Five Things I Learned at the WWEMA Washington Forum

WWEMA held its 39th Washington Forum in the nation's capital on April 25-26 where leaders in the water and wastewater technology sector gathered to hear elected officials, policy makers, consultants, financial analysts and trade specialists discuss the latest developments impacting the water and wastewater market.

Jun 2nd, 2012

By Dawn Kristof Champney

WWEMA held its 39th Washington Forum in the nation's capital on April 25-26 where leaders in the water and wastewater technology sector gathered to hear elected officials, policy makers, consultants, financial analysts and trade specialists discuss the latest developments impacting the water and wastewater market. The theme of this year's event was "Understanding Our Future and Expectations of Growth." Highlights included:

#1 A Paralyzed Congress

"The Congress is absolutely paralyzed," observed Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, Co-Chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Water Council from Pleasanton, Calif. While not blaming any one party for the paralysis, she did note that we risk losing our high level of health as a country because of our crumbling infrastructure and that we need a national strategy to prevent this outcome. Three components of that strategy should include access to private investment capital by removing the state cap on private activity bonds for local water and wastewater projects; use of alternative delivery methods such as public-private partnerships; and an integrated planning strategy allowing communities to prioritize their infrastructure investments without fear of sanctions.

#2 P3s are Not a New Concept … Ask Boston!

"Some of the nation's first water treatment plants were built in Boston and elsewhere by the private sector before Revolutionary Days," stated Rick Norment, Executive Director of the National Association of Public-Private Partnerships, and there's a stampede of states adopting legislation permitting use of public-private partnerships (P3s). In fact, he noted that you can do partnerships in all 50 states if you look at the local laws. Driving the demand for P3s are diminishing local government budgets and fiscal constraints coupled with growing infrastructure demand and new regulations, creating the "perfect storm". While not a panacea, Norment opined that P3s offer innovative solutions to a community's water and wastewater infrastructure needs.

#3 Men's Underwear is a Barometer of the Economy

Nationally syndicated columnist and author Gene Marks shared a number of indexes he uses for gauging the health of the economy, including Consumer Confidence Index, Dow Jones Economic Sentiment, ISM Purchasing, and most intriguing, the Men's Underwear Index. Originally developed by Alan Greenspan, if men are not feeling optimistic about the economy, they are less inclined to replace worn out garments and defer any unnecessary purchases. The good news is that guys seem to be buying more boxers or briefs these days … a sign of brighter days ahead?

#4 Innovation is the Key

"We can't depend on just spending money to solve our water and wastewater infrastructure problems, we need to innovate," proclaimed Bill Howard, Executive Vice President and Chief Quality Management Officer at CDM Smith. Innovative use of energy such as solar and biogas is one option especially given that wastewater contains potentially 10% of the energy it takes to treat it. Innovative financing such as private activity bonds can help close the funding gap, but educating the consumer on the true cost of providing water and wastewater services is most imperative. Use of innovative technology, including maximizing the efficiency of pumps, can reduce costs significantly as can use of 3D and 4D to reduce the cost of change orders. Alternative synthetic materials such as nanotechnology and alternative delivery systems such as design/build are other ways in which we can better serve our customer at less cost, he observed.

#5 Regulations are Alive and Well

Three program directors in EPA's Office of Water briefed the audience on the status of rulemaking under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. There appears to be no apparent slowdown in the issuance of new regulations governing the nation's water supplies and water resources, according to these policy makers.

Pam Barr, Acting Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water spoke about new developments in arsenic, unregulated contaminants, lead and copper rule, total coliforms, perchlorate, and hexavalent chromium, among others. Jim Hanlon, Director of the Office of Wastewater Management focused on efforts to help communities build and manage utilities more sustainably and seek out innovative technologies to manage ballast water discharges, remove sediment from mountaintop mining, treat produced water from shale gas, reduce nutrients, and combine heat and power to reduce energy demands at plants.

While there were many other lessons learned at this year's Washington Forum too numerous to report in this brief summary, one additional point that resonated among the audience was the fact that "manufacturing is not a dirty word," according to Congressman Don Manzullo, Co-Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Manufacturing Caucus. He challenged the audience to encourage students to go into manufacturing, educating them that manufacturing IS high tech, IS as important a profession as any other, and IS critical to America's economy. He got no argument from this crowd!

About the Author: Dawn Kristof Champney is President of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association, a non-profit trade organization founded in 1908 to represent the interests of companies that manufacture products sold to the potable water and wastewater treatment industry. Its mission is to inform, educate and provide leadership on issues which affect the worldwide water and wastewater equipment industry.

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