New Partnerships in the Making at WEFTEC 2013

For some, WEFTEC 2013 came and went ? another major water conference. For others, WEFTEC 2013 was truly a unique and distinct experience. Hosted by the City of Chicago at McCormick Place, this year?s show attracted a record number of attendees. Specifically, there were more than 22,500 registered attendees as well as 950-plus companies that contracted for exhibit space. As a result, WEFTEC 2013 has become recognized as the best-attended conference in WEF?s 86-year history.
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According to Eileen O?Neill, interim executive director of WEF, ?WEFTEC has evolved over the past 86 years, but it continues to demonstrate WEF?s unfailing commitment to serving the needs of the water profession. The event is carefully designed to offer a personal experience that can be customized for individual professional growth, which ultimately supports and contributes to the overall success of the entire water sector.?

Prominent Introductions
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WEFTEC 2013 opened up with a special welcome from the Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. The opening session also included inspiring remarks from WEF President Cordell Samuels as well as the best-selling author and self-proclaimed agent for social change, Kevin Carroll, who challenged WEFTEC attendees to tap into their sense of childhood play as a means of better addressing creativity and innovation when it comes to problem solving within the water sector.
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More importantly, the opening morning of WEFTEC included a unique and insightful water leaders session entitled ?The Future of Cities and Water: Insights from Great Water Cities.?? The session opened with an enthusiastic welcome from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who thanked attendees for their dedication and announced a 50-year, $50 million ?greener, cleaner? initiative that will improve floodwater management in Chicago.?

The mayor?s remarks were then followed by an impressive panel discussion of national and international senior water executives, moderated by G. Tracy Mehan III of The Cadmus Group and a former assistant administrator of the Office of Water for the U.S. EPA. The panelists ? leaders from Singapore?s PUB, San Francisco?s Public Utility Commission, Perth Australia?s Water Corporation and GE Power & Water ? all emphasized the vital importance of reaching out and listening to their communities as well as actively seeking out collaborative opportunities in order to continue the learning curve when it comes to the continuous innovations for sustainable water management. According to one panelist, it was noted that ?we have to stop being engineers with answers and change to listening, which isn?t easy.?

As in past years, WEFTEC 2013 involved an extensive collection of workshops, seminars and technical sessions for all delegates and attendees. Sessions focused on topics such as: facility operations and maintenance; stormwater management; utility management; water reclamation/reuse; municipal wastewater treatment process/design; and industrial issues/treatment technologies. Most were well attended but there appeared to be greater interest by attendees to participate in some of the outside programs.

While the collection of workshops and technical sessions did not particularly generate consistent enthusiasm by attendees, the notable sessions specifically designed for utility leaders became a hot attraction (in addition to the various site tours). There was a ?hot topics? breakfast program that showcased presentations from Kimo Klippen, chief learning officer at Hilton Worldwide as well as George Hawkins, general manager at D.C. Water and Sue Murphy, CEO of the Water Corporation in Perth, Australia. These four individuals discussed the importance of achieving a top-functioning water/wastewater system to effectively service their municipality and/or corporate operations.

There were also a number of roundtable discussions as part of the utility leaders and managers problem solving sessions that focused on topics such as branding your utility, how to get technology to work for you, workforce issues, finances and rates, overall system planning and infrastructure. Roundtable leaders included Tyler Richards, deputy director of engineering and technical services, Gwinnett County, Ga.; George Raftelis, chairman, Raftelis Consultants Inc.; Biju George, deputy director, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati; and Mike Sweeney, deputy executive director, Toho Water Authority, Kissimmee, Fla. These roundtable discussions offered attendees a unique perspective on utility management and often became intense.

Global Water Perspectives
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What became most notable at WEFTEC this year were the various side events such as the opening of the WEFTEC Global Center by Illinois Gov. Quinn. Delegation from more than 20 countries attended WEFTEC this year. In addition to arranging critical one-on-one meetings for members of these international delegations, the center hosted a collection of presentations that addressed topics such as financing exports, the wastewater sector in central Europe, an overview of the water industry in Spain, water efficiency and climate change, and the strategy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when it comes to water, sanitation and hygiene.?

The Global Center also served as host to Robert Kennedy Jr., who spoke about the crucial role played by the water treatment sector when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of nutrients on the planet. According to Kennedy, ?nutrient pollution is one the greatest challenges facing the country?s waterways.? He used his presentation to announce the largest nutrient recovery project in the world using the Ostara advanced nutrient recovery technology at MWRD?s Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Ill.

WEFTEC 2013 also showcased WEF?s inaugural Stormwater Congress. This program focused on the notion that stormwater and wastewater, while separate topics, follow parallel and overlapping paths. Changes in the water sector, such as integrated planning, reflect the growing connection between stormwater and wastewater on the regulatory as well as programmatic fronts. The Stormwater Congress also included a separate Stormwater Pavilion (part of the WEFTEC exhibit area) which featured a new documentary on green infrastructure as well as a review of stormwater and wet weather products.

There were also numerous notable specialty events that ran in conjunction with WEFTEC including morning breakfast roundtable discussions hosted by select companies like GE and Siemens, as well as a special morning program hosted by the Canadian government to promote U.S. water-related opportunities for Canadian companies.

The GE breakfast event focused on a review of new initiatives being pursued by the company such as LEAPprimary Technology, an innovative primary treatment technology for use with GE?s ZeeWeed membrane bioreactor (MBR) and LEAPmbr systems. LEAPprimary reduces overall energy usage, costs and physical space requirements combining separation, thickening and dewatering of primary wastewater solids into one compact high-performance unit. At the breakfast, the company also discussed the launch of Pump Station Appliance which is positioned as a purpose-built solution to provide connected control and monitoring for rural wastewater facilities.??

At the Canadian side event, presentations were made by representatives from select private companies, as well as the City of Chicago along with Canadian Consul Anne Charles and Canadian Trade Commissioner Ann Rosen, both based in Chicago at the Consulate. This event was designed to provide information to Canadian companies about water infrastructure project opportunities in the United States. The side event included a series of short one-on-one meetings between Canadian and American companies to assess collaboration opportunities in both United States and Canada. It is worth noting that a few Brazilian water companies also participated in this breakfast event.??

Within the exhibit hall at WEFTEC, more than 30 Ontario-based companies were represented, including WaterTAP (Water Technology Acceleration Project). WaterTAP was established last year as part of the Ontario Water Opportunity Act to help grow globally competitive companies and raise the international profile of Ontario as a global center of excellence for water technologies. In catching up with Brian Mergelas, CEO of WaterTAP, the following was re-enforced: ?We recognize that the U.S. represents an important market and is a critical first step in exporting Ontario-based water technical solutions around the world.?
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One last side event worth noting was the China Wastewater Opportunities Forum that was presented by Cornerstone China Advisors. The full-day program involved municipal leaders from China as well as Chinese investors, engineers and water equipment procurement companies. The program also embraced American water technology companies focused on projects involving municipal, industrial and produced water activity. The forum essentially offered an opportunity for Chinese attendees at WEFTEC to learn about advanced western wastewater technology companies that have products suited for the China market. The Chinese Consulate?s Science?& Technology attach?,?Mr. Xu Hai, delivered the opening remarks of the forum. He emphasized the ?estimated U.S. $850 billion that has already been allocated for improving China?s scarce and often polluted water supplies.?
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WEFTEC 2013 was certainly a unique experience with an extensive international flavor. With all the side events in play, along with its own collection of technical sessions, WEFTEC has become a conference program clearly valued by all attendees who were present. More importantly, it served as a door opener for new potential partnerships ? both in the United States and around the world.

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

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