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Fuel Benefits of Algae

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 37

For years Algae has been used as fertilizers, soil conditioners, and as a source of nutrition for animals. Derived from the first declension Latin word ‘alga’, algae literally means ‘seaweed’, and has generally not been used as much more than that. It captures runoff nutrients from soil deposits, and in turn becomes harvested as a fertilizer itself.

Algae also contains other useful molecules, such as lipids, and thereby has the potential to be used in order to make a number of profitable items, including high-energy fuel. However, the ability to extract these molecules is an arduous and expensive task, and, therefore, has yielded little reward. Until now, that is.

Algae Systems, a company based in Nevada, owns a pilot plant in Alabama that is used to generate behavioral information on algae. It is a smaller facility that is intended to identify a specific focus for algae study before larger plants are devoted to the cause. Subsequently, it claims to have found a way to produce diesel fuel from algae.

The process works by performing three separate tasks. First, municipal sewage, a treatment used to fertilize algae, must yield clean water. Second, a carbon-heavy residue must be used as fertilizer for the algae. Finally, valuable credits for advanced biofuels must be generated. If these tasks are completed in conjuncture with one another, then Algae Systems claims that a greater level of carbon will be extracted from the atmosphere then is added during the consumption of fuel.

The system works by heating the algae, along with the other solids found in the sewage, to temperatures in excess of 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch. This produces a liquid that appears similar to crude oil from a well. The chief executive of Algae Systems, Matt Atwood, refers to this as a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system.

Once produced, the liquid was studied by scientists at Auburn University, who, acting in line with the common procedure for oil refinement, added hydrogen to the liquid. This, subsequently, produced diesel fuel, which was later confirmed by Intertek, an independent laboratory, to meet all of the industries specifications.

The intriguing aspect of Algae Systems’ process is the means by which they separate the individual molecules from the algae. The high level thermal process they implement is a new system in algae treatment. It produces the potential to greatly reduce the amount of energy exerted on extracting molecules from algae.

Halil Berberoglu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, is also researching this area of algae treatment—separate from Algae Systems—and is excited by the prospect of such a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system. He described the older system as being “very energy-intensive,” whereby one must “dewater the algae, poke holes in the cell walls, and do all kinds of separation technologies.”

The high thermal process would not only allow the separation of lipids from the algae, but also the separation of proteins and carbohydrates, which may lead to further uses of algae.

Many obstacles remain in the advancement of such a process, for example the possible incorporation of heavy metals, nitrogen, and sulfur in crude oil compounds. Nonetheless, Algae System’s new perspective on algae treatment is both promising and refreshing.

Wetland Delineation Jobs in the Northeast

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 36

Periodically we get calls about wetland related jobs. One aspect of our school is that we try to help our students find work. We often post this information on our wetland career page.

This past week we were contacted by a large professional services recruitment company in the northeast. They are trying to hire 30-40 wetland delineators for a large pipeline right-of-way project that runs from Connecticut into the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Normally we would just port this job on our webpage and direct our students to it. However given the size of the job and the need for immediate placement we thought that we would post it as this week’s news event. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I was asked if I knew 30-40 people looking for a wetland job.

This is the job description and requirements.

  • 3-10 years previous Wetland Delineation experience
  • Fully proficient in state and federal procedures (e.g. 3-Parameter: vegetation, soils and hydrology) for wetlands delineation
  • BS/MS degree in Environmental Science, Biology/Wetlands Science or soils science
  • Wetlands and Soils Science Certifications preferred (PWS, CWS, Soil Science Cert)
  • Ability to work long hours (with paid overtime) in a construction environment and some weekends is needed
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills helpful along with working as part of a larger team
  • Experience with GIS and GPS highly desirable
  • This position requires leadership skills with the ability to lead and direct field teams

If you are interested in getting more information for the recruitment company we have posted a contact form below. We will forward you information on and have the recruiter contact you directly for your resume etc. The hiring company is using the recruiter to conduct the initial screens of potential candidates. They will be able to answer all of your questions. We do not have any additional information about this project. Please do not send us any resumes as we are not part of the hiring process.

