From the President: WEFTEC 2013, the Place to Be

November 25, 2013


Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

I hope you had an opportunity to attend WEFTEC® 2013 in Chicago this October. If you did, you probably shared my sense that WEFTEC was the place to be for people in the water industry, including

  • utility executives sharing stories with their colleagues about professional development;
  • operators presenting their ingenious solutions to troublesome operational problems;
  • venture capitalists seeking investments in marketable technologies;
  • thousands of exhibit floor visitors looking at the industry’s best practices; and
  • thousands more attending technical sessions to deepen their understanding of the issues they face in their water workplaces.

More than 22,000 of us attended WEFTEC, choosing from sessions, exhibits, speakers, and events to create a program that uniquely met our personal development needs and moved us forward in our own professional objectives.

Water professionals register for WEFTEC 2013 in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig photography.

Water professionals register for WEFTEC 2013 in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig photography.

In size, WEFTEC certainly demonstrated that the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is the authoritative source for all things water. It also demonstrated that while big, WEF’s annual conference and exposition remains a quality event, intelligently driven by WEF’s mission. The event featured unique platforms to disseminate information, an arena for leaders to meet and present global perspectives on the industry, and sessions covering many topics.

Innovation Pavilion and Stormwater Congress provide unique platform for information

The Innovation Pavilion offered presentations on award-winning, leading-edge technologies that attracted many attendees including Illinois Gov. Patrick “Pat” Quinn. The pavilion also attracted sponsors including two nonprofit foundations famous for their support of innovation in the water industry — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Seattle) and the Johnson Foundation (Racine, Wis.).

The Stormwater Congress, WEFTEC’s first conference within a conference, clearly filled an unmet need among stormwater professionals for a platform that provides technical sessions, exhibits, and networking opportunities. More than 500 people attended, many from municipal public works areas who never had attended a WEFTEC event before.

WEFTEC offers place for leaders to meet and present ideas

Leadership Day allowed Member Association (MA) leaders to renew the beneficial discussions that energized meetings during the WEFMAX 2013 meetings. The new agenda continued the focus on issues and solutions MA leaders share that were popular during the spring meetings, proving that the cooperation and creative ideas sparked during WEFMAX do have legs.

The Global Water Leaders session provided an international perspective on water challenges from San Francisco to Perth, Australia, to Singapore. We learned that geographic distance is not a barrier to voicing ideas and transferring knowledge about best practices for conservation, infrastructure renewal, and public outreach.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced the development of the world’s largest phosphorus recovery facility in the Global Center at WEFTEC 2013. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig photography.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced the development of the world’s largest phosphorus recovery facility in the Global Center at WEFTEC 2013. Photo courtesy of Oscar Einzig photography.

Two influential leaders also made water announcements at WEFTEC. We heard Gov. Quinn tell the Opening General Session audience that “water defines us,” and declare October “WATER’S WORTH IT” month in Illinois. In the Global Center, a central hub for international business opportunities among representatives from 86 countries that attended WEFTEC, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced a global initiative happening locally. He discussed the development of the largest phosphorous recovery facility in the world at the Metropolitan Water District of Greater Chicago.

Range of topics covered at WEFTEC with many available online

More than 100 well-attended sessions shared lessons learned about energy, nutrient management, reuse, green infrastructure, instrumentation, regulations, asset management, and communications, to name some examples.

WEFTEC demonstrated WEF’s commitment to the strategic objectives that are necessary to sustain the water resources recovery industry and all of its members: drive innovation, enrich the expertise of the profession, and increase awareness of the value of water.

What about WEF members who could not attend WEFTEC?

Fortunately, technology makes it possible to share the value of WEFTEC well beyond the confines of McCormick Place in Chicago. The Opening General Session was live-streamed. Videos of many of the events, including the Operations Challenge competition, are available online. And many of the technical sessions are available on the WEF website at WEFTEC OnDemand.

Keeping up with the industry’s learning curve

One of our challenges is how to deliver education and training to a wide audience that may not be able to travel to the same place at the same time. New technologies and new practices needed to manage population growth, increased pollutant loads, climate change, and new regulations will require education and training. And new members entering our workforce as baby boomers retire only add to the number of people who will need traction on this industry learning curve.

WEF’s specialty conferences, presented each year in different venues around the country, provide part of a solution, but there still are barriers to participation. WEFTEC and the specialty conferences produce a tremendous amount of quality educational content, and WEF continues to study the best way to make that available to members. Promising help for the industry lies in WEF’s online learning, which each year adds capabilities to deliver education on-demand that provides necessary professional development and certification. Increasing that capability will be a focus during the coming year. Another focus will be evaluating how we can package that great quality content and make it available to MAs for their professional training missions.

So, if you didn’t get to WEFTEC 2013, I hope you access some of the online sessions. And if you did attend, I’d be interested in hearing what was special about it for you. Contact me with your experiences at

Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

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