WEF's membership newsletter covers current Federation activities, Member Association news, and items of concern to the water quality field. WEF Highlights is your source for the most up-to-the-minute WEF news and member information. 

June 2010, Vol. 47, No. 5

Top Story

WEF Members Work To Quench Thirst in Haiti
Members volunteer time and money to provide water and build water infrastructure

Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) members are working to make a difference in Haiti. After a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, WEF individual members and associate members have answered the call to provide safe and reliable water sources to Haiti residents.

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Jack Barker, president of Innovative Water Technologies Inc. poses in front of bottled water supply at SOS Childrens Village, where two water-purifier systems were installed. Photo courtesy of Barker.
Installing Solar-Powered Water Treatment
On March 24, WEF member Jack Barker returned from spending about 6 weeks in Haiti installing solar-powered microbiological water-purifier systems, called Sunspring, for earthquake victims. As inventor of the system and president of Innovative Water Technologies Inc. (IWT; Dumont, Colo.) which produces the system, Barker led the company’s installation team to ensure that the systems were set up and made operational in a timely manner, he said.

The team installed eight systems at hospitals, villages, public schools, and youth camps. Eight additional systems are scheduled for installation, for a total of 16 Sunspring units capable of delivering drinking water to an estimated 160,000 people. The systems have been funded by private donors, General Electric Co. (Fairfield, Conn.), and Pentair Inc. (Minneapolis).

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A water-purifier system at Porte Prince General Hospital serves thousands of Haitians hurt in the earthquake. Photo courtesy of Barker. Click for larger image.
IWT obtained the help of volunteers from Esperanza International (Bellevue, Wash.), which has an office in Haiti, to assist with the installation and maintenance of the systems.“I plan to go back and visit and tour the Sunspring installations regularly,” Barker said. “Our goal is to have the Haitian people trained and certified as installers and maintenance personnel. This can be an economic boost for the local economy.”

The self-contained, solar-powered microbiological water purifier is capable of treating up to 19,000 L (5000 gal) per day and is designed to provide a long-term source of clean water to Haiti residents, operating approximately 10 years, Barker said. The system can treat raw water sources from lakes, rivers, ponds, captured rainwater, and shallow wells up to 27 m (90 ft) deep.  

“Immediately upon my arrival in Haiti, the devastation was obvious, and the need for microbiologically safe drinking water was dire,” Barker said. It took between a week and 10 days for Barker’s team to perform preliminary site assessments and set up for the installations. “It was often tough for us to find access to safe drinking water,” he said. “We often witnessed the locals and relief workers having to drink unsafe water just to survive.”

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Roche Blanc, Haiti villagers watch Tyler Grimes installs a water-purifier system. Photo courtesy of Barker. Click for larger image.
During several of the installations, “we had large crowds of locals and children waiting for the safe drinking water,” Barker said. Groups of between 20 and 100 people could be seen lining up for the clean water.  
Improving Village Access to Water
Another WEF member has been working in Haiti to help improve water and sanitation since 2004. Daniel Marks, junior environmental engineer for Hoyle, Tanner, and Associates Inc. (Manchester, N.H.) works with three different Roman Catholic Church groups, each paired with a church in Haiti, to identify the water needs in the Haiti communities.

Marks performs water quality tests and water-distribution system assessments, and works with a partner who conducts social surveys to learn about water knowledge and sanitation practices, identifying the social needs for installing water infrastructure.

Marks learned about the first church group project in Haiti through a fledgling nonprofit while he was working on a master’s degree at Columbia University (New York). During summer 2004, he traveled to Haiti to perform a preliminary assessment of water resources for the church. After submitting his assessment report, word spread, and two additional church groups asked for his assistance.

The church groups decided to solicit Marks’ help after conducting medical missions in Haiti and deciding to address some causes of illness that doctors had identified as inadequate supply and poor quality of water and lack of sanitation, Marks said. 

Marks has worked for approximately a month in each of three Haitian villages, including Medor, in the eastern mountains; and Leon and St. Jean du Sud, both on the southwestern peninsula. While the villages only sustained minimal damage from the earthquake, “there really isn’t any infrastructure to speak of in these rural areas,” Marks said.

The biological tests showed that most of the drinking water is contaminated, Marks said. “In almost all cases, livestock range directly adjacent to the sources, leaving waste at the spring source,” he said. “All across the areas I have worked are signs that infrastructure development has fallen into disrepair. In addition, water-source-protection strategies are nonexistent, and the local understandings of vectors of contamination are also lacking.”
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Daniel Marks teaches a Haiti resident to tally the MPN biological tests (above) and conducts an interview at an open well (right). Photos courtesy of Marks. Click for larger images.
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Surface springs capped with a collection system are the primary source of water, Marks said. Springs can be located in dangerous areas, and systems have been designed to pipe water to more convenient and safe collection locations, but many of these piping systems are broken. “People will walk however far they need to [in order] to get to the source.” Marks said. “I have seen this range from minutes to hours.”

Villages also have wells fitted with hand pumps that are almost always broken, Marks said. In these cases, people pull off pump heads and dip buckets into the wells. Residents also use the river to wash clothes, “but in a pinch, they will use it to drink,” Marks added.