This project is hiring in phases and we have been told that having the basic wetland training on your resume will go a long way to help you land this job. We have a couple of basic training sessions coming up this fall. We still have room and would love to see you in class!

Have a great week!

Marc

Northeast Wetland Delineation Jobs Contact Form
Please provide your contact information below. This information will be sent to the hiring organization and they will contract you directly.

EPA Releases Updated Wetlands Maps

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 35

On August 27, 2014, Representative Lamar Smith requested a set of maps that have been prepared by the USEPA depicting wetlands. His concern is that these maps are intended for regulatory use.

“These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country. Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” he wrote, in the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

An EPA spokeswoman said the maps, from the U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service, do not depict which waters are subject to EPA control.

“Let us be very clear — these maps have nothing to do with EPA’s proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose,” Liz Purchia said, noting they were initially created years ago and subsequently updated.

The House committee only learned about the maps after hearing from the U.S. Geological Survey that the EPA was having them prepared. Lawmakers subsequently asked then-EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe about them at a hearing last month, and he agreed to release them.

Smith, in his letter, also questioned why the agency used taxpayer money to create the maps. He asked the agency to provide all documents related to its contract for the maps, turn over any other previously undisclosed maps, and extend the comment period for at least another two months. It is currently due to close on October 20, 2014.

The maps, letters and other information can be found here.

SAB Quality Review of a Draft Report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 34

On August 11, 2014 the USEPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) released Review of the Draft EPA Report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters. There are at least two controversial items in this review. One relates to the role of groundwater in determining connectivity. The other is the issue of whose definition of wetlands should we use. The following is from the August 11th report.

3.2.4. Defining the Scope of the Report

The SAB finds that the scope of the Report, with respect to the types of waters and wetlands covered, needs to be clearly defined and discussed at the beginning of Chapter 3. As a synthesis of the scientific literature, the Report appropriately includes discussion of the relevant literature on processes that occur across landscapes to connect various waters and wetlands, relying on science-based and ecological (i.e., Cowardin et al. 1979) rather than regulatory definitions of waters and wetlands. That said, the Report is unclear about the degree to which its definitions of waters and wetlands include broader portions of the landscape (e.g., whether wetlands or rivers include their floodplains), and this could be clarified with discussion of functional roles of landscape elements. Many public commenters have expressed concern about the potential expansion of the scope of jurisdiction of the underlying Clean Water Act – from “three-parameter” to “one-parameter” waters and wetlands. These concerns could be addressed in a separate section outlining the scope of the Report immediately after the section defining connectivity. The Report should discuss the functional role of floodplains and riparian areas (i.e., the riverine landscape) regardless of their regulatory status. However, it should be made clear that this discussion does not imply an expansion of the definition of waters and wetlands under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The SAB recognizes that the Report is a scientific and not a policy document, but finds that ignoring this distinction only serves to create unnecessary confusion and concern among the readership.

The short version of this is the SAB report defines a wetland using the 1979 US Fish and Wildlife definition and that is not going to change. The reason is that it is more “scientific” than the regulatory definition. The problem is that this entire Waters of the US definition change in based upon the issue that what is regulated and what is not is unclear. It would seem to me that basing the definition of wetlands on anything but the regulatory definition will only make this issue more unclear.

We will dive into the groundwater issue next week.

Have a great Labor Day!

Best,

Marc

Mid-Year Wetland Plant Challenges

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 33

Twice a year the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) accepts challenges to its National Wetland Plant List (NWPL). Challenges from the public can be made between January 1 through March 31 and again from June 1 through August 31 of each year.

This is the procedure outlined by the COE.

Individuals or institutions may challenge or request a change to a plant species’ wetland rating if they believe it is incorrect. This three-stage challenge process, which involves an exchange of information among the Requester, the National Technical Committee on Wetland Vegetation (NTCWV), and the National Panel (NP) and Regional Panels (RP) of the NWPL, is designed to increase our knowledge of wetland plant distribution and disseminate that information to all.

