By Kristi Steiner, Engineer at Clean Water Services

We all have a very intimate relationship with water, which is a bit scary if you think about it because we have a fundamental dependence on it for our survival. Look around you, wherever you are; nothing you see would exist without water. Let that sink in.

Each year, AWWA and WEF Young Professionals (YPs) in the Pacific Northwest have the opportunity to participate in two Summits, one on a national level and one on our regional level, that are aimed at building knowledge of key industry issues (e.g. sustainability, innovation, resiliency) and ‘soft’ skills (e.g. leadership, communication) that help prepare us for the challenges we face each day at work and at home. In recent years, the Summit programs have been tied together by an underlying concept of One Water, which calls attention to the need for us to manage our water in a more holistic, sustainable way rather than focus on management of individual components of the cycle. It boils down to the fact that we have only a finite amount of water on this planet and a growing number of people, not to mention other plant and animal species, that this finite resource must provide for.  Addressing the issue requires us to hit the reset button on our brains and shift how we think about our water cycle. NOT an easy task.

At the 2018 WEF/AWWA YP Summit in San Antonio, TX, the most impactful example of the One Water mindset, for me, came from a discussion on resiliency. Yvonne Forest, Deputy Director of the Department of Houston Public Works, shared her moving experience with Hurricane Harvey and the City’s response to the devastation the storm left in its wake. The City had an emergency response plan in place and qualified people who wanted to help, but after the storm, there was no way to provide the basics for the mass of human resources they needed. Responders needed shelter, but homes and hotels were flooded. Where would they be housed? They needed fresh water and food, but there was a limited supply of both with no easy way to get more. How would they be nourished? Transportation, well, you see how quickly the situation could spiral downward. Vital infrastructure from all facets of the water industry was impacted, and it took all available resources working together as one to get the City back on its feet.

Disasters have a way of breaking down the traditional divides between potable water, wastewater, stormwater, groundwater, etc. They bring to light a problem that requires all sectors to work together to achieve a common goal, and that, I realized, is what One Water is doing for our industry - bringing forward a common goal to unite and drive our industry in a positive direction. No water is new water, and it is on our shoulders to help people understand, in a palatable way, that the water flushed down the toilet in the community upstream of your own is likely the same water coming out of your tap. In between that upstream toilet flush and the downstream twist of the sink faucet handle, there is A LOT that happens to make water safe for human use, and it requires work from all sectors of the water industry: wastewater treatment, watershed management, stormwater controls, potable water treatment and distribution, conveyance back to treatment plants, just to name a few.

Six months later, I found myself at the Pacific Northwest YP Summit in Vancouver Washington, where Mark Jockers, Clean Water Services Government & Public Affairs Manager, hit on a different but equally important issue: public perception. While our industry may now be acknowledging the importance of One Water, the more practical issue is that the general public must be on board for a change to happen. What better way to approach that conversation than through beer? More specifically, beer brewed from wastewater. Mark used the story of Clean Water Services’ Pure Water Brew and the national Pure Water Brewing Alliance (the Alliance), a group of utilities, brewers, engineering firms, and technology companies involved in brewing beer with recycled water, to show how important public perception is to a paradigm shift in how we approach our water. The Alliance has been successful in driving policy change and helping people understand and believe in today’s technology, which affords us the ability to take wastewater and treat it to standards the exceed normal drinking water standards.

It is an uphill battle to change public opinion and perception, but at the end of the day, if we are to support a booming population with a finite supply of a life-critical resource, we have to open our minds to new ways to ‘borrow’ water from its natural cycle while minimizing impacts to other species that also rely on it for sustenance. It may be the most expensive-to-produce pint you’ll ever enjoy in your life, but it’s a small price to pay for a life-changing brew. 

Registration for the 2019 YP Summit is now Open!

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YP Connections offers information on career development; provides tools, tips, and resources; and includes news from WEF and MA young professionals committees.

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