Membership Helps 2017 WEF Fellow Become a Successful Leader

April 27, 2018

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Rajendra Bhattarai (right), Environmental and Regulatory Services division manager at Austin (Texas) Water, gives a tour of the utility’s Walnut Creek Treatment Plant. He is collecting a water sample for a tour-group demonstration. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Rajendra Bhattarai (right), Environmental and Regulatory Services Division manager at Austin (Texas) Water, gives a tour of the utility’s Walnut Creek Treatment Plant. He is collecting a water sample for a tour-group demonstration. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Rajendra Bhattarai, a water leader with nearly four decades of experience in the public sector, joined the esteemed ranks of Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellows in 2017. This distinction recognizes Bhattarai’s devotion to the water profession as a WEF member, a commitment that stems from his roots on the other side of the globe.  

Commitment to water starts in Nepal and continues to grow

Bhattarai’s interest in water comes from growing up in a small village in central Nepal that did not have indoor plumbing. “Every household had to use the water carried from a spring outside the village,” he said.  

Bhattarai teaches elementary school students in Austin about wastewater treatment. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Bhattarai teaches elementary school students in Austin about wastewater treatment. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

When his family moved to the country’s capital, Kathmandu, his interest in water continued to grow as he was encouraged to study science and mathematics.  

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Bhattarai recalled two professors who encouraged him to focus in environmental engineering. “Almost all my electives were related to water,” he said.  

Bhattarai went on to earn a master’s degree in environmental health and engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. While studying at the university, he met other professors who inspired him. One professor, Joseph Malina, even urged Bhattarai to join WEF, “which is one of the best things I did in my career,” he said.  

“I feel like I have received ten times more from WEF than whatever I have invested into it,” Bhattarai said. “Through WEF, I have met, networked, and learned from the best minds in the profession. It has broadened my horizons and my imagination.”  

Path to leadership begins with becoming a member

Bhattarai, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) life member and past president of the Water Environment Association of Texas, has added 2017 WEF Fellow to his long list of water sector leadership credentials. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Bhattarai, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) life member and past president of the Water Environment Association of Texas, has added 2017 WEF Fellow to his long list of water sector leadership credentials. Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Bhattarai, a life member, joined both WEF and the Water Environment Association (WEA) of Texas in 1978. Numerous volunteer leadership positions at the WEA of Texas, such as chair of several committees as well as vice president and president-elect of the organization, culminated in Bhattarai serving as president from 2007 to 2008. He also served as a member of the WEF House of Delegates, representing the WEA of Texas from 2010 to 2013.  

“Water shapes life and is so vital for our existence, survival, and progress,” Bhattarai said. “Getting involved in the water sector and WEF is one of the best ways towards contributing to novel solutions to the water challenges we will all face in the future.”  

Bhattarai also has become increasingly involved in WEF on the national level. He served as a member of WEF’s  

  • Technical Program Committee from 1986 to 1991;  
  • Sludge Management Symposia Committee from 1987 to 1991;  
  • Successful Biosolids Practices Task Force from 1990 to 1994; and  
  • Workforce Sustainability Task Force in 2008.  
Bhattarai (front) was part of the WEF delegation that attended Singapore International Water Week 2015. Photo courtesy of Amit Pramanik, The Water Research Foundation (Denver).

Bhattarai (front) was part of the WEF delegation that attended Singapore International Water Week 2015. Photo courtesy of Amit Pramanik, The Water Research Foundation (Denver).

In 1992, WEF awarded Bhattarai the Gascoigne Medal for Wastewater Treatment Plant Operational Improvement. The WEA of Texas awarded Bhattarai the Arthur Sidney Bedell award for service to the association in 1998. 

Participating in WEF and the Water Research Foundation (Denver) when it was known as WERF led Bhattarai to become a member of the WERF Research Council. Eventually, he became chair of the council and then a member of the WERF Board of Directors.   

In 2014, WEF, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA; Washington, D.C.), and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), presented Bhattarai with a scholarship to join other participating members during Singapore International Water Week. He also has spoken at numerous events held by WEF and other organizations and authored many water-sector publications. 

“Raj’s leadership in the industry is well-known across the U.S., and I daresay the world,” said Matt Bond, WEF past-president and WEF fellow, in a letter nominating Bhattarai as a fellow. “[He] is a well-known and accomplished speaker and author, with over 100 presentations and publications on regulatory, scientific, and practical water issues.”

Continuing a legacy in water

In February 2016, Bhattarai (seated, third from left) attends a workshop with other professionals who contributed to the content of WEF’s “The Water Reuse Roadmap Primer.” Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

In February 2016, Bhattarai (seated, third from left) attends a workshop with other professionals who contributed to the content of WEF’s “The Water Reuse Roadmap Primer.” Photo courtesy of Bhattarai.

Bhattarai currently serves as Environmental and Regulatory Services division manager at Austin (Texas) Water. As both a registered professional engineer and board-certified environmental engineer, he works to manage regulatory programs for drinking water treatment facilities and distribution systems, wastewater collection systems and treatment facilities, and biosolids treatment.  

In addition to serving as president of the Texas Association of Clean Water Agencies (Garland) in 2001, 2013, and 2014, he currently sits on the board of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.). 

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

Follow WEF Fellows’ Stories in WEF Highlights

The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Fellows program recognizes the professional achievements and contributions WEF members have made to the preservation and enhancement of the global water environment in practice areas served by the organization. In 2017, WEF bestowed this honor on 11 individuals. See a video featuring interviews of the 2017 WEF Fellows.

Each of these recipients will be featured in future issues of WEF Highlights. Follow these stories with the keyword WEFFellows17.

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