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Haiti residents use local water for cleaning. Photo courtesy of Barker. Click for larger image. 
Marks’ assessment reports detail the steps needed to provide communities with a consistent and safe source of water. Marks said he hopes the focus on Haiti after the earthquake will help these efforts. Installing water infrastructure requires oversight and maintenance, which depends on education about water and sanitation in the local community, he explained.

“The work that I do extends beyond the boundary of the parish and into the whole community and region,” Marks said. “The technology is easy — we know where the pumps and pipes are needed, where to dig wells — but the tricky part is maintaining them. The key is to involve local people in their own resources and infrastructure.”

Donating Money, Water Treatment Systems
ITT Corp. (White Plains, N.Y.), a WEF associate member, has been responding to the crisis in Haiti on many fronts. Within hours of the earthquake, WEF member Bjorn Von Euler, director of corporate philanthropy at ITT, contacted the company’s partner, MercyCorps (Portland, Ore.), to provide $100,000 for relief efforts in Haiti, he said. ITT also created a Haiti page on its Web site encouraging employee donations. With the company’s matching program, an additional $400,000 was raised for MercyCorps.

More than 100 Haiti residents received aid from an ITT relief team that delivered food, water, medical supplies, and transportation to medical facilities for employees’ family members, an ITT news release says. ITT evacuated six relatives to the United States for specialized medical care.

The company also built and sent five water treatment units to Haiti. The ScanWater filtration units working in tandem with reverse-osmosis equipment are now treating contaminated water and removing salt that was intruding in wells, the news release says.

Another WEF associate member, Parkson Corp. (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), is working with partners to build and install a low-maintenance treatment facility in Haiti. The company hopes to have the new plant designed by the middle of the year and installed late this year or in early 2011, according to a Parkson news release. The company also donated 20% of its annual giving allocations to the Haiti efforts through the American Red Cross (Washington, D.C.).

WEF associate company member Danfoss (Nordborg, Denmark) made monetary contributions to the Danish Red Cross (Copenhagen) and UNICEF Denmark for relief aid immediately after the earthquake in Haiti, said Susan Dimond, marketing communication manager for Danfoss. The company also opened a relief aid account to which employees could make personal contributions for relief work, she added.

Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

Read more about water and sanitation efforts in Haiti in the article, "Restoring Lifelines in Haiti," in the June issue of WE&T

Colocated Conferences Start a Conversation

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From left, Lynne Hamjian, Surface Water Branch chief of the EPA; Paul Brown, executive vice president of CDM; Paul Freedman, president of WEF; Michael Van Valkenburgh, principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.; and Henrietta Davis, vice mayor of Cambridge, Mass. sit on a panel at the colocated conferences. Click for larger image.
Professionals of all kinds gathered in Boston to attend a unique Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) event held March 7 to 10. Interdisciplinary ideas about the sustainable future of water infrastructure were discussed at the event, the colocated Urban River Restoration and Cities of the Future conferences. For one registration rate, attendees could participate in sessions of either conference. 

Sessions and workshops under the Urban River Restoration conference banner focused on the role of revitalized urban waterfronts for both the environmental benefits and the urban population’s benefit. Sessions and workshops under the Cities of the Future conference title focused on how to create sustainable urban infrastructure to meet challenges and work with natural systems that are expected to characterize cities in the future.

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Tom Pedersen, senior vice president and director of sustainability at CDM, speaks at the colocated conferences. Click for larger image.

Tom Pedersen, chair of the Cities of the Future Conference and senior vice president and director of sustainability at CDM (Cambridge, Mass.), explained that the event included a number of impressive qualities, compared to other WEF conferences, primarily the variety of professionals attending. “The most encouraging thing from my perspective is that we had representatives from other constituencies that we typically don’t see at WEF conferences,” he said. These included landscape architects, urban planners, and ecologists.“It was quite interesting to see the engineering community interacting with these other disciplines in a very productive manner,” Pedersen said. After talking with some of the attendees, Pedersen feels that they appreciated this information-sharing across diverse groups of people, he said.

The conference took ordinary wastewater professionals, such as Karen Pallansch, general manager of the Alexandria (Va.) Sanitation Authority, beyond the “pipes and pumps” of an operation to learn about a more “systemic, holistic, and unique approach” to water treatment, she said. “Collaboration [at the conferences] came from the openness of people to ask questions at each session and to talk in groups at the breaks,” she said. “It was really a positive and engaging atmosphere,” she added.

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Van Valkenburgh speaks at the colocated conferences. Click for larger image.
Pallansch attended to get ideas for creating educational demonstrations in her plant as part of its summer science program for children. She got a lot of ideas about how to integrate green technology into water treatment, she said.

The WEF event covered a wide spectrum of issues, such as climate change and urban and brownfield redevelopment, that utilities must consider for the future, said another attendee, Tony Parrott, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. In Parrott’s opinion, the conferences “provided a platform for high-level thinking associated with some of the most difficult challenges faced by utilities, and it did so by providing some examples outside the norm typically presented at utility conferences,” he said.

