From the President: Collaboration Is Key To Improving Water Industry

June 6, 2013

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Cordell Samuels, 2012–2013 WEF President

Cordell Samuels, 2012–2013 WEF President

Recently, I invited leaders from other water-sector organizations to meet with me and discuss collaboration efforts we could be pursuing. I left this very positive meeting feeling that we had achieved some forward movement.

But while I continue to be very encouraged by these efforts, the industry continues to experience many challenges. There is still too much fragmentation embedded in our sector. However, I do not believe we need only one megaorganization representing the industry, since this could deny a voice to some groups and special interests, which would not be good.

The problem I see is that many groups appear to be doing similar activities, diluting funding available to carry out our individual mandates and confusing those to whom we are trying to communicate. This also damages our credibility, raising the following questions:

  • To whom should stakeholders listen?
  • Are they the best and most informed experts on the topic?
  • Are they communicating on the right topics, in the right way?

I believe that the number of real experts on issues is finite and limited. The approach of the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) has been to have ideas discussed and peer-reviewed. This process is slow but extensive and ensures that we end up with the best minds weighing in on the issues. It also works well and gives us the best documents and talking points. Continued fragmentation could lead to confusion and reduced credibility, negatively affecting these processes in the future.

Also at this meeting, we discussed the role of the operator of the future. I addressed this in my Highlights column “From the President: Creating a Level Playing Field for All.” It has become clear that as our facilities change and begin to move into the future, our operators also must change. And as we move into the future, the need for integrated policy to address these changes has emerged.

Several organizations are dedicated to operator certification, training, and development across North America and the world, but these organizations often are not included in this very important discussion. I have met committed volunteers and professionals belonging to these organizations and been impressed by the level of enthusiasm and excitement they have displayed. Now is the time, at the onset of discussions about the future, to involve these organizations and their volunteers in the discussion.

The challenge we are facing is not a matter for despair but something that can instill the courage needed to bring order out of chaos. Regardless, things will move forward, but not as smoothly as they could if we carefully discuss what has to be done and choose the right vehicle to do so.

We also must be aware that change is necessary and cannot be stopped. “Many hands make work lighter” is an adage I grew up with. We should not reject participation; instead, we should ensure that what we do is performed in an orderly manner.

Cordell Samuels, WEF President 2012–2013

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