Interesting Projects Win "Buy American" Waivers

In early February, when I wrote this column, water utilities across the country were scrambling to insure their projects were funded and moving forward under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Pennwell web 90 135

In early February, when I wrote this column, water utilities across the country were scrambling to insure their projects were funded and moving forward under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. All communities receiving ARRA funds were required to have their projects under signed construction contracts by February 17, 2010.

One holdup on the ARRA funding process was the Buy American requirement because of confusion over what products or systems would qualify. Over the past few months several cities and water utilities requested and were granted waivers that allowed them to include foreign-made products in their projects.

Quite a few of the waivers granted were for membrane systems manufactured in Canada by GE/Zenon. Canadian dewatering equipment was also approved for waivers because competing US-made systems did not meet project-specific requirements.

While most of the projects were fairly routine, a few called for unusual equipment or systems that caught my eye. As an example, Faribault, MN, received a waiver for high speed, high efficiency magnetic bearing turbo-compressors for use at its wastewater treatment plant. The Marin Resource Conservation District's waiver for a solar-powered submersible pump system also was interesting.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Mecklenburg County, NC, have something in common. They both received a project-specific waiver for purchase of coconut fiber (coir) woven mats manufactured in India and Sri Lanka. The mats were to be used in stream restoration projects. The key characteristics that set coconut fiber mats apart from other alternatives are a 3+ year in-stream life expectancy followed by 100% biodegradation. They qualified for a waiver because no domestic sources were available for the product.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority requested a waiver to use ARRA money to buy a foreign manufactured hydroelectric generator. The authority plans to use the generator to replace a pressure control valve and generate power instead of consume it.

The MWRA renewable energy project consists of a hydraulic turbine, a hydroelectric generator, associated piping, and controls. The authority will use the generator to reduce water pressure to certain low-elevation areas of Boston. MWRA hopes the system will recover 1,200,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, not only meeting MWRA's on-site electrical needs but providing excess recovered energy to be delivered to the regional electric grid.

In an ironic twist, just days before the Feb. 17 deadline for having projects under contract, the US and Canada signed a trade agreement that would allow companies on both sides of the border access to government procurement contracts under the ARRA. Canadian suppliers would receive access to state and local public-works projects in seven stimulus programs on a temporary basis through September 2011, when Recovery Act funds are set to expire.

As of February 1, the EPA reported $3.6 billion in ARRA funding had been expended under the Clean Water SRF. That money will help fund 1739 projects with a total value of nearly $6.6 billion. At the same time, $1.7 billion in ARRA funding was set to finance 1269 Drinking Water SRF projects valued at more than $2.8 billion.

For a list of drinking water and wastewater treatment projects funded under the ARRA, plus those that have been granted waivers for non-US systems or equipment, visit the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/water/eparecovery/

Pennwell web 90 135James Laughlin, Editor

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