In the first stage of each challenge, the Requester submits a recommendation and rationale with supporting documentation. If both the NP and RP agree with the Requester’s suggested rating, the plant’s wetland rating will be changed during the next annual update of the NWPL. If the NP does not agree with the Requester’s recommendation, the Requester may continue the process by testing their recommendation with a field study.

In Stage Two, Requesters submit a study proposal based on a study design template to be developed by the NTCWV. The NTCWV and the NP will work with the Requester to adjust these templates for a particular plant species or wetland type, including the appropriate spatial scale. Once the design is approved, Requesters may collect the data.

In Stage Three, the Requester submits the data to the NP for analysis. Alternatively, the Requester may enter and analyze the data they collect using a pre-formatted spreadsheet. All data and results generated during a challenge to a species wetland rating will be posted on the NWPL web site. Ultimately, the NP will determine the change in indicator status and the spatial scale at which the change is warranted.

Earlier in the year the National Home Builders Association submitted four challenges to the NWPL for the following species for the listed regions.

Lolium perenne – Perennial/Italian Rye Grass [Arid West]
Baccaris salicifolia – Mules Flat [Arid West]
Poa pratensis – Kentucky Blue Grass [Mid West]
Lonicera japonica – Japanese Honeysuckle [EMP & AGCP]

All four of these species are listed as FAC in the latest published NWPL.

Lonicera japonica had been re-evaluated in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain region prior to the release of the 2014 NWPL update. It had been changed only in that region from FAC to FACU. On May 22, 2014 The Eastern Mountains and Piedmont (EMP) Regional Panel reviewed a challenge request, for Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) and Juglans californica (California Walnut),submitted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The Eastern Mountains and Piedmont Regional Panel unanimously agreed to rate Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) as FACU after reviewing the challenge request package submitted by the National Association of Home Builders’.  The National Panel discussed the outcome of these results and also reached the consensus that Lonicera japonica should be rated FACU.

The voting results from the Arid West Regional Panel for Juglans californica (California Walnut) were tied at the regional level after reviewing the challenge request package submitted by the National Association of Home Builders’; 2 FACU and 2 FAC. The National Panel discussed these results and unanimously agreed to rate Juglans californica FACU.

The ratings listed above for Lonicera japonica (FACU) and Juglans californica (FACU) are effective immediately for 2014. The changes will be reflected on the NWPL with the next published version of the list in 2015.

One other species was updated. On July 15, 2014, the National Panel re-examined the rating of Phacelia distans Benth. ( Distant Scorpion-Weed ) and agreed to change it to UPL in the Arid West and in the Western Mountain Valleys and Coast Regions. A request for re-evaluation was submitted by Tony Bomkamp of Glenn Lukos Associates. This rating is effective immediately for 2014. The change will be reflected on the NWPL with the next published version of the list in 2015.

Please make sure to update your lists especially in the EMP region. Lonicera japonica has always been a problematic species and its presence in wet areas is not always representative of that area being a wetland. This is especially true when you find it in a floodplain. It seems to be climbing out of the water trying to keep its feet dry. Changing the indicator status of this plant does reflect its nature of not really being a wetland plant.

Have a great week!

Marc

Wetland Delineation Backlog

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 32

On July 30, 2014 roughly 350 farmers from across eastern South Dakota attended a public forum with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) officials to discuss issues related to wetland delineations. The forum was spooned by South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Soybean Association (SDSA), South Dakota Corn Growers, and the South Dakota Farmers Union. As of July 1, 2014 the NRCS has reported that there are over 5,130 wetland determination requests in the Prairie Pothole region of the US waiting to be reviewed. South Dakota leads the backlog with over 2,993 requests.

NRCS estimates that it takes one to two years to process a wetland determination request given this backlog. It is the hope of both NRCS and the farmers to find a way to bring this time frame down to one year or less. Once a farmer does receive the wetland delineation, he or she has only 30 days to take action if an appeal is desired. This was a point of concern given that 30 days is a relatively short length of time. This is especially a problem if the appeal occurs during a farmer’s peak planting or harvest season.

