The Industry Trend-Total Water Management

The dividing line between water and wastewater in the municipal industry is rapidly disappearing because of increased attention to the water cycle...

by Karen DeCampli

The dividing line between water and wastewater in the municipal industry is rapidly disappearing because of increased attention to the water cycle and the reuse of treated water for many purposes, including potable.

Yet a question posed several years ago remains unanswered:

Will the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) seriously consider a proposal to adopt a joint national technical exposition and conference to reflect total water management?

A strong rationale exists to support the idea that a single water conference is in the best interest of industry stakeholders. A joint water conference could actually enhance the reputation of each organization and continue to support the needs for financial growth for each organization.

Background Information

Each year during the month of June, the AWWA organizes ACE, an annual technical conference and exposition focused on drinking water treatment technology and management. Approximately four months later, WEF conducts WEFTEC, a similar annual technical conference and exposition focused on wastewater treatment technology and management.

Here are some thoughts to consider...

  • Technologies that previously were only employed for water treatment are now being applied in wastewater treatment and visa versa.
  • Growing demand for water resources has caused an increasing reliance on reclaimed water for municipal and industrial applications. Both WEF and AWWA participate in water reclamation, yet neither has clear domain over this market.
  • Industry professionals, seeking greater opportunity and market diversification, often participate in both national conferences.
  • In other countries, the distinction between water and wastewater has all but disappeared as global managers search for total water solutions.

Emerging trends are challenging the viability of two national conferences

Because of these issues, the drinking water and wastewater treatment conferences are becoming more similar than different. Since most water environment concerns and technology is now appropriate to both markets, we find ourselves displaying the same equipment at both shows to many of the same customers. We ship equipment displays and personnel to AWWA ACE in June, and then repeat the process in October for WEFTEC.

In today’s economy, and because of the advent of the Internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult for equipment suppliers to justify the expense of supporting multiple tradeshows. This is not difficult to appreciate once one recognizes the cost to warehouse, ship, and install and dismantle equipment for these major productions. In fact, the major revenue to the trade organizations - the cost that exhibitors pay to the organizations for the floor space - is insignificant relative to the costs of: shipping, drayage, and labor for show displays; travel, housing, and meals for employees attending the tradeshow; hospitality events; and the opportunity cost of diverting many of our best sales, marketing, and technical employees from their core activities.

The win-win solution: a joint annual conference

A joint annual conference is a win-win solution for manufacturers, the associations, and its constituents for the following reasons:

1. A single conference could be organized to be revenue neutral to both the AWWA and WEF. The equipment manufacturers might be willing to pay more for exhibit space (joint income to WEF and AWWA) for a joint conference because the additional cost most likely would be offset by the savings in the adjunct costs of exhibiting and attending two separate shows.

2. A precedent has been set for joint AWWA and WEF conferences. For several years AWWA and WEF have successfully convened joint specialty conferences and AWWA and WEA sections are holding joint conferences at the state and regional level. The successful planning, promotion, and execution of these joint conferences confirms that the two organizations are capable of working together. It’s only a matter of scale to take the next step to a joint annual conference.

3. The technical program could be arranged into modules. To satisfy conference attendees with a desired market focus, the technical program could be segmented into drinking water, biosolids management, biological nutrient removal, disinfection, water reuse, emerging technologies, and so on. The technical program might be extended to a week in length to cover total water management. Those interested in only one segment would not be obliged to stay for the duration of the conference. The exhibits could be available throughout the entire week. The time that attendees and manufacturers spend at the proposed joint conference and the revenues accrued to AWWA and WEF would be the same as two separate conferences, but the ancillary costs to exhibitors would be significantly reduced.

4. A joint conference would generate a more critical mass and a significant voice for the industry. Attendance at a joint conference would likely exceed 20,000 and enhance the visibility, prestige and political influence for our industry.

5. A joint conference would appeal to a potentially untapped international market. Consider that an international professional seeking information on water treatment technology may not differentiate between “drinking water” and “wastewater.” The cost of travel to two conferences in North America might be prohibitive. By holding a joint conference, we may be exposing North America to a growing segment of the world market that can or prefers to travel to just one show.

6. Neither AWWA nor WEF would lose its identity, significance, or prestige as prominent associations. On the contrary, a joint conference is a sign of strength and solidarity towards the water industry and total water management. The identity of each organization would be preserved through the continuance of its publications, educational materials, specialty conferences, member associations, and governance. Attendance at specialty conferences would likely flourish for those seeking an application niche-based technical focus. These conferences could become a significant revenue source for both organizations.

7. A joint conference would create an event that would squarely position AWWA and WEF as the Stewards of the Global Water Industry. As populations increase and the world’s clean water supply continues to diminish, a greater emphasis is being placed on wastewater reclamation, potable water production from marginal quality sources, desalination, and enhanced nutrient removal to protect the watersheds. These applications require advanced technologies that do not fit conveniently into the categories of drinking water or wastewater treatment. Since there is currently no organization acting as the global water steward, this is an opportunity for AWWA and WEF to accept the responsibility.

8. By forming a single conference, AWWA and WEF would demonstrate that they understand and empathize with the economic realities of their constituents.

Let’s face it. The world’s water infrastructure needs to be updated, expanded, or in some parts of the world, built! Federal funding has been reduced. Manufacturers are faced with quality and operational process regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley, manufacturing and construction costs are escalating, many engineering firms are under staffed. Justifying the expense of supporting two separate tradeshows where there is significant overlap in purpose is becoming increasingly challenging. Not just for exhibitors - but for all industry stakeholders. Both organizations should be urged to explore the idea of a joint conference.

Let’s not wait until we reach the point where economic constraints force us to select one tradeshow over the other.

Let’s put a plan in place to address the changes now. Because conference venue commitments might be secured for the next three years or so we won’t be able to make a change for a few years...but what we can do is to begin planning now for the future.

About the author:

Karen DeCampli is Director of the North America Municipal Market for Siemens Water Technologies Corporation, based in Warrendale, Pennsylvania. She serves as a member of the WWEMA Board of Directors.

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