City of Grand Rapids

Jul 30, 2019
Nicole Pasch

What technologies are you interested in investigating?

The City of Grand Rapids is currently constructing biodigesters. The project will be completed early next year. Once completed, we’ll need to recover the phosphorous from digested sludge. While it’s still early in the process, we’re already working out the most efficient and cost-saving approach to put this process in place. As a Utility of the Future, we know we must recover the phosphorous to keep it out of the watershed and protect our ecosystem.

What are your facility drivers/needs?

The City of Grand Rapids is facing new challenges at an accelerated rate. Some issues we’re currently dealing with include:

  • Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) - Tackling the global problem of PFAS contamination head on, we’ve formed a unique partnership with Michigan State University-Fraunhofer USA, Inc. Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies (MSU-Fraunhofer) to research and test the destruction of PFAS compounds in wastewater. MSU-Fraunhofer is utilizing boron-doped diamond electrode technology to break down the molecular bonds of the contaminants. While we’re still in the early stages, the pilot program has launched and the outcome looks promising.
  • Marijuana – Last year, voters passed Proposition 1 making recreational marijuana legal in the state of Michigan. We expect up to a dozen growing facilities to open in the city by the end of the year. Determining the impact of cannabis production on the wastewater system is one we’re currently focused on. Our goal is to handle it without hindering growth of the industry while protecting our water source.
  • Accelerated training of new persons in our workforce - The workforce today has a high turnover rate, there are fewer employees available overall, and we’re bringing in great problem solvers with varying skill-sets, but not as much skilled labor experience. We’re interested in exploring more technology based solutions to accelerate training programs. The traditional training approach of following the Standard Operating Procedure to learn is not working well with today’s workforce. With predictive or prescriptive asset management, we don’t do work orders as often because data has shown it unnecessary. We’re finding that with more data driven work and employee turnover, that we’re facing challenges that few people in our current workgroup have previously seen or handled.  We continue to be curious about a simulated plant model for training scenarios, virtual reality for maintenance or operations functions, or other technology resources to close the training gap that we’re not able to close with person-to-person information sharing.  In order to create the most diverse and talented water professionals of the future, we must address the training gap.


How has LIFT helped, or how would you like LIFT to help your facility?  

LIFT has been an invaluable tool for our staff. In looking at other LIFT members, we have been inspired and motivated to use technology to find new and exciting ways of doing things. The ideas that we take away from networking with our peers and learning about other projects have sparked conversations and inspired us to keep moving and remain passionate about our work and finding innovative solutions.   We very much enjoy the promotion of thought sharing in this peer group for ideas and we’ve had great experiences; whether it is our work in the Utility Analysis Improvement Methodology group process mapping how utility decisions, functions, and operations are made and designing tools for continuous improvement, our participation and work with the Intelligent Water System challenge in promoting the utility-public thought partnership in technology advancements, or having LIFT scholarship participants visit us from other plants to both learn and share their view of our technology, we know we’re always learning and LIFT promotes that learning process. 

If there were one technology you would pilot/collaborate on tomorrow, what would it be?

How do we choose just one? Our work culture requires us to find new ways of doing things and take risks.  One that’s been on my mind lately is being more public facing with our real-time water quality data and being able to incorporate predictive values into a customer focused communication platform.  Our Integrated Urban Watershed Model and Real-Time Decision Support System will optimize our current smart standalone models by integrating them to work together in one platform for connected environmental and resource management.  The collaboration to make the integrated model is unique and the possibilities for various future inputs are endless.  I am looking forward to creating a platform that is scalable to focus on making infrastructure investment decisions more connected to the community wants and needs.


Nicole Pasch
Acting Assistant Environmental Services Manager

City of Grand Rapids, MI