“The number of people attending this forum speaks to the importance of finding a solution to the backlog and confusion over how wetland delineations are handled,” said Wayne Smith, Executive Director of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, which represents 14,000 farm, ranch, and rural families across the state. “These farmers are sincere in their desire to work with the NRCS, but they also want to be able to get information in a timely way and to know that that information is consistent and science-based.”

Much of the backlog is related to the current NRCS policy that all wetland delineations submitted by a consultant on the farmer’s behalf must be field inspected by NRCS. Even if this is a spot check the time to travel to the site and spend just a few minutes on-site really adds up when you look at the number so these inspections that must be done. If you allotted just 4 hours per site, which would include travel to and from the farm it would take over 6 years for one inspector to clear the current t backlog in South Dakota alone. There are three individuals listed as NRCS wetland specialists in South Dakota. So, if these three folks eat and sleep in the wetlands and only do inspections, they could easily knock this out in 2 years. They cannot go back to the office and must visit at least two sites per day.

I have run into some pretty intense work schedules in my nearly 30 years in the wetland delineation business. However this beats all. I do not see how anyone could ever keep up this regime without burning out.

These wetland delineations are being done for compliance with a variety of USDA agricultural programs. The USDA program is not a regulatory compliance program. The wetland delineations are done to help NRCS evaluate eligibility for a number of USDA subsidy programs. It is the current policy of the USDA to avoid wetland impacts to the maximum extent possible. A farmer who impacts a wetland runs the risk of losing farm subsidies and depending upon the date of impact could be forced to return prior subsidy monies.

If a farmer has impacted a wetland there is also the possibility of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations being discovered by the Corps and EPA. This too has severe labor concerns as there are far fewer regulators able to look at potential violation sites.

There have been a couple of suggestions to solve the review problem. One suggestion is to employ remote sensing technologies to confirm the presence of wetlands. Currently NRCS does do this to a limited extent. At issue is that many farmers have reported that when NRCS uses offsite methods more areas are determined to be wetlands then the on-site methods would reveal. The main issue is the presence or abscess of hydric soils. Many of the prairie potholes lack any hydric soil indicators and consequently are not wetlands.

In many cases even if the prairie pothole is a wetland it may be deemed isolated and not subject to wetland regulation under the Clean Water Act. However, USDA policy usually precludes impacts to wetlands whether or not they are waters of the US. Under current CWA rules isolated wetlands are not waters of the US. Under the proposed new CWA rules they would be jurisdictional. The new rules make it quite clear that all prairie potholes are waters of the US regardless of the presence of hydric soils.

The solution to the backlog seems to be found in the new CWA rules. If there is no dispute that prairie potholes are waters of the US, then there should be no reason for a backlog. Categorically these areas would be waters of the US and there would be no need for a wetland delineation. It would be fairly easy to identify the prairie potholes remotely as they do tend to stand out on an air photo. There would be no need for a soils investigation so there is no real reason to ever leave the office.

Perhaps this is a solution. Prairie potholes are a unique landform and offer a variety of ecological benefits. However, there is a significant economic impact to the farmers in this region if they have to develop a total avoidance practice. It may not even be possible for this to be achieved. Unfortunately, the new CWA rules do not address these economic impacts at all. The Whitehouse Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report on these new rules is focused entirely on the cost to manage compliance and never addresses the cost to the public. In my humble opinion there needs to be a balance between environmental stewardship and the economic impacts of that stewardship. In this case perhaps the non-wetland prairie potholes should be exempt from the CWA rules. However, this will bring the backlog back on line.

What do you think?

Lean Wetland Delineations

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 31

Last week we discussed the Theory of Constraints (TOC) as a business improvement method. The idea is based upon how we make your wetland business more profitable using key bottlenecks in the process. Get more done in the same time using the same or less resources.

