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James M. Montgomery: A Founding Father of Modern Water Reuse

    Author: Lana Piskorowski

    In 1945, James McKee Montgomery laid the foundation for an environmental engineering consultancy firm named James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers, Inc. (JMM) in Pasadena, CA, focusing on water and wastewater solutions. You may recognize “Montgomery” as the “M” in MWH. The company was officially incorporated in 1954 and offered a range of engineering and construction management services.

    MWH’s Construction Management Services (CMS) West Department proudly carries JMM’s construction management legacy into today. Dean Rusciolelli, now Senior Construction Manager for CMS West, shares his connection to JMM. “My time with JMM was interesting. My dad was an electrical engineer for Cutler-Hammer, who worked with JMM guys way back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He always bragged about JMM, emphasizing how they were the elite engineers of the day and how he enjoyed working with them. So, when I joined the company, I was really thrilled and proud. I was right out of college at the time. It was intimidating being around all the senior professionals and the high expectations. It gave me the motivation to excel and learn in order to keep up to speed,” recalled Rusciolelli.


    “In the very beginning, we developed the science for water reclamation and reuse, then we took the science to the industry and helped them develop the technology that is now being used in the field.”



    California’s abundant population and susceptibility to arid conditions in the western region positioned it as a focal point for water reuse advancement. Based in Pasadena, JMM played an active role in this landscape. As the late 1960s ushered in the era of advanced water reuse systems, JMM became deeply involved in numerous projects and feasibility studies. In the next twenty years, they experienced significant growth. JMM designed treatment facilities for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and San Diego Water in Southern California, expanding with new offices in Northern California and acquiring various clients in the water and wastewater sectors. In a significant milestone, JMM published “Water Treatment: Principles and Design” in 1985—a comprehensive work addressing fundamental aspects of water quality crucial for water reuse and still cited in reclamation studies. This pivotal text was originally intended to be a textbook, but it evolved into something even more impactful. The book became the go-to reference in the industry for water treatment facility design, from basic science and design principles to operational considerations.

    Dr. Marco Aieta, an MWH veteran currently serving as Senior Consultant, was recruited by Rhodes Trussell of JMM in 1986 to lead their Applied Research Department. “Back then, the EPA introduced a wave of new regulations, and we would do pilot studies for our clients to determine the best way to meet those regulations. We had over 100 publications,” notes Aieta. “The work we did formed the foundation for the technology that is used today for direct and indirect potable reuse. It also formed the foundation for current technologies used for groundwater cleanup.” Interestingly, Dr. Aieta’s wife, Jennifer Aieta, wrote all the sample problems and was the technical editor for the third and final edition of Water Treatment: Principles and Design. After working at MWH for a decade, Jennifer went on to start her own firm in the 2000s. “She’s the really smart one in our family,” Dr. Aieta remarked.

    Dr. Aieta’s work with JMM began years earlier, in 1975, when Orange County introduced Water Factory 21, a substantial reclaimed water facility utilizing reverse osmosis to treat wastewater. The treated water was injected into the ground, creating a hydraulic saltwater barrier to counterbalance the overdrawn groundwater aquifers in the area. JMM conducted viral assays and provided technical direction for the virus phase of the project, contributing to wastewater contaminant removal at Orange County Water Factory 21. Over three years, the James M. Montgomery Environmental Research Laboratory was used to conduct virus monitoring. Eventually, Water Factory 21 moved a step further into direct potable reuse, being one of the first facilities in California to do so. “My history with Water Factory 21 goes way back to my Stanford days. I worked alongside Perry McCarthy, a celebrated professor at Stanford, analyzing data for the facility. It was the early 1980s when computers took up an entire room,” recalled Aieta.

     JMM’s Applied Research Department, under Aieta’s leadership, tackled a project for the city of Pasadena to address significant groundwater contamination from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the Devil’s Gate region of the Arroyo Basin. Aieta’s team studied a then-emerging technology called advanced oxidation, focusing on methods such as UV/O3, UV/H2O2, O3/H2O2, and more to neutralize the toxic compounds. “Advanced oxidation is all based on the fundamental scientific concept of free radicals. When you generate free radicals, they don’t exist very long, but in the presence of the contaminant, they will oxidize and break apart those target compounds,” explained Aieta.

     The focus of JMM’s research efforts shifted to San Fernando Valley, where the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) heavily relied on well water. Collaborative efforts led by Bill Glaze of UCLA and Aieta introduced advanced oxidation processes, seeking to address historical contamination from Lockheed Martin’s World War II activities. Aieta notes the project’s success, “We worked together with LADWP to do a long study for them where we looked at implementing ozone peroxide advanced oxidation. Our research results showed we were able to remove most of the compounds down to non-detectable levels without detrimental byproducts.” The team decided to elevate the scale of the pilot study to that of a demonstration project, running at roughly 1000 gallons a minute. “We designed the facility and built it in the North Hollywood wellfield. It was a turnkey job and may have been the first construction job MWH ever did,” Aieta noted.


    Such studies have significantly influenced the development and implementation of modern water reuse technologies and systems. They stand as a testament to JMM’s enduring impact on advancing sustainable water practices. Aieta aptly encapsulates their legacy: “In the very beginning, we developed the science for water reclamation and reuse, then we took the science to the industry and helped them develop the technology that is now being used in the field.”

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