From the President: Activating the People–Water Nexus

October 24, 2018

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Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

A few weeks ago, at WEFTEC® 2018 in New Orleans, I had the privilege to become the 2018–2019 president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.). I am deeply honored to be given the opportunity to continue in the long tradition of my predecessors to serve the members of WEF by providing you with the knowledge, connections, and advocacy you need to do your job of protecting the water environment.

During my term, I would like to focus on the People–Water Nexus. This concept is much like the Energy–Water Nexus that describes how it takes water to make energy, and energy to collect, move, store, and treat water. The People–Water Nexus starts with an understanding of how everyone – not just water sector professionals – is connected to water.

People affect water. We degrade water quality, move water from place to place, drain aquifers, and disrupt the water cycle and the climate. Conversely, water affects people. We need it to drink, for sanitation, to grow food, and for transportation. We all are physically connected to water.

We also are connected to water emotionally. If you have gone to the beach, kayaked down a river, sailed on a lake, or sat by a fountain, then you have experienced the draw of water.

The People–Water Nexus also connects us to each other through water. Water brings us together at WEFTEC and through our Member Associations. This nexus brings us together in our communities and homes. Coach a soccer team? Sing in the choir? Care for a family member? Teach night school? Many WEF members also volunteer in the community and are first to lend a helping hand. That is the heart of the People–Water Nexus.

The emotions and feeling of wonder that we get from water reaches into other parts of our lives and connects us to each other. This sense of caring and duty is embodied in the People–Water Nexus. These attitudes and values shape the organizational culture of WEF and drives us to achieve our vision:

“A community of empowered professionals creating a healthy global water environment.”

A wider water sector

Recently, the WEF Board of Trustees revised the organization’s strategic goals to guide us for the next 4 to 5 years. One goal in particular relates to the People–Water Nexus:

“Promote sector-wide action toward development of a water workforce that is diverse and prepared to meet the future needs of the water sector.”

Most organizations and utilities now, or soon will, face a shortage of qualified workers to design, operate, maintain, and manage water treatment, collection, and reuse systems. Additionally, fewer students are entering the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields.

But with crisis, comes opportunity. Our strategic goal calls for developing a workforce that is “diverse.” We intentionally inserted this word because we believe the people in the water sector should mirror the society in which we live and serve. “Diverse” here means inclusion of such underrepresented groups as women, African Americans, and Latino Americans.

Reaching out to these individuals will help us populate the workforce with energized, talented people. It enables us to evolve the culture of the water sector into one that thinks more completely. Without the perspectives and life experiences of all, we run the risk of missing valuable input, creative solutions, and the chance to affect a greater segment of society.

WEFTEC InFLOW

At WEFTEC, WEF introduced a new program called WEFTEC InFLOW — Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water. The goal of the WEFTEC InFLOW is to make opportunities in the waters sector real, exciting, and attainable to students from underrepresented groups.

Through this program, WEF invited 16 African American students from Howard University in Washington, D.C., Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., and the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL to attend WEFTEC. WEF provided registration and four generous sponsors — Arcadis (Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Centrisys (Kenosha, Wis), Global WET (Austin, Texas), and Environmental Technical Sales Inc. (Baton Rouge, La.). — covered the students’ transportation, lodging, and meals.

The students attended many events at WEFTEC to get a better understanding of what careers in the water sector entail. Most importantly, WEF arranged for one-on-one meetings between the students and prospective employers.

I want to thank Trustee Ifetayo Venner for her leadership in making WETEC InFLOW a huge success, one that WEF will repeat at future WEFTECs. I also want to thank WEF staff members Brianne Nakamura, Morgan Brown, Rahkia Nance, and Megan Livak for their incredible enthusiasm. Without their effort, this program still would be just an idea.

While this is just one, small step toward fulfilling our strategic goal of greater diversity and inclusion, it sets us on the path where small steps lead to results. Intentional, positive contact with people who offer different perspectives and life experiences, energizes and activates the People–Water Nexus for positive change.

— Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

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