This week we will look at a key concept that at times seems to conflict with the Theory of Constraints. However, if managed properly these two concepts can complement each other. This concept is known as “lean.” The lean model is often credited to Toyota in its “just in time” manufacturing process. However the lean process is much older. Once of the earliest publications that focused on lean concepts was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1758. His “Way to Wealth” is collection of adages and advice presented in Poor Richard’s Almanac during its first 25 years of publication, organized into a speech given by “Father Abraham” to a group of people. Many of the phrases Father Abraham quotes continue to be familiar today. The essay’s advice is based on the themes of work ethic and frugality. Remember what Poor Richard says, “Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries.”

Henry Ford built on this concept and in his book My Life and my Work, (1922) wrote a single paragraph that describes the entire concept of waste:

“I believe that the average farmer puts to a really useful purpose only about 5% of the energy he expends…. Not only is everything done by hand, but seldom is a thought given to a logical arrangement. A farmer doing his chores will walk up and down a rickety ladder a dozen times. He will carry water for years instead of putting in a few lengths of pipe. His whole idea, when there is extra work to do, is to hire extra men. He thinks of putting money into improvements as an expense…. It is waste motion— waste effort— that makes farm prices high and profits low.”

So how do we apply lean to wetland delineation? First you need to think of wetlands delineation as a process. There is even a manual. Actually there are 11 manuals plus few dozen reference documents. This is where lean comes in. We have to look at the overall process and identify where we have waste and bottlenecks. Lean tells us that waste is bad. The Theory of Constraints tells us that some of the bottlenecks could be exploited to improve the efficiently of the whole system.

Lean however is a micro-management style. Micro-management always seems to get a bad reputation and too often we discard it as some sort of totalitarian management system. However, it is a key concept for identifying waste. I will mention that not all waste is really waste. First we need to identify it. Then though a process we decide if it is adding value or not. Real waste is bad, but some inefficiencies may add overall value.

An example of this was featured a few years ago on the NBC TV series “Chuck.” In the series the CIA had been using a “Buy More” store as a secret base. It was a real Buy More store with real, snarky inefficient Buy More employees (remember Jeffster?). At the end of season 3 the store was blown up. In season 4 the CIA completely takes over the running of the store as a secret base. The store is clean and efficient. It is staffed by courteous and not creepy CIA and NSA agents. It looks totally fake and the operation is in jeopardy. The solution. Hire back the inefficient, creepy and rude old employees. This makes the Buy More feel like a real Buy More. By adding inefficiency to the store the overall improvement is that the store looks like a real Buy More, not a CIA base. That is the real objective. This is the Theory of Constraints in action.

However, the lean analysis by the CIA and NSA yielded a completely efficient Buy More. In fact it even won a corporate award which garnered it more attention. This was the last thing the CIA wanted.

So how can we use lean in wetlands delineation? We need to examine every process that we undertake when doing a delineation. Let us take a look at hanging wetland flags.

When we make the decision where the wetland boundary is there are a myriad of options as to how to demark it. First we need to decide what we should use. The convention is to use surveyor’s ribbon. However, there are also pin flags, wooden stakes, re-bar, and a host of other options. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, pin flags provide the highest degree of accuracy. However, they are easily lost in the grass and tend to get pulled up. Re-bar is the most permanent but is also the most difficult to install due to its weight.

Tying surveyor ribbon to a nearby tree or shrub is the lightest option. However the degree of accuracy is somewhat diminished. At issue is the fact that the tree or shrub you tie the ribbon too may not be precisely on the wetland boundary. So we increase speed by introducing some inaccuracy. We need to determine what level of inaccuracy is acceptable and balance that with the overall objective of getting the job done in a timely fashion. Using the Theory of Constraints we can make this assessment.

So where is the waste? Waste can be found in the type of ribbon you use. Color for example is a major issue. If you use a green ribbon in the fall it stands out clearly. However, in the spring and summer when the surveyors go to survey it is invisible due to the green foliage. The waste shows up in the time searching for ribbons.

Another example of waste is the need to double flag the wetland line with two colors of ribbon. There is a concern that the surveyors will be confused if you use the same pink or orange that they use for other features. So you tie a pink and blue ribbon to wetland boundary point. This effectively doubles the time to mark each point, doubles the cost and requires that you carry double the amount of flagging that you need. This is an incredible expansion of time and materials for a job.

