-solids, potentially retrofitting existing infrastructure and making relevant recommendations.
- Researching alternatives for water purification within the town as well as supply from neighboring towns during drought season.
- Calculating the GHG footprint using the calculator tool delivered by the previous team.
Data, data, and … more data. The biggest challenge for our team was compiling enough data to make rational and realistic recommendations for the client. Some areas more than others required significant figures in order to make proper proposals. For example, in the water targets portion of our project, the town was interested in learning how they can meet the needs of the town’s water consumption levels while reducing their water usage rates. It is noteworthy that Lenox see’s a major increase in tourist population during the summer and winter months. Their population doubles from about 5,000 to 9,800-10,000 when tourists visit. This increase obviously stresses water usage for hotels, outdoor recreation, and general water practices. A major dataset that we were hoping to receive included the usage rates from hotels since hotels and B&B’s see a large increase in their reservations during this time. While some of the recommendations included more efficient shower-heads, limits on water usage during certain hours, etc., we believe we could have made more specific suggestions if we had some stronger data on the actual numbers (in gallons) of the town’s relevant industries.
Another challenge related to data came from either not receiving any data or receiving data too late in the process. This was the principal concern for the GHG footprint portion of our project. Unfortunately, we were never granted access to the town’s GHG portal. This made the footprint nearly impossible to develop. Instead, we focused on expanding the previous semester’s GHG tool, hoping to make it as user friendly as possible so the town would be able to input their numbers and run valuable analyses with the data they already have.
Budgetary constraints and unknowns were the final challenge we confronted. This pertains specifically to the water supply and purification segment of our project. Different water treatment plants have varying costs, and the town is unsure how much money they can budget for a new system. After some conference calls with the Water Superintendent, we opted to run a qualitative, rather than a quantitative, CBA. The town has received some grant funding for water systems, but they were not able to give us a threshold number to meet. In some ways this made the research easier, but we are not confident about how feasible or likely our recommendations are to take action.
Likely because of their previous experience with SUMA Net Impact, we received a high level of trust and communication with the client. In many cases, they were open to hearing our ideas with little input or command. The client believed in our work and gave us more autonomy than our group expected, which helped to deliver creative and innovative solutions to their requests.
As aforementioned, the town was also surprisingly committed to sustainable development. They mentioned several times that they are looking to meet Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards not only for 2018-2019, but also for 10-20 years down the road. Many of us grew up in areas where town planners are not necessarily looking to promote a sustainable lifestyle as much as an economic return, so we were fortunate to have such a forward thinking client.
In the end, our group will be delivering two designs for an upgraded water purification system. We are endorsing a microfiltration and an ultrafiltration plant for the next system. After researching several alternatives, including MF, UF, dissolved oxygen, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet purification, and chloramination, we concluded that the most realistic option for the town would be micro and ultrafiltration. After reviewing some of their water quality tests, we concluded the town already has clean raw water coming in, so UV, DO, and RO were a bit of an overkill in terms of their water cleaning capabilities and overall costs. The micro system is less expensive and purifies slightly less than ultrafiltration, which would be more practical for a large town with poor drinking water characteristics. Arguably, the most exciting recommendation we have is for biosolids from the wastewater section of our project. Our recommendation is to create a manmade wetland ecosystem to not only reduce the cost of transporting biosolids via trucks, but also to create an outdoor recreational residence for the members of the community and tourists to enjoy.