Clean Water Success: The Future Depends on Us
Posted June 13, 2012
Following are excerpts from a talk given by Alexandria Renew Enterprises General Manager and WEF Board of Trustees member Karen Pallansch at a May 24 scholarship awards lunch hosted by the Federal Water Quality Association in Washington, D.C.
According to the Center for Disease Control, one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century was the understanding of the importance of excellent water sanitation in our world. Starting in the early 1900’s and continuing over the next several decades, engineers and scientific professionals, with nothing more than a #2 pencil, graph paper and slide rule, developed methods to clean the water made dirty by each and every one of us, and they found ways faster and more efficient than nature alone could accomplish.
But those professionals faced huge implementation challenges – a burgeoning population whose waste could not be contained by the limited technology available back then. The Potomac River, often referred to as our “nation’s river,” was cited as a public disgrace in 1970.
Surprisingly, Congress helped turn things around. By making sweeping amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 and overriding a presidential veto, they enacted the landmark and visionary Clean Water Act that has produced the safest, most reliable system of water in the world. And they audaciously dedicated tens of billions of dollars to invest in related technology and infrastructure.
And this happened in large measure because our leaders, our industrial base, and our citizens from the biggest cities to the smallest communities understood the value of clean and safe water …because it was something that was lacking in so many parts of our country. Our leaders had the vision to see that our nation’s continuing social and economic success hinged on the cleanliness of every precious drop of water within our boundaries. It was a great time to become a water professional.
Fast forward to today, the 21st century and beyond. Clean and safe water abounds in our country. The Potomac River is haven to water sports of all kinds, as well as a well- known spot for local fishermen to spend a lazy afternoon in the peace and solitude of its beauty.
Turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, go to a restaurant, grocery store, or grab a coffee… all of these companies and the jobs they bring succeed because of a reliable source of clean water that we as water professionals provide. That represents the foundation of the lives we live today, and a challenge to our future success.
What is our vision for the next century of clean water? In my mind, it can’t be a repetition of our past activities or rely on past successes. Instead, it is being led by award winners like you… and risk takers in our profession who recognize that we actually renew our little planet with each drop of water cleaned and returned to it.
Like the sanitary engineers of the past, we must embrace innovation, question conventional wisdom, engage in thoughtful and respectful discourse, and always stay curious.
A talk about the future must include social media. I think we need to rely much more heavily on the “social” element of that statement – not the electronic gadget element. A computer can’t feel… it can’t share the joy of a child’s first swimming ribbon… it can’t embrace the companionship of friends sharing that perfectly brewed cup of Joe at the local coffee bar… it can’t touch a heart the way a family dinner warms our very souls. And there is not one of those images that isn’t totally dependent on clean water.
Our water story isn’t a cliché, and it can’t be relegated to a 30-second sound bite or 140 characters. It’s about passionate people recreating and renewing their environment through clean water and the technologies used to make it that way.
Each of us is part of a success story of epic proportion – and one that isn’t even to the middle chapters! Let your voice and your vocation be part of the successful story of water for our next century.
Again, congratulations and may success follow you in all of your life’s endeavors. Thank you.