What is the real concern? The surveyors will be confused by the wetland flagging. Is there a lean way to fix this? Yes and it is really simple. Communicate with the surveyors directly and tell them what you did. You are taking field notes and sketches of your work. Share this with the surveyors. This may add a few minutes to your work estimate, but it is not double the time to hang flags.

Over the coming months we will be adding more Lean, Six Sigma and TOC ideas to our newsletters. We hope that they are helpful to you and would love it if you could comment on any LSS or TOC methods your have found and would like to share.

Have a great week!

– Marc

EPA drops wage garnishment rule

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 29

The people have spoken!

This is from the July 17, 2014 Federal Register.

Action

Withdrawal of direct final rule.

Summary

Due to the receipt of adverse comments, EPA is withdrawing the direct final rule for Administrative Wage Garnishment published in the Federal Register on July 2, 2014.

Dates

The direct final rule published at 79 FR 37644 on July 2, 2014 is withdrawn effective July 17, 2014.

For Further Information Contact

FPPS c/o Anita Jones, OCFO/OFM/FPPS, Mailcode 2733R, Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20460; telephone number: (202) 564-4969; fax number: (202) 565-2585; email address: jones.anita@epa.gov.

Supplementary Information

Due to the receipt of adverse comments, EPA is withdrawing the direct final rule amending EPA’s claims collection standards to include Administrative Wage Garnishment, which published in the Federal Register on July 2, 2014 (79 FR 37644). In the direct final rule, EPA stated that if adverse comments were received by August 1, 2014, the direct final rule would be withdrawn and not take effect. EPA received adverse comments on that direct final rule. EPA will address those comments in any subsequent final action, based upon the proposed rule making action, which was published in the Federal Register on July 2, 2014 (79 FR 37704).

To date there were a total of 574 comments.  Some of them are quite direct.  It is nice to know that we still have a hand in our own government.  Thank to all of you who provided comments.  It did make a difference!

Theory of Constraints

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 30

This week I thought I would take a bit of a break from all of the new EPA rules, regulations and fines that are floating out there.  I have spent a fair amount of time pondering new and better ways to speed up the wetland delineation process. The new Army Corps of Engineers Regional Supplements have expanded the amount of data we collect in the field. This significantly adds to the time it takes to complete a data form. On average it can take 45 minutes to an hour and a half to completely fill out just one form.

To be frank, I love the new data forms. It forces delineators to really focus on the data. Overall, while it is more work, the regional approach is a vast improvement on the quality of a wetland assessment. Unfortunately, more data means more hours and therefore more cost.

Looking at some of the newer operations procedures such as lean and six sigma there are ways to reduce time and cost without sacrificing quality. One of the management concepts that business use is something called the theory of constraints (TOC).

The theory of constraints works from the proposition that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. People, processes, organizations, procedures, etc. are vulnerable because the weakest person or part can always damage or break them or at least adversely affect the outcome. Therefore the entire system is regulated by one or more system constraints. In our wetland example what makes wetland delineations so expensive?

To answer this question we must first identify three measures: throughput, operational expense, and inventory. Throughput is the rate at which the system generates money through sales. In our case these are billable hours. Inventory is all the money that the system has invested in purchasing things which it intends to sell. This is your paycheck. You are the inventory. Remember you are selling your time. Operational expense is all the money the system spends in order to turn inventory (you) into throughput (billable hours). These are your direct expenses including travel, training and supplies as well as marketing, accounting and other office indirect expenses.

To quantify this we need three numbers. First is your compensation package. This includes everything the company pays you including all benefits. This is the inventory expense. The next expense is all of the office directs and indirect expenses. This includes the rent, non-billable staff salaries, office and field supplies, taxes, and anything else you can think of. Try not to use the overhead multiplier that some companies have to use for government contracts. Too often this underestimates the real office overhead because there are some expanses that are disallowed. In reality we still have to pay for these.

