May 8, 2013 - From the May, 2013 issue

Jack Baylis Discusses Water and Transitioning to ‘The Baylis Group’

TPR met this month with water world veteran Jack Baylis as he exits The Shaw Group to form and head The Baylis Group. Baylis describes the clients and services of his new company and his civic work at the state and federal levels, while briefing readers on the major issues in California water today. He also explains the “One Water” approach to water management, which aims to eliminate the linguistic and departmental silos that discourage recycling of properly-treated waste, storm, and potable water worldwide. Here in Los Angeles, Baylis suggests this mission could be aided by a synthesis of the City’s disparate water-related agencies.

Jack Baylis

“How do you “reuse” wastewater after its been treated? How do you work with the water supply agencies to reduce importation and lower energy consumption? How do you reduce output and beneficially reuse biosolids instead of simply landfilling them?” -Jack Baylis

Jack, we last interviewed you when you transitioned from AECOM to The Shaw Group. You are transitioning once again. Will your focus continue to be water?

Jack Baylis: My focus and experience has been in the “Lifeline Sectors”: Water, Transportation, Energy, and Communications. I’m continuing that focus, with an emphasis on Water, the Environment, and our Infrastructure. There are some interesting water projects ahead, such as the California Bay Delta Eco-Restoration and ByPass Tunnels that California Governor Jerry Brown is committed to doing. Improving the existing wildlife and habitat surroundings and convincing the local, regional, state, and national stakeholders are critical for that project’s success.    

In San Francisco the well-run SFPUC continues to invest in infrastructure, providing the best-available green approach while being long-term fiscally smart, thus becoming a model for the rest of us to consider—i.e. invest before it breaks; New York continues to upgrade its systems; and Miami is working on a consent agreement with the EPA on upgrading its Water, Stormwater, and Wastewater infrastructure. All of those, in alignment with our Los Angeles agencies, demonstrate environmental wisdom, environmental justice, and bring together the concept of One Water. So I think there are a multitude of exciting projects with opportunities for folks like me that want to assist both our public and private sector clients in the strategy, management, and technical advancement of where we are headed.

Water, we can assume, will be the primary focus of the newly formed Baylis Group. But let’s step back: what opportunities triggered the creation of the Baylis Group and your exit from Shaw?

Jack Baylis: Shaw provided me with an opportunity to demonstrate my operational strength,  managing 250 people, a P&L, and making improvements while keeping connected with clients.  The name The Baylis Group came from one of my first clients.

Was the buyout of Shaw by CB&I part of the trigger as well?

Jack Baylis: Sure. I went to work for Shaw E&I to help turn around their West Region and to grow their water practice; at that time, they had a strong interest in California and were entrepreneurial. They were then acquired by CB&I, which happens. As I understand it, Chicago Bridge & Iron (CB&I) was originally a Chicago-based firm that did some significant bridges and iron work in its earlier years and subsequently evolved into a now Netherlands-owned, Houston-headquartered firm. In my opinion, they are an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC)-type firm with a focus on the “P” (materials procurement, such as low-bid large, steel structures) and on the energy markets, particularly in Texas, Louisiana, the Southeast, and somewhat the US Central and Northeast regions, areas where they’re doing a lot of fracking, oil, gas, nuclear, and its related work. I think our priorities are different, that’s all. It was a signal to me to work where I think I can add value.

With years of environmental engineering experience in California, New York, and in Florida, when your clients call you, what services might they need from you?

Jack Baylis: Strategic, management, and technical services. I thought I’d take six months off and figure it out, however, I already have some clients and am involved in a proposal being submitted next week. We are assisting the public and private sectors as they invest their capital monies. The continuing pressure on government focuses those public sector agencies to demonstrate to their stakeholders—the ratepayers—why the value of their water bills makes sense. Frankly, your water bill is typically lower than your cable bill with more reliability, unlimited use of the city’s sewer systems, and great water supply. I believe the water agencies and all the people who serve us in the water business continue to provide some of the best value of any of the things we get in this society and am happy to play a part in this field.     

There are opportunities to reduce government waste, excessive spending, and excessive entitlements in government overall. However, especially for regional entities, such as Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and local agencies such as SFPUC, LA City Sanitation, and LADWP, you’re going to find well-managed entities, good leadership, and focus on meeting the customer, end user, short and long-term needs. NYDEP under new leadership (Bloomberg and one of his Deputy Mayors, Cass Holloway) brought in some new folks from the private sector and is utilizing good existing staff to improve their execution of capital projects, which they spend about a billon dollars a year on. I believe these water agencies are true value propositions and demonstrate the best of government, especially in the planning, engineering, and construction (capital improvement projects) groups. They know how to use inside and outside expertise to bring the best possible deliverables and results.
Your advice regarding “One Water” focuses, we assume, on how the client could maximize each of those water supply streams?

Jack Baylis: Sure, because it gets down to “the devil is in the details.” How do you treat and use urban stormwater, sometimes looking like urban slobber, as a water supply, instead of flushing it to the ocean or other body of water? How do you “reuse” wastewater after its been treated? How do you work with the water supply agencies to reduce importation and lower energy consumption? How do you reduce output and beneficially reuse biosolids instead of simply landfilling them? Nationally, we have a huge opportunity to reduce energy in treatment, create energy from resultant gas streams, and create a fertilizer product. LA City Sanitation has a very good approach and SFPUC is planning a world-class solution. Every project has details, often with local, specific aspects, and those details are where I look forward to assisting people.  

