September 8, 2008
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Transit Agencies Make Strides in Recycling Efforts
Susan Berlin, Senior Editor
Oil and water shouldn’t mix, so when public transit agencies turn an environmental eye on them, our industry and our planet both benefit.
Today, environmental management doesn’t just mean processing wastewater to limit levels of pollutants. It also means ensuring that the streams where people fish today will still be open for fishing tomorrow.
In addition, a basic part of being a good steward of the environment is not only to collect and reuse engine oil, but also to make sure the oil does not drain into the ground and contaminate the water system.
Grantley Martelly, regional general manager, central business unit, with the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, said restating the benefits of environmental awareness in non-technical terms helped bring UTA employees on board with the changes in its process. “By doing this,” he said, “you will ensure that your children and grandchildren can ski the same slopes where you ski, hunt the same game ranges you hunt. When we limit the impact on the environment, it affects these areas directly.”
Martelly explained that UTA keeps an eye on the impact of its used water and engine oil as part of its International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 certification. “We discharge stormwater into streams, and we are required to make sure our stormwater drains are not polluted,” he said. “We have many ways to prevent this. For example, we dump oil in the shop and recycle it; we don’t do it in the yard where the oil can get into the ground. We follow these procedures to prevent pollution from occurring, which protects our investment in the environment.”
TriMet's Recycling Plan
The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland reuses its wash water and puts used engine oil through an off-site re-refining process as part of its comprehensive recycling plan.
“Engine oil can be reused,” explained Carolyn Young, TriMet’s executive director of communication and technology. While recycling oil simply refers to filtering out contaminants, she said, re-refining puts the used oil through the full refining process, resulting in a product that can be used again in a vehicle.
“Re-refining is cost-effective,” she added. “There’s a disposal cost to get rid of oil, since we would want to do it in an environmentally safe way, and it doesn’t cost much more to get it to a re-refiner.”
TriMet puts its used wash water through an oil separator, so it can be treated and used again to clean buses and rail cars.
Young also described how TriMet uses bioswales, or buffer zones, to minimize stormwater runoff from its park-and-ride lots and construction sites. “It can really make a difference in the environment if you make sure you aren’t contributing to stormwater runoff,” she said. “You need a buffer between the end of a park-and-ride and anywhere that water can run off.”
Stormwater and wastewater management are also priorities for Sun Tran in Tucson, AZ, which achieved ISO 14001 compliance for its maintenance facility in 2005.
According to Steve Bobert, environmental manager: “We’ve implemented a program where we examine all the cleaning products we use, so our used washwater doesn’t adversely affect the county’s water treatment plant.” He explained that Sun Tran’s bus wash process allows some of the water originally used for rinsing buses to be reused to wash other vehicles.
Bobert noted that Sun Tran also works to minimize any adverse effects on stormwater, such as cleaning up engine fluid leaks before they can drain into the ground.
In the Snohomish County suburbs of Seattle, Community Transit has engaged its employees in the environmental management effort, specifically involving water processing. “As a result, some employees have had suggestions for things from an environmental standpoint,” said Colleen Murphy, risk management analyst.
Community Transit treats its stormwater using dried, composted leaves as a filter to remove metal and oil contaminants, Murphy said; the cleaned water then goes into a local stream. The agency also recycles water from its bus wash: the most recent calculations, in 2004, showed 12.8 million gallons of recycled water for that year.
Murphy said the agency’s improvement of water treatment has helped create an improved relationship with regulatory agencies. “We have a couple of wastewater permits for bus washing,” she said. “As a result of introducing this program, we’ve gone from making reports monthly to quarterly; it’s saved us money and hasn’t cost us anything. Because we have a good program, we’re on top of things, less likely to have problems.”
The agency also has worked to speed up its spill response in case of fluid leakage in the field, she said, with improvements in training procedures and reporting. “The first time we had an incident like that, the response took eight hours; now it takes two hours,” Murphy said.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is incorporating the recovery and reuse of rainwater into its vehicle maintenance procedure. MTA New York City Transit’s Corona maintenance shop for subway cars has a roof designed with a certain pitch so rainwater that drains into a 40,000-ton tank under the shop can be used for cleaning the rail cars.
Water conservation measures implemented by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, CA, have allowed the agency to reduce its water usage by 1.54 million gallons—equivalent to the volume of 2.3 Olympic-size swimming pools—in the first four months of 2008 compared with the same period last year.
VTA implemented recommendations from the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Use Survey Program and Irrigation Technical Assistance Program, such as installing more efficient toilets, faucets, and shower heads and immediately correcting major irrigation problems at transit-related facilities, park-and-ride lots, and light rail stations. Future efforts may include using recycled water for irrigation; replacing high-water plant-using landscape in heavily traveled areas with low-water plants; and enhancing the efficiency of bus and train washing facilities.
“Implementing water conservation strategies identified in the assessment is just one element of an extensive sustainability program that VTA has adopted in our commitment to being environmentally responsible,” said General Manager Michael T. Burns.
Palm Tran in West Palm Beach, FL, uses recycled water in its bus wash facilities. While the original reason for the reuse of water was that Florida was undergoing a water shortage, the process allows Palm Tran to minimize its impact on water use.