Once we know what it costs to put you in the field we need to know how much we can get for your time. This is the throughput. However throughput also considers the rate at which you convert expenses into sales. This in a sense is the velocity of your billable time. Because in our example we are only going to bill 8 hours a day the speed remains the same, but the amount of revenue generated is based upon how many hours in a day you can bill and what your billable rate is in dollars per hour.

It is at this point that we encounter our first big challenge. I want to make more money for my company but I bill at say $60 per hour, so that in any given day the most I can make my company is $480. If I look at all the expenses you might be surprised to learn that at most your company is only clearing an 8-9% profit. If you look deeper that number may be even smaller.

Here is the problem. You need to make more money, but there are only 8 hours in any day. The question is really what is your goal?

If your goal is to bill 8 hours then congratulations you are done. However, there is no acceleration possible because the velocity is set at 8 hours per day. Sort of like cruise control. No increase in speed means no more growth. You could add staff and increase revenue, but the profit will remain the same because more staff translates into more expenses. In some cases you may even see profit drop because the increase in staff may require a significant increase in overhead. More office space for example.

At issue is really focusing on the important goals. The theory of constraints is based on the notion that the rate of goal achievement (velocity) by a goal-oriented system (throughput) is limited by at least one constraint. What is slowing you down?

Cox and Goldratt explain in their book, The Goal, five ways to measure the velocity of goal achievement.

  1. Identify the system’s constraint(s) (what is preventing you from reaching your goals)
  2. Exploit the system’s constraint(s) (get the most out of the constraint, e.g. avoid unnecessary idle time, farm out work to other resources where possible)
  3. Subordinate all other resources to the constraint (align the whole system or organization to support the constraint’s operation, e.g. prioritize repair and maintenance, change process batch size on non-constraints)
  4. Elevate the system’s constraint(s) (make other major changes needed to increase the constraint’s capacity, e.g. perhaps a new senior hire)
  5. If in the previous steps a constraint has been broken, go back to step 1, but do not allow inertia to cause a system’s constraint. This means that the backlog of work should not be the constraint.

If we look back to our wetland example perhaps we should not be focused on billable hours. Rather, we should focus on the number of data points acutely completed in a day. There is really no limit to the number that you could do. You can only experience 8 hours in a given work day. So why limit yourself?

How many can you do now? What could you do to speed this up? Identify the constraints. For example you are spending way too much time on plant identification. This is the major bottleneck or what is sometimes called the “drum.” Fix the problem by attending several of the Swamp School’s awesome plant classes and reduce this time. I had to get a plug in here somewhere. Now you can do 3 times as many data points in a given day.

This fixes one end of the throughput. At the other end you need to consider a new way of billing your clients and getting paid. As it stands now you really have no incentive to work any faster if you are being paid by the hour. However, if you are being paid by the data point, I bet you would be able to find a way to get more data points done in a day. If your client pays by the data point rather than by the hour, in the long run they will save money because you are motivated to finish their job quickly so that you can move onto the next client.

If you want proof that this system works take a look at you next car repair bill. There is usually a quote based upon an average amount of time it takes to get a job done plus parts. Your quote is guaranteed so you know exactly what it is going to cost you to get your car fixed. However, in almost all cases the mechanic gets the job done in less time than was estimated. You still pay the quoted amount happy that the job was done a little sooner so you can get your car back. The mechanic moves onto the next car getting more done in a given day. Everybody’s happy.

I am not sure when wetland delineators thought it was a good idea to bill like lawyers do. If you think about it does anyone like paying for legal advice billed at a 0.1 hour rate. Really who can do anything meaningful in 0.1 hours? I really hate time-sheets. They are the bane of our business.

If you want to make more money you need to identify and exploit the constraint. Doing so converts more activities into revenue. Your throughput increases. Your clients are happy and you have a reputation of getting a job done quickly, efficiently and in the long run at a lower cost to the client. You just became more competitive in the market!

Have a great and profitable week!