Parrott was interested in the Cities of the Future conference topics because his district began a Communities of the Future program in 2009. He wanted to learn what others are doing on the topic and express his district’s interest in assisting with the national dialogue about creating communities of the future. “It was helpful to share that information with others and obtain feedback and adjust accordingly,” he said. In addition, Parrott’s district faces combined sewer overflow (CSO) problems and is working to address the problems through innovative solutions. The conferences “provided a forum around realistic applications of large-scale CSO reduction opportunities to solve old problems in new ways,” he said.

“This is a new topic for WEF, and from the sessions, the feedback, and the outstanding networking and conversations, this has to be measured as a real success,” said WEF President Paul Freedman. In his “Catching the Sustainability Buzz in Boston” blog, Matt Reis, WEF managing director of technical and educational services, described the colocated conferences as having a “buzz in the air,” with conversations extending well beyond the sessions.

For more information about the background of the event and topics covered, read the article previewing the event featured in the December 2009–January 2010 Highlights.

Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
From the President: Attracting a New Generation of Professionals

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Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President

Spring is here now, and with it come graduations from most of our high schools, colleges, and trade schools. As many young adults begin their life career pursuits, I ask you to reflect on how many of your children, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends chose clean water as a career? I can tell you the answer: not enough.

Not only do we not have enough family and friends entering the water field, but more so, we have an overall shortage of new professionals entering our field to replace retirees and take on new industry challenges. The reasons are complex, but we are part of the problem. We have undersold the excitement of our profession and its importance. The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) recognizes this challenge and is committed to changing this oversight to attract a new generation of professionals. 

Many of us entered the clean water field inspired by the threats to the environment and public health of the 1960s and 1970s. We saw the problems from untreated wastewater and industrial wastes. We were committed to restoring the health of our rivers and lakes, as well as protecting public health and the health of ecology systems we depend on and value. We were not intimidated by the “ick” factor; in fact, we embraced it. We were inspired by a vision and the technical challenges. We have accomplished at lot since then.

However, beginning in the mid-1980s, the public and youth lost some of that excitement and interest in clean water and wastewater careers; in its place, careers in the computer and business industries were seen as more exciting and important by society. Lost was the appreciation that our profession saved the Great Lakes, and lost was the appreciation that our profession was the greatest contributor to public health in modern times. We had become unrecognized heroes. But times have changed, and as unfortunate as they may be, opportunities face us again such that we can reinvigorate the public appeal for our profession.

Not since the 1960s has water had such high visibility to the public. Barely a week goes by that the newspapers and other media are not leading with a water story. Sometimes, it’s droughts and floods, but other times, it’s pollution from farms and urban runoff, pharmaceuticals or oil spills, and loss of critical services due to pipe ruptures from aging infrastructure. Further, the issues from climate change are less about temperature and more about water, including floods, storms, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and changing ocean patterns.

Popular books, magazine specials, and newspaper features on water now are becoming commonplace, from a book on toilets to a recent National Geographic special issue on water. Fresh, clean water, the key essence central to life, is on the public’s mind daily. We need to capture this interest and persuade new professionals and youth to enter our profession. We need to sell our profession as providing sustainable solutions for water, not just treatment.

Today, the challenges in the water field are diverse, and jobs in our field are not just about designing, building, and operating treatment plants. Today, our fellow professionals not only run treatment plants but also operate laboratories, design wetlands, redesign our cities with green features, create energy from waste, model the restoration of huge ecosystems, conduct research and teach, educate the public, and more.

Our professional ranks involve engineers, operators, all kinds of technicians, biologists, chemists, economists, accountants, and communications majors — you name it. And for every one of those professionals, we have technical challenges that equal and exceed those of many other fields, whether it is creating new analytical techniques to measure and treat new compounds at the nanogram level or developing major new strategies for redesigning our cities and farms.

From an economic standpoint, the opportunities for new careers are abundant, and we will always need professionals to provide clean, safe water. Estimates say that to replace old infrastructure alone, we will have to spend more than a half a trillion dollars in the next two decades, and this barely considers our new challenges. More so, industries have just begun recognizing the critical importance of water to their business models and are now investing heavily in understanding their vulnerabilities and will be investing in ensuring sustainable, high-quality water sources for their operations. Jobs in the water quality field will be there, and this does not even take into consideration the jobs opening as a historical influx of baby boomers is expected to retire in the next 10 years, affecting as much as 30% to 40% of our profession.

WEF has recognized this challenge and addresses it in many ways. First is our commitment to professional and public education on the newest technical issues challenging us today. But more directly, WEF recently partnered with the American Water Works Association (Denver) to produce the new Web site, Work for Water, www.WorkforWater.org. This Web site captures the excitement of our industry and highlights how careers in our profession can meet career goals for many.

Opportunities exist at all levels of education and training. But more so, “working for water” can provide a true sense of satisfaction in contributing to an important need of society — a need that is threatened today — while at the same time have exciting technical and logistical undertakings that can satisfy the intellect and the soul. So I encourage you to visit our Web site. But more importantly, I encourage you to speak out to your neighbors, friends, and family to share the excitement and satisfaction of working for water. 

Paul Freedman, 2009–2010 WEF President