Regarding operations, which you were doing so well at Shaw, what are the unique opportunities for the Baylis Group?

Jack Baylis: Teamwork and identifying the time, treasury, and talent to achieve the needed objectives.

You’re also serving on a state commission and an advisory board at the federal level. Share how your civic commitments align with the Baylis Group.

Jack Baylis: I was asked by the former governor’s administration and then asked again by Governor Brown to serve on the California Fish and Game Commission, principally because legislation had been passed for marine protected areas (MPAs), and they wanted to implement the designation and implementation of those protective reserves. We’ve done that: it was completed with teamwork by many stakeholders, good leadership at the Department of Fish and Game, as well as the Commission and its staff—a lawsuit just got defeated challenging the implementation, so those areas (less than 20 percent of our coastline) are protected. Just like wildlife reserves where one cannot hunt, we have marine reserves where one cannot fish or fishing is significantly limited. The fish populations will return and “spill over” into other areas. By creating and enforcing the regulations (a huge challenge) in those reserves we’re going to ensure there are fish for consumptive and non-consumptive users of wildlife in the future.    

At the federal level I was asked by the current White House Administration to serve on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), an advisory group formed after 9/11 that brings private sector leadership from various industrial sectors, together to discuss critical issues that could happen after an event, either natural or man-made. As you can find in the public record, NIAC works with and is staffed by Homeland Security, their leadership, and other agencies, such as the Secret Service, on critical issues such as Regional Resiliency following a natural or man-made event. [Resiliency is being able to absorb, react, respond, and adapt to an event.]   


After 9/11, private sector leadership and the White House recognized the opportunity to foster better cooperation between about 18 industrial sectors and the federal government. So sectors like oil and gas, nuclear, water, transportation, communications, and utilities, get together to discuss opportunities around improving the resiliency of those sectors and defining recommendations for federal government involvement. (We mentioned the four lifeline sectors—water, transportation, energy and communications—earlier in the interview.)    

This council is not addressing the prevention of an event but rather asks, “How do these diverse sectors work together with the federal, regional, state, and local governments to help communities through a traumatic event that has occurred?”

Let’s return to water, which is your love and the central focus of the new Baylis Group. You’ve been a champion of what you termed, and now others term, “One Water.” What is the policy imperative of One Water, and how easy is it for cities to adapt their practices?

Jack Baylis: You’ve asked the right question. It’s really the concept that wastewater, stormwater, and water are not separate types of water. They’re all water, the same water, albeit some may need to be cleaned up or separated from pollutants. Today we drink the same water the Egyptians, Mongols, and Saxons drank. It evaporates up in the sky, but the same water comes back down—it’s a closed-loop system. Less than two percent of the global water can be used for human consumption, so we need to better understand it. The concept of One Water, is really to just get the public and the people and agencies in those fields working better together. Many of them already work well together, but sometimes they find themselves needing more help and expertise. It’s about getting people in those fields to understand the whole concept of the water cycle and to help educate people that water can be cleaned and used again. It’s ok and smart to use properly-treated urban stormwater and treated wastewater.

Jack, you’ve done work all over the world. How common is it for water supply, stormwater, and wastewater to be integrated into one agency? It’s certainly not common in the City of Los Angeles.

Jack Baylis: I think you bring up a good point. We have a great Department of Water and Power that for decades (since Mulholland) has provided a great water supply to the city. It was a private water company, then turned into a public company, but with an emphasis on providing power-and water-supply sources. A separate group formed to treat the resultant wastewater. Today there’s an opportunity to combine the water side of DWP with the sanitation side and the stormwater side because a lot of the technical expertise is the same across these areas. The people who go to school to study this are the same, but all of a sudden they get separated in different departments and it creates more cost for the City. Cost and efficiency opportunities exist if LA were to combine those agencies.

Are they integrated into one in other jurisdictions?

Jack Baylis: In many. San Francisco is a good example; it also has water supply and power together, but the same agency, the SFPUC, also handles management of wastewater and stormwater. It is the same with Miami and New York. I think you have more synergy and opportunity to leverage the One Water concept when those agencies are combined.Heads of departments get busy with their agendas, and if they could be combined into one department I think we’d have more momentum and success.

Is changing 100-year-old bureaucracies easy to do? Picking up on your notion that we created the Department of Water and Power because we got most of our water from supplies in the North that required energy: today we’re hoping to be less reliant on imported water. Does self-reliance force the hand of the DWP?

Jack Baylis: No, and let me just add to what you said: it was not just that we needed energy to move water, but by moving water we created energy, so many of those agencies benefitted. I think it takes champions such as a new mayor or council acting on this. It’s really the strength of an organization, its labor forces, that understands how well it can work together because the same people that can work at a water treatment plant can work at a wastewater plant. It’s mostly  the same or similar mechanics, same valving, etc.

But we don’t even have street lighting in the DWP under the same agency, so I’m not sure logic is driving this. Am I off base here?

Jack Baylis: I think things develop and sometimes get ahead of themselves, and now it’s our time to step back and figure out how to make it better.

And what is success like in the water world?

Jack Baylis: Affordable, clean water supply and sustainable water services to people, wildlife, and our ecosystems worldwide. People that understand the value of water and understand the beneficial use of adequately-treated wastewater and urban stormwater, continuing to bring great water service to people for less than the cost of their cable bill.


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