AWWA?s Annual Conference Reflects Industry Commitment

AWWA's Annual Conference

When a group of men concerned about public health first got together in 1881, their intent was to create a platform for information exchange regarding possible source water contamination. Little did they know, that meeting would mark the beginning of what is now the oldest and one of the most prominent water organizations in the world.

This month, an estimated 11,000 water professionals will convene in Boston, Mass., for the American Water Works Association?s (AWWA) Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE14). Attending the association?s annual conference is nothing new for people in the water industry. Perhaps for some, attending each year has turned into somewhat of a formality. But examining a bit of AWWA?s rich history and how the association has evolved over the last 130 years provides some insight into the importance of what water industry professionals work to achieve. Additionally, examining recent trends at ACE is a fair measure of the direction the industry is headed in.

AWWA: A Brief History

To offer a brief history summarized nicely through AWWA records, the mid- to late-1800s saw the United States ? and many other parts of the world ? dealing with serious public health issues. Among those were diseases such as Cholera and Typhoid Fever, which were eventually found to be linked to contaminated water supplies.

By 1881, outbreaks that were still occurring were heavily focused in the Midwest United States. In response, 22 water service providers from several states organized a meeting at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., adopting a resolution to streamline the process of information sharing regarding the management of water works. Among their goals was the idea of educating the public on water supply problems and promoting a spirit of cooperation between consumers and suppliers in solving these problems. The AWWA was born and the meeting held by that group is recognized as the association?s first conference.

Today, AWWA is internationally recognized and has approximately 50,000 members who work to provide solutions to improve public health, protect the environment and strengthen the economy. Despite significant growth since the 1800s, many of AWWA?s main initiatives are still prevalent, such as advancing knowledge of the design, construction, operation, water treatment and management of water utilities and developing standards for procedures, equipment and materials used by public water supply systems. AWWA Immediate Past-President Charlie Anderson says one of the biggest evolutions in AWWA has been in its outreach to multiple sectors of the industry.

?In its earlier years, AWWA was really dominated by the civil engineering profession,? Anderson says. ?Now it?s well diversified in terms of skill set. We have scientists, business disciplines, public information disciplines and public officials not just attending (ACE) but contributing to the conference. The diversification of AWWA has been striking.?

Professionals in the water sector looking to expand their knowledge and network with industry peers still tap the educational reach of AWWA and the annual conference for information.

ACE14 Boston

From June 8-11, thousands of attendees will gather at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center for ACE14. The event will feature several hundred expert presentations and an exposition of more than 500 companies showcasing the latest innovations in water technology. This year, the conference is sponsored by Platinum Sponsor Badger Meter; Opening General Session Sponsor HomeServe; Gold Sponsor Neptune Technology Group; and Bronze Sponsors AECOM, Arcadis and CH2M Hill.?

One of the highlights this year will be at the Opening General Session on Monday, June 9 at 9 a.m., when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will deliver the opening keynote. Giuliani?s address is expected to cover his experience as a two-term mayor of America?s largest city and his insights on the myriad of challenges facing municipal leaders today. According to AWWA, his remarks will also delve into security concerns facing communities and address the risk facing America?s water and wastewater infrastructure, while inspiring the water community to take on the challenge of leading U.S. utilities down the road to infrastructure renewal.

ACE is also known for its popular competitions in the exhibit hall, such as the Pipe Tapping Contest, Top-Ops, Meter Madness and the Best of the Best Water Taste Test. Pipe tapping features teams racing the clock to drill into a cement-lined, ductile iron pipe to install a tap, while Meter Madness features competitors who must assemble a water meter from a bucket of parts.

Technology on Display

One of the biggest trends evident at ACE in recent years is undoubtedly the abundance of new technology being displayed in the exhibit hall. With many municipalities across the United States struggling to fund capital improvement projects, utility managers are using whatever means necessary to improve operational efficiency. Implementing new technology has been that answer for water/wastewater utilities, and software such as GIS and SCADA, for instance, help to streamline a utility?s information sharing among multiple entities. Smart metering, meanwhile, has transformed how utilities track customer usage. Companies are also developing revolutionary technology for assessing pipelines and detecting leaks, making it easier for a utility to pinpoint water loss faster and easier, thus saving time, money and conserving water.

?I think one of the biggest evolutions [of ACE] has been in the technology,? Anderson says. ?You look at where we were at when I came into this profession in 1972, versus where we are now and we?re light-years ahead. There are so many benefits to the technologies that we have available for our utilities that our service providers have to assist them.???

It is at ACE where people come to learn about these tools available for improving efficiency, through either the hundreds of technical sessions provided or the wealth of information that can be obtained in the exhibit hall. John Donahue, AWWA president-elect, says that was true even for him when he began attending AWWA?s annual conference.

?When I joined AWWA, I had just taken over a new job and was pretty young for the position I was holding,? says Donahue, who will officially take over as AWWA president during the annual Gavel Passing Ceremony at ACE14. ?I took over a job as superintendent of water and wastewater for a medium-sized utility, and I was only 27 at the time. So getting involved in AWWA was my way of getting familiar with other people in the industry and learning more about my trade.

?Technology has been evolving for a long time. I?ve seen new types of equipment for metering, treatment devices even before the electronic age. But the whole information age has been quite an evolution for our industry and you see it right there in front of you when you go into the conference.?

The Big Picture

When looking at the growth and evolution of the annual conference, AWWA leaders agree there can be several parallels drawn between trends at the conference and the progression of AWWA, and these are evident many of the association?s current initiatives.

Recently, the AWWA has focused its core agenda on several initiatives, including a strategic plan to grow the international outreach of the association while also restructuring its outreach and communication within the United States and North America. Many of these efforts have been spearheaded over the last few years by the current leadership makeup of presidential officers Anderson, Donahue and current AWWA President Jim Chaffee. Another initiative for the three has been improving business relationships between the various AWWA sections and the national body, an initiative started by Anderson during his time as AWWA president.

The AWWA is also working on a program in partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers Without Borders ? a nonprofit organization that supports community-driven development programs through partnerships for sustainable engineering projects. The program will allow the AWWA to work with ASCE and EWB to pull teams together on a volunteer basis to assist underserved communities in the United States to help solve water issues and improve sustainability.???

?We do a lot outside of the U.S. in underdeveloped nations to help people who don?t have good water,? Anderson says. ?This will give us the opportunity to do the same domestically.?

AWWA continues to be one of the premier organizations in the water community, and the annual conference provides an ideal outlet for peer communication and collaboration. For more information on ACE14 and all the activities and events planned, visit

?Now, there?s a much more visible interest and push in developing sustainable utilities and doing rational business planning for the long term,? says Anderson. ?And it?s understandable. The water utility provides a service that really is the underpinning of the economy of this nation.?

Andrew Farr is associate editor of UIM.

*Above photo courtesy of the American Water Works Association. ?? ?

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