From the President: Spreading the Word about WEF’s Vision and Finding Inspiration

August 17, 2017

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Rick Warner, WEF President 2016–2017

Rick Warner, WEF President 2016–2017

As president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), it’s been an absolute privilege to travel throughout North America and across the world to represent WEF’s interests. This past year, I have had the honor of engaging our members and connecting with our strategic partner organizations.

Developing a vision for the U.S.

Most of WEF’s efforts focus on supporting members’ search for solutions to infrastructure investments and water quality improvements in the U.S. But we also must acknowledge our role and responsibility to support the broader community of water professionals solving global issues.

To meet our Strategic Plan, WEF has crafted Critical Objectives and aligned our resources to create a significant and lasting effect in the water sector. I look at WEF’s vision statement — a community of empowered professionals creating a healthy global water environment — for guidance and inspiration.

In North America, the water sector’s efforts to increase water infrastructure investment, communicate the value of water, and develop a workforce for the future seem underwhelming and disjointed. This often occurs because water infrastructure investment gets lost in our national discourse on other priority funding areas such as health care, education, national security, transportation, and debt service. Political debate regards U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectiveness. And the U.S. lacks a broadly articulated national water policy as well as a messenger capable of communicating the importance of a resilient and sustainable water supply, infrastructure investment, and the economic, social, and health benefits of clean and safe water. While we in the U.S. seem to debate affordability and cost of service, other locations around the world focus the message on water as a basic right for public health and economic security.

International messaging benefits Sustainable Development Goals

The value-of-water messaging of international organizations seems universally aligned and is encouraging. Several international conferences that I attended during the past year shared the common theme of creating lasting solutions to meet the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals. These events included the Korean International Water Week in Daegu, Korea; International Water Association (London) World Congress in Brisbane, Australia; ACOADAL (Cali, Colombia)/Asociación Interamericana de Ingeniería Sanitaria y Ambiental (São Paulo, Brazil) International Congress in Cartagena, Columbia; and Japan Sewage Works Association (Tokyo) Water Reuse Seminars in Tokyo and Fukuoka, Japan.

In 2015, many countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Governments, businesses, organizations, and civil society have started to mobilize efforts to achieve this agenda. It calls for action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere.

Seeing younger professionals’ urgency and resolve to solve global water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges has been truly inspiring. Organizations such as Water for People (Denver) and UNICEF (New York) make incredible efforts to create sustainable water solutions on an international scale. With the willingness and expertise of young professionals to solve big water issues, North America has the resources needed to create a unified water vision.

Making progress toward a unified message for water

I applaud the one water movement championed by the Value of Water Campaign. Our future is brighter with the work of many bright stars leading the conversation in North America. Working together, we can make a difference. I propose that those of us in the U.S. who have lacked a clear, concise, and actionable water vision, rally behind this message and this campaign.

Messaging needs to be supported by an inspirational vision statement to galvanize and align our efforts. A group of water professionals formed a group after attending the Partnering for Impact event in San Francisco. WEF Trustee Claus Homann and Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF; Alexandria, Va.) Chief of Research Jeff Mosher have been working with this group to create a “Shared Vision for North American Water Policy.” More than 35 water leaders with different backgrounds will meet during a workshop this summer to “create a powerful vision for the future of water in North America,” according to the workshop’s goals.

As these water sector veterans gather to develop a vision, a group of remarkable young professionals will gather to attend the first UNLEASH event in Copenhagen, Denmark. The global innovation lab brings together 1000 young professionals from more than 100 countries to generate real, scalable solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Creative and innovative water sector representatives including WEF staff member Jessica Rozek, WE&RF staff member Fidan Karimova, and WEF members Haley Falconer, Brian Shell, Jennifer Walsh, Mel Butcher, Vanessa Borkowski, and Megan Yoo Schneider were chosen to attend. While the water sector in North America has some work to do, it seems our future is in good hands.

I encourage all water professionals to join in helping meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and promote a shared vision for water. Water sector leaders will gather this month for the Shared Vision for North American Water meeting to discuss the topic. I also hope that WEF members will work to focus messaging on the Value of Water Campaign and efforts to create a sustainable supply of clean water for the future.

Rick Warner, WEF President 2016–2017

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