As a youth and student, I experienced and observed a lot of turmoil and change. I witnessed the Cuyahoga River burning, witnessed huge advances in technology, and participated in social movements to make the world a better place. So, when I had to choose a profession, it came naturally — I chose what has now become environmental engineering — and when I looked for a professional affiliation, I chose the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.), because I saw WEF as the best source for new ideas and technologies, populated with outstanding leaders championing those ideas and technologies, and people who were making a difference in the environment. Throughout my career, WEF has epitomized these attributes, making a positive impact in providing bold leadership, championing innovation, connecting water professionals, and leveraging knowledge to support clean and safe water worldwide. Hence, I am exceptionally proud now to be your president and grateful for a long association.
|Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President. Click for larger image.|
The position of WEF president is an honor but also a challenge. While we no longer have burning rivers or wastewater spewing from pipes — at least here in the United States — our current problems are more complex, costly, and critical to the future health of society, the economy, and the environment.
We have water shortages from California to Florida and widespread aging infrastructure in desperate need of repair and replacement. We have dead zones in Lake Erie, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. We have ecosystem disruption and the collapse of fisheries. All of these issues were not apparent 35 to 40 years ago. Globally, these problems are similar and often worse. We also have 2.6 billion people in this world who have inadequate access to sanitation and safe, clean water to drink.
My challenge as president is to continue to place WEF and our members in a leadership role in solving these growing water challenges. I view WEF and our members as the water stewards, the caretakers. As you all know, protecting the quality and quantity of our water is much more than just treating wastewater; it is stormwater management, it is watershed management, and it is sustainability. Solutions must include water reuse, energy recovery, product stewardship, reduction of water footprints, and, most importantly, integrated water resource management.
We no longer view ourselves as just wastewater experts, because the lines between water and wastewater and between urban and rural waters have blurred; water is water. Holistic watershed management utilizing integrated water resource management and planning is the only solution. I see WEF and our members as leaders in defining solutions in this new paradigm where we look for integrated watershed solutions.
WEF has a reputation of excellence, objectivity, and expertise. We need to leverage this reputation, partnered with other organizations, to promote better policies. An example is our partnership with the Johnson Foundation (Racine, Wis.) and Duke University (Durham, N.C.), where we are conducting a series of workshops next year focused on defining needed improvements to our U.S. clean water strategies and regulations.
However, our role also extends beyond U.S. borders. Our footprint in the global discussion of water grows each year as we engage strategically with various international organizations. Most recently, WEF helped launch the international Alliance for Water Stewardship focused on setting industry standards for water use and management. We exemplify our leadership by our actions, our expert objective voice, and our partnerships.
Also, I envision WEF members at the center of efforts to reinvent cities and their relationship to watersheds. This has been our historical role, beginning in ancient Roman times, when our professional ancestors built aqueducts. We have been key leaders in urban development for generations and need to continue our leadership role to address modern water issues.
So I challenge us to re-examine our cities as they relate to their watersheds. We need to integrate urban and rural watershed management in order to meet our water quality goals. Almost 90% of our water quality impairments are due in whole or in part to nonpoint watershed sources. To restore our waters, we need to focus on the land. We need to stop wasteful uses of water and promote reuse. We need to promote green urban practices and best agricultural practices as solutions to our pollution and flooding problems.
Green approaches also will make our cities attractive again as vital centers for growth and activity, and make agriculture more sustainable and even profitable. I encourage our members to learn about these and other ideas and technologies and to talk with our new partners at a WEF specialty conference being held in Boston in March 2010, dually titled Cities of the Future and Urban River Restoration.
With climate change, water will take center stage in the decades to come, whether it is with shortages, excesses, allocation, or pollution. Our challenge is to lead society in effective solutions to these problems, which can only be achieved through integrated planning and management. We have technical knowledge and experience, and it is my vision that we use that experience to establish our role as leaders and water stewards. Borrowing from my alma mater’s motto, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), I plan to work hard to ensure that WEF is recognized as the “leader and the best,” for we truly are.