In Memoriam: Charles A. ‘Chuck’ Sorber, WEF President, 1992–1993

December 12, 2013

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Charles A. Sorber served as Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) president from 1992 to 1993.WEF archives photo.

Charles A. Sorber served as Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) president from 1992 to 1993.WEF archives photo.

Charles A. Sorber, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) president from 1992 to 1993, died Oct. 28 at the age of 74. Sorber joined both WEF and the Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT) in 1966 and became a WEF honorary member in 1998.

Sorber, professor emeritus in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at The University of Texas (UT) at Austin, served as a member of the WEF Stockholm Junior Water Prize Committee and an active member of WEAT.

In 2005, Sorber received the WEF William J. Orchard Medal for extraordinary personal service to WEF. In 2010, he received the Engelbrecht International Achievement Award for sustained and significant contributions to WEF international activities. He also belonged to the WEAT chapter of the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers.

“His advocacy for global connectivity and his commitment to the strength of our technical programs undoubtedly have left their mark on the Federation,” said Eileen O’Neill, interim executive director for WEF. “Chuck was one of those larger-than-life leaders with a really big presence, but who also could connect with people on a personal level.”

Sorber spoke at WEF's annual technical exhibition and conference in 1992. WEF archives photo.

Sorber spoke at WEF's annual technical exhibition and conference in 1992. WEF archives photo.

Sorber served many leadership roles throughout his career and earned many awards. He began his career by serving in a number of positions with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. He joined the UT System starting at Austin in 1975, serving in a number of academic, research, and administrative positions. Leadership positions included associate dean of the College of Engineering of UT at Austin, president of UT of the Permian Basin (Odessa), and interim president of UT at Arlington. He also served as dean of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.), according to a UT at Austin news article.

Sorber, a registered professional engineer, earned a doctorate in civil engineering in 1971 from UT at Austin. He also was recognized as a Distinguished Engineering Graduate of the UT at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering and was a member of the department’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni. During his career, Sorber authored or co-authored more than 130 papers and reports in the areas of land application of biosolids, water and wastewater reuse, water and wastewater disinfection, and higher education, the article says.

Rajendra P. Bhattarai, WEF member and manager at Austin Water Utility (Austin, Texas), first learned about Sorber through research publications. “In addition to being a first-rate researcher, he was also a wonderful leader, a great university administrator, and a very powerful and inspirational speaker,” Bhattarai said.

Sorber also was an active member of many organizations including American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES; Annapolis, Md.), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE; Reston, Va.), American Society for Testing and Materials (West Conshohocken, Pa.), American Water Works Association (Denver), National Society of Professional Engineers (Alexandria, Va.), National Research Council (Washington, D.C.), the Stockholm Water Symposium (Stockholm, Sweden), and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (Washington, D.C). He also received a number of awards and honorary titles including the AAEES Gordon Maskew Fair Award, Pennsylvania State University (State College, Pa.) Outstanding Engineering Alumnus, and ASCE Fellow, the article says.

Many WEF members remember Sorber’s work with Stockholm Water Prize, Stockholm Industry Water Award, and Stockholm Junior Water Prize.

Sorber (third from left) attended the Past Presidents reception at WEFTEC 2007. WEF photo.

Sorber (third from left) attended the Past Presidents reception at WEFTEC 2007. WEF photo.

“[He] shepherded these programs through their formative years to become premier opportunities for industry pioneers and young people in the study of water environment issues around the world,” said Rhonda E. Harris, WEF member and technical lead at CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.). “These prizes are considered the world’s premier recognition opportunities for those people who are making real changes to help and support the world’s water environment, and it is due to his efforts that WEF is a founder and key supporter,” she said.

WEF member and Stockholm Junior Water Prize Committee member Bjorn von Euler worked with Sorber for more than 20 years, primarily through the Stockholm Water Foundation and Stockholm Water Symposium. “The success that this program has had in the U.S. and in the world can, to a very large degree, be contributed to Chuck’s leadership and personal engagement. He would always challenge the team to go further, plan ahead, but also was the one that kept us in line with realities,” von Euler said. “His dynamic leadership and contributions to water science and cross-organizational collaborations moved the sector forward and resulted in increased awareness and attention to all water-related issues.”

“My fondest memories of him were during the development of the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition,” said Paul Roach, WEF member. “[Chuck] laid the groundwork and trusted his colleagues to spread the messages of our industry.”

“The WEF community has lost a true leader in the water sector.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to know and work with Chuck and have lost a close personal friend,” said Dale Jacobson, past president and treasurer of WEF.

 — Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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