From the President: Driving Innovation in the Water Sector

Matt Bond, 2011-2012 WEF President

I continue to be amazed by the excitement generated by the new Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) strategic direction. WEF leadership and staff are working to implement the ambitious objectives in the strategic direction, and none is more exciting than our objective to “Drive Innovation in the Water Sector.”

With this objective, we aim to “provide bold leadership for water sector efforts to help communities address challenges and benefit from the value of their renewable resources.” Specifically, we will

  • champion sectorwide initiatives to improve water services through innovative practices;
  • facilitate the identification and implementation of breakthrough concepts to support resource recovery;
  • apply holistic water management approaches to infrastructure development and renewal;
  • inspire and support a movement toward an energy-positive water sector; and
  • link leading research to the practical implementation of innovative technologies and practices.

What great verbs: champion, improve, facilitate, apply, inspire, support, and link! These words describe what WEF does best, which is to bring together the leaders of our industry to solve water problems and capitalize on innovation opportunities. WEF accomplishes this through contributions from an amazing network of volunteers who are experts in the industry. And these accomplishments are facilitated by an awesome and talented staff, and are supported by partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Developing a model energy framework for the water sector

In March, I had the humbling opportunity to participate in a workshop held in conjunction with the Residuals and Biosolids conference in Raleigh, N.C., where nearly 40 international experts discussed how we could advance an energy-positive water sector. Participants discussed best practices in energy conservation and generation around the world and then identified how these practices could be applied at our members’ organizations.

Bond joins other water industry leaders to discuss energy challenges and innovations at wastewater treatment plants in March. WEF photo/Jennifer Chavira

During the workshop, we examined how the Dutch developed a road map to transition the Netherlands’ wastewater treatment plants to water, energy, and nutrient factories by 2030. WEF members from East Bay Municipal Utility District (Oakland, Calif.); Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y.; and Sheboygan, Wis., presented their success stories. We also evaluated a maturity model developed to map progress for improving the North American power distribution grid. We determined that the model would be an effective framework to develop a sustainable energy road map plan for the water sector.

Participants worked to determine the important elements and metrics for this road map and committed to developing a draft for discussion at WEFTEC® 2012, being held Sept. 29–Oct. 3 in New Orleans. We believe this model framework can be applied to other sector innovation areas, such as nutrient recovery. Look for the outcome of this exciting effort to transform our sector’s focus from waste treatment to resource recovery.

Developing innovation

WEF already has taken steps to develop and support innovation. WEF technical committees are tasked with identifying ways to support the new strategic direction and help drive innovation in the water sector. WEF also is working with strategic partners, such as the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria), to identify research needs for innovation. And a utility industry research and development forum has been created to advise WEF and WERF on best practices for utility research, raise the profile of research and development, and better connect with academia.

Watch for an exciting focus on innovation at WEFTEC. At the WEF annual technical conference and exhibition, you will see an innovation pavilion on the exhibition floor featuring interactive space for networking, a theater for presentations from innovation award winners, and an operator ingenuity contest. You also will have the ability to interact with water entrepreneurs and investors, and take advantage of services that match your interests with relevant exhibiting companies. This, coupled with WEF committee meetings at WEFTEC, is the best way for members to connect with the innovators and researchers in our industry.

“Innovation is one of those things that society looks at and says, ‘If we make this part of the way we live and work, it will change the way we live and work,’” said Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway.

Our goal is to change the way we live and work by driving innovation, enabling best practices, and eliminating barriers that exist in our risk-averse water sector. Join us in this exciting endeavor by joining one of WEF’s committees or work groups, or by participating in “communities” within WEFCOM, the new Web communications platform for WEF members. For more information on how to connect with your fellow WEF professionals, contact WEFPresident@wef.org.

Matt Bond, 2011–2012 WEF President

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