April in Washington Means a Focus on Water

April in Washington, D.C., conjures up thoughts of spring, cherry blossoms in bloom lining the shores of the Tidal Basin, and tourists flocking to the city with cameras at the ready to capture all of the action.

By Vanessa Leiby

April in Washington, D.C., conjures up thoughts of spring, cherry blossoms in bloom lining the shores of the Tidal Basin, and tourists flocking to the city with cameras at the ready to capture all of the action. For those of us in the water industry, April also means Water Week (April 10-16) and for WWEMA, our annual Washington Forum (April 12-14). This year we will be celebrating our 43rd Washington Forum with the theme, Driving Innovation for the Future.

We are excited that we will be building on our connections with other prominent water associations, including the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), and the WateReuse Association, to celebrate Water Week with a series of events and opportunities to highlight the importance of water in our lives. This includes a joint Congressional reception on April 12, a Congressional Technology Exposition at the House Rayburn Office Building on April 13, and a joint regulatory breakfast and roundtable on April 13 where we will gather as an industry to meet with key leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the critical water issues facing us today. The co-location of our meeting also provides the opportunity for “cross-fertilization” as our collective leaderships meet to discuss how to better coordinate our efforts to bring needed, meaningful, and innovative change to the industry.

To know that our efforts to ensure safe drinking water and a clean environment are far from over, we have only to look at the recent lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.; the toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie in August 2014 that shut down the water supply to Toledo, Ohio, leaving 500,000 people without drinking water; and the more recent findings from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the staggering number of potential deaths linked to Legionella exposure via water inhalation pathways. It is clear that as an industry we face many challenges, but we also have the opportunity to use these challenges to better educate the public, regulators, and Congress regarding the importance of safe, clean water and the need to address critical aging infrastructure issues and current and emerging public health threats. We can no longer use outdated methods and paradigms and be confident that we are doing all we can to protect public health and the environment. These times call for revolutionary - not evolutionary - innovation and change. We need our thought leaders to step outside the box and look at new ways of doing business and creating new paradigm shifts that bring real changes in weeks and months, not years and decades.

The last several months have generated an enormous amount of activity. Organizations are quickly pulling together updated outreach and education materials and conducting webinars. Congress is holding hearings and introducing a plethora of legislation aimed at increasing funding for water infrastructure and addressing perceived public education gaps in our current regulatory framework. This is the time to bring our expertise and knowledge together to “ideate” about how we might solve these challenges using new approaches, new tools, and even new expertise from outside our industry.

WWEMA is doing its part to help lay that groundwork and facilitate that dialogue. During the 43rd Washington Forum, we will be hearing from the Virginia Tech Flint Water Study Team about the lessons learned in Flint, Mich., and how we can build on that for the future. We will be hearing about the “circular economy” and how that might transform the future of manufacturing to create a more sustainable environment. We will also hear from leaders in the field such as The Coca-Cola Company, which is implementing sustainability practices around the world to achieve water neutrality, ensuring that this critical resource can be effectively managed for environmental, social, and economic benefits. We will also welcome thought leaders and practitioners who will share their knowledge regarding innovation and sustainability in municipal wastewater treatment, funding, and industrial and commercial applications. We no longer have the luxury to sit back and wait for change to happen - we need to be the leaders Driving Innovation for the Future.

About the Author: Vanessa M. Leiby is the Executive Director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). More information about WWEMA can be found at www.wwema.org. For information about the 43rd Washington Forum, visit www.wwema.org/washingtonforum.php. For information about Water Week, visit www.waterweek.us.

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