WERF Executive Director Melissa Meeker Discusses Water Sector Future and WERF–WRRF Merger

March 16, 2016

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Melissa Meeker has been announced as executive director of both Water Environment Research Foundation (Alexandria, Va.) and WateReuse Research Foundation (Alexandria, Va.). Photo courtesy of Water Reuse Research Foundation.

Melissa Meeker has been announced as executive director of both Water Environment Research Foundation (Alexandria, Va.) and WateReuse Research Foundation (Alexandria, Va.). Photo courtesy of Water Reuse Research Foundation.

In December, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria, Va.) announced plans to merge with the WateReuse Research Foundation (WRRF; Alexandria, Va.) as well as the appointment of Melissa Meeker as the executive director of both foundations. She said she plans on working to facilitate the merger using her more than 20 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.

Meeker has a broad range of expertise that includes regulatory issues, policy development, and executive management. She has held the positions of vice president of business line management at CSA Ocean Sciences Inc. (Stuart, Fla.), executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and vice president of Tetra Tech EC (Pasadena, Calif.). In addition to business management, she has had the responsibility of overseeing water and environmental restoration policy in Florida. She also has earned a bachelor of science in biology and master of science in environmental resource management.

Meeker was interviewed by Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, about her plans.

  • What do you hope that the merger of WERF and WRRF accomplishes? What are the benefits?

We hope to provide the technical support for a paradigm shift in water management toward resilient systems that integrate wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, and source water as well as other infrastructure such as energy and transportation. The benefits of merging include creating synergies, reducing future water research redundancy, furthering the evolution toward a unified voice for water, and increasing the value for our subscribers by leveraging investments. Our subscribers will now have, in one place, all of the research relevant to the utility of the future that seeks to maximize recovery and deliver fit-for-purpose water. This is a great first step that will immediately deliver value and leverage precious research dollars.

  • What areas of research have WERF and WRRF focused on in the past?

The research portfolios are complementary. They focus on sources of water that were viewed traditionally as waste or too difficult to incorporate into our [drinking] water supplies. WRRF focuses on water reuse and desalination, while WERF focuses on resource recovery and water quality impacts from wastewater and stormwater.

  • What is the anticipated timeline for this merger?

The two foundations have been conducting due diligence to allow the merger to legally take place. Our goal is for the new foundation to be launched midsummer 2016. Contracts, dues, and other items will take some time to evolve, but we are working hard to ensure a smooth transition.

  • What are your goals for the merged organizations?

We have a historic opportunity to expand our portfolio with our merger. I am confident that bringing our two research foundations together will produce new insights and outstanding value to our subscribers. The combined forces of WERF and WRRF will strengthen the value of water that has historically been used only once and provide the scientific and technical basis for communities to move toward sustainable systems that integrate water.

  • How will your background help accomplish these goals?

I have a strong understanding of the challenges faced by both those who set standards and rules and those who have to meet those standards and rules. My past leadership experience in all categories of subscribers should be helpful for understanding the needs of subscribing organizations. I do have a strong science background, but actually I feel it is my water policy experience and ability to forge strong partnerships that will be critical as we move the new foundation forward.

  • What future do you see for the relationship between WERFWRRF and the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.)?

With the merged foundation, WEF will have even more robust tools to advance research-based policy that turns scientific discovery into common-sense laws and regulations for water reuse and resource recovery. The combined foundation also will have greater capacity to help establish the research needs of the sector. The merged foundation will continue a long history of working with other water groups, including the WateReuse Association (Alexandria, Va.), for maximum coordination and impact within the water sector.

  • What do you think are the biggest issues facing the water sector?

There are many points at which we humans intervene in the natural water cycle. We take water for our use; we treat the water before and after use; and we return it to the environment. An emphasis on “One Water” can promote an understanding of how water is constantly used and reused throughout time both in nature and through technology. A “One Water’ concept emphasizes that water quality is our focus, not the history of where the water has been — because it has all been used at some point. This ongoing shift in the way our sector presents water to the public, with the technical support of the combined foundation, will have a positive impact on the public’s understanding of water quality issues in general.

  • Looking forward, what do you think are key areas for water sector research?

As our water challenges become more apparent, we’ll have no choice but to look at things in an integrated way. We have a responsibility as a sector to make sure that when we design or talk about a project, we think about how it fits in the entire system. It’s challenging the way our systems are set up with one agency doing drinking water and one agency doing wastewater, with stormwater fitting in as another issue. We also have water quality and quantity issues. We need to step back and look at it from a much higher level.

  • What future do you see for the water sector and how will your organization play a part?

The combined foundation will offer a research portfolio designed to transfer knowledge in the areas of resource recovery, water reuse, desalination, and stormwater. We will focus on resiliency, public health, ecosystem protection, and intelligent asset management where integrated water approaches and accelerated implementation of new technologies are emphasized.

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