A Look Back on WEFTEC 2014

Water Environment Federation (WEFTEC 2014)

New Orleans recently served as the host city for the 87th annual conference and exhibition of the Water Environment Federation (WEFTEC 2014). The conference featured a collection of programs and sessions that served as a catalyst for new ideas, new perspectives, new opportunities and new approaches that are very much needed in order to efficiently and sustainable manage the water systems of the world.

This year, WEFTEC attracted more than 20,000 individuals who hailed from 50 states as well as a number of countries around the world. The conference featured a number of interesting pre-conference programs including a one-day media workshop known as ?One Water Innovations? that was scheduled on Sunday afternoon, the day before the official opening of WEFTEC.

Other pre-opening day workshops included sessions that addressed water reuse in the food and beverage industry; green infrastructure implementation; green infrastructure performance; water quality trading; wastewater treatment fundamentals for the petroleum industry; making a case for the recovery of nutrients, energy, water, etc.; roadmap for energy neutrality; integrated water management; and the importance of crisis planning for today’s utility executive.

Reuse Takes Center Stage in Pre-Conference Workshop

The One Water Innovations workshop, presented by the WateReuse Association, was particularly interesting and timely. The opening session of the workshop addressed the vision of water systems based on ecological mimicry as well as new thinking and new possibilities when it comes to wastewater to resource. An additional session of the workshop featured a round table discussion focused on water treatment and recycled water safety. It included a director from the Orange County Water District, the utility that won a prestigious water prize this year at Singapore International Water Week. A third session of the workshop addressed the evolving adoption and market growth of water reuse in the United States.

There were also several panel discussions focused on the role of recycled water in everyday life, the use of recycled water within the agriculture sector, the energy sector and the recreation arena. One of the panels that was part of this workshop reviewed the growing public acceptance of recycled water and the growing trend of producing recycled water that is clean enough to drink.

The final panel session of the workshop touched on the impact of citizens and citizen groups in developing sustainable water supplies around the world. Presentations were delivered by individuals from Australia and the United States. The One Water Innovations workshop emphasized the need to rethink the design of water systems. According to discussions, there is no ?one size fits all? solution for water systems in the United States and around the world. The workshop emphasized the importance of the urban water cycle, the need for adopting water reuse around the country and the use of new, appropriate technology within water and wastewater systems in order to achieve a sustainable future.

The workshop also addressed direct potable reuse initiatives, focusing specifically on the tight link between the world’s water, energy and food industries. Most importantly, the workshop emphasized the critical need for reliable options that would ensure a steady supply of water in the United States and around the world. The theme coming out of this workshop was what we do today to ensure water supplies will reshape the future.

WEFTEC Highlights

The Opening General Session of WEFTEC 2014 opened with an impressive keynote address by Luke Williams, a best-selling author on topics such as disruptive innovation and entrepreneurship. His presentation focused on the role of innovative leadership approaches to help encourage counterintuitive solutions for evolving water management challenges.

The opening morning of WEFTEC also featured a special session highlighting great water cities. It served as a special water leaders session to address water, wastewater and stormwater systems in the face of climate change, extreme events, utility emergencies and natural disasters. Panelists included individuals from France, New Zealand and New York City who each shared case studies with engaging discussions on smarter water demand management and improved conservation.

The first day of the conference involved the opening of the technical session program with various breakout sessions focused on stormwater management, utility management, water reclamation/reuse, municipal wastewater treatment and industrial issues. In addition to the core program, WEFTEC included its second annual Stormwater Congress, an EPA Water Technology Innovation Blueprint Series, the Innovation Pavilion collection of presentations, the Johnson Foundation collection of presentations, and the WEFTEC Global Center collection of presentations.

There were also some featured presentations from key staffers of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency including Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Deputy Assistant Administrator (and current head) of the Office of Water, Ken Kopocis.

According to McCarthy, there is a strong need for clean water improvements across the country. McCarthy noted that $635 billion of repairs for water and wastewater infrastructure is now required in the United States, with nutrient pollution also being another important issue needing attention.

McCarthy emphasized that new funding options need to be implemented since municipalities across the country can no longer expect handouts of federal grant money. She concluded her remarks with a reminder that water is an economic necessity and smart policies are necessary to be put in place.

Kopocis supported McCarthy’s observations, reminding the WEFETC audience that “water is critical for the country’s well-being.” Kopocis cheered on the call to action to better address the fresh water challenges of the United States as a means to positively impact the issue of sustainability when it comes to the country’s ongoing economic development. He also stressed the need to protect all water bodies and all source waters including sources of safe drinking water, while stressing the need for communities around the country to address aging infrastructure.

Kopocis concluded his remarks by reinforcing the importance of developing new partnerships within the water/wastewater infrastructure and service sector in order to better ensure a continuous delivery of water. He stressed the importance of climate change and what it means when it comes to droughts, floods, water levels, etc., noting that all communities around the world must recognize that climate change must be addressed in order to ensure sustainable futures.

Also making an appearance during a morning press conference was New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu used this opportunity to salute the GE Foundation for their grant contribution of $1.5 million to help address the manufacturing and water management skills gap that exists in New Orleans. The grant will specifically support Delgado Community College’s ongoing efforts to train certified water infrastructure personnel to work at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. Landrieu noted, “With the GE Foundation’s generous support, we will train the next generation of water infrastructure personnel and ensure that the people of New Orleans benefit from our city’s growth.”

Landrieu concluded his remarks by noting that the City of New Orleans is on the rebound, and that the existence of a proper water/wastewater system is a critical component for the city’s ongoing economic development. Landrieu also noted the importance of working with members of Congress to facilitate the development of federal infrastructure initiatives that can help benefit communities throughout the United States.

New Report on Freshwater Resources

Another item worth touching on from WEFTEC was a session conducted by the Johnson Foundation regarding the release of its report titled, “Navigating to New Shores: Seizing the Future for Sustainable and Resilient U.S. Freshwater Resources.” It was noted that a reliable supply of freshwater is critical for U.S. economic security. The report is the result of six years of solutions-oriented work on U.S. freshwater issues conducted by the Johnson Foundation via its interaction with hundreds of experts representing different sectors and perspectives. Experts hailed from universities, private companies, municipal water systems and other expert professions.

The Johnson Foundation report noted the importance of optimizing the use of available water supplies; the importance of transitioning to next-generation wastewater systems; the importance of integrating the management of water, energy and food productions; the importance of institutionalizing the value of water; and the importance of creating integrated utilities via the agencies and authorities that oversee water, energy, solid waste, land and air resources.

The report critically noted that federal and state agencies will need to revisit regulations and policies that may hinder integration between traditional service areas and institute mechanisms for flexibility that support new ways of conducting business. Most importantly, the report emphasized that the need to re-invent the infrastructure and utility services the American population depends on. According to the report, utilities around the country must now provide integrated services under a common organizational structure that minimizes waste. New business models will need to foster internal innovation, ensure financial sustainability and generate new revenue streams.

Without a doubt, WEFTEC 2014 was a successful and impressive conference event that inspired interesting presentations and dialogues. More importantly, it encouraged attendees to appropriately act back in their municipalities in order to create sustainable water/wastewater infrastructure and service systems that support the ongoing development of the local economy.

Kathy Shandling is the executive director of the International Private Water Association (IPWA) and a frequent contributor to UIM.

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