– Marc

EPA Wage Garnishment

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 28

On Wednesday, July 2, 2014 the Environmental Protection Agency published a final rule regarding the government’s ability to seize your wages. The following is directly from the Federal Register.

“Summary: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking direct final action to amend EPA’s claims collection standards to implement the administrative wage garnishment provisions of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1982, as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA). The direct final rule will allow the EPA to garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.”

“Dates: This direct final rule is effective September 2, 2014 without further notice unless EPA receives adverse comments by August 1, 2014. If EPA receives such comments, it will publish a timely withdrawal of the direct final rule in the Federal Register and inform the public that the rule will not take effect.”

“Background: This direct final rule implements the administrative wage garnishment provisions in section 31001(o) of the Debt Collection Improvement Act of the 1996 (DCIA), Public Law 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-358, codified as 31 U.S.C. 3720D. Under the administrative wage garnishment provisions of the DCIA, Federal agencies may garnish administratively up to 15 percent of the disposable pay of a debtor to satisfy a delinquent non-tax debt owed to the United States. Prior to the enactment of the DCIA, Federal agencies were required to obtain a court judgment before garnishing non-Federal wages. Section 31001(o) of the DCIA preempts State laws that prohibit wage garnishment or otherwise govern wage garnishment procedures.”

“As authorized by the DCIA, a Federal agency collecting a delinquent non-tax debt may garnish a delinquent debtor’s wages in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Treasury. The Bureau of Fiscal Services, a bureau of the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), is responsible for promulgating the regulations implementing this and other debt collection tools established by the DCIA. The Bureau of Fiscal Services published its final rule at 63 FR 25136, May 6 1998, (Treasury Final Rule) and published technical amendments at 64 FR 22906, 22908, April 28, 1999 and 66 FR 51867, 51868, October 11, 2001. The Treasury Final Rule, as amended, is published in 31 CFR 285.11. Pursuant to 31 CFR 285.11(f), Federal agencies must either prescribe their own conforming regulations for the conduct of AWG hearings consistent with the substantive and procedural requirements set forth in the Treasury Final Rule or adopt Treasury’s AWG regulation, 31 CFR 285.11, without change by reference.”

This rule has been published in final form. It is EPA’s belief that the public has no interest in this and therefore has put this rule on a very fast track. It will be implemented on September 2, 2014 unless EPA receives adverse comments by the close of business on August 1, 2014.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, government law enforcement must receive written permission from a court of law, or otherwise qualified magistrate, to lawfully search and seize evidence while investigating illegal activity. This new rule by-passes the courts, tries you in absentia without any ability to offer a defense, convicts you and immediately seizes your property.

The EPA can fine you up to $75,000 per day for many of the regulations it enforces. A small fine can prove runniness for most Americans. Even if you are innocent of the environmental crime that you are accused of, the lack of due process would destroy your livelihood. It is unimaginable that a nation that is founded on individual rights and freedoms would ever contemplate such a rule. There is absolutely no due process of law.

This rule affects you the American citizen immediately. Oh, by the way if you are a federal employee you are exempt from this law. Please provide your comments to EPA by the following means:

1. Email: jones.anita@epa.gov.

2. Fax: (202) 565-2585.

3. Mail: OCFO-2014-0001; FRL-9910-14-OCFO FPPS c/o Anita Jones, OCFO/OFM/FPPS, Mailcode 2733R, Environmental Protection Agency, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20460.

Be sure to reference the following ID number: EPA-HQ-OA-2014-0012-0002 [
Administrative Wage Garnishment; Proposed Rule]

You can also comment online and review the comments that have been published by going to: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OA-2014-0012-0002.

Please let the EPA know how you feel about this new rule. Please pass this email onto your friends, co-workers, clients or anyone else that you know. We are all affected by this rule (except the federal and EPA employees).

In honor of our Nation’s independence I will leave you with a few thoughts expressed by Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1776.

“.. Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

“For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent”

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury”

Please comment on these rules.  Our system of government is representative.  It is your duty to let your representatives and government agencies know how you feel.

May God continue to bless America.

– Marc

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