What drew you to a career in the water industry?
I was trained as a chemist and took a course in environmental chemistry before it was fashionable to do so. When I finished college in 1971, my first job was with the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Utility Operations Bureau. When I left there, my career
path took an unexpected turn; I ended up working for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. They were looking for someone with my skill set, and the position led to many opportunities for me over the next five years including leading a team of scientists and engineers on a tour of water treatment facilities in Europe to study advanced treatment technologies such as ozone and granular activated carbon.
How has the water industry changed since you started 40 years ago?
The difference is like night and day. The water industry was slow, and in many ways quite unexciting, in the early 1970s. Few people gave much thought to water scarcity issues. Today, the industry is fast-moving, exciting and global, and water is perceived as important by everyone. I think there has been recognition, especially in the past five years, about how central water is to life. Years ago, we all took it for granted.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the WateReuse Association and Research Foundation in the next decade?
I go back to the famous management book of the late 1970s titled In Search of Excellence. The authors talked about how you need to baby your customers and constantly innovate. I would add a third element to that: We need to take care of our members’ needs. We need to constantly innovate, but we also need to ensure that we create and maintain a value proposition for our members and subscribers.
Even though we are in one of the hottest areas in the water business, nonprofits are under a lot of pressure just like for-profit organizations. We have to innovate and come up with ways to do things faster, better and cheaper, and that includes delivering services of value to our municipal and industrial members in these challenging economic times.
How has the economic environment affected WateReuse’s work?
We have been affected like everybody else. Our membership has continued to increase, but we have had to delay a number of planned initiatives. The economy has added an element of uncertainty about conferences. We have realized that hosting webinars is a much more cost-effective way to deliver content to our members and subscribers. We’ve conducted several webinars over the past few months. Our first Association webinar was on desalination. It featured several case studies, including the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Facility and El Paso’s brackish groundwater desalination plant. We recently presented our third Foundation webcast, focusing on our terminology project.
Can you elaborate on the WateReuse mission and how the association grew from a strict water reuse focus to advocating “the right water for the right use”?
“Right water for the right use” is part of our vision statement. We started as the WateReuse Association of California with a focus on water recycling. After we became a national organization in 2000, we added desalination to the mission in 2003.
There are people who think all water should be treated to an extremely high quality. But we don’t believe that water used to irrigate highway median strips needs to be treated with reverse osmosis. We are definitely advocates of what the Australians call “fit for purpose” water. This involves treating water to a quality that matches the application. One example of this concept can be seen at the West Basin Municipal Water District in California, which came up with the concept of “designer water” several years ago. West Basin provides recycled water to customers in southwest Los Angeles County that is treated to five different qualities, including high-pressure boiler feed water that is subjected to double-pass reverse osmosis and is of near-distilled water quality.
What is the biggest challenge related to advancing sustainable water supplies?
Even though I think water is viewed as being extremely important, I don’t think society has assigned it the priority it deserves. The U.S. government has a Department of Energy to focus on energy, a Department of Agriculture to focus on food, but the water function is divided among multiple federal agencies and many committees on Capitol Hill. As a result, the United States does not have a national water policy. We need to develop a national policy to facilitate identification of problems properly so we can then develop a strategy for addressing the issues. If you look at water reuse and desalination globally, you see that countries such as Australia, Singapore, Israel, South Korea, China and Saudi Arabia have assigned a much higher priority to water reuse and desalination than has the United States.
What is the biggest opportunity for the industry?
I see both challenges and opportunities. I have written the cover article for the Autumn 2011 issue of our new journal, World Water: Water Reuse & Desalination, that talks about the value of research and how demand from growing populations, combined with climate change and the energy/water nexus, will result in widespread water scarcity in many areas of the world by 2030. The challenge is to stay ahead of the curve through applied research.
How are public education and outreach important to WateReuse’s mission of advancing sustainable sources?
The most important thing the Foundation and Association can do is to help create widespread acceptance of water reuse and desalination as important parts of a sustainable water supply portfolio. The way to achieve this for water reuse is through research on the concerns consumers have, including endocrine disrupting compounds, pharmaceutically active compounds and personal care products. We have to demonstrate to the public that recycled/reclaimed water is safe. On the desalination side, there are environmental challenges as well as high energy costs. It will require a substantial amount of research to gain widespread public acceptance for these alternative water sources. We are committed to conducting the research and providing tools to help the water community communicate effectively with the public.
What is your research process and some of the key research projects you’re working on now?
The Foundation has enjoyed tremendous success in attracting funding over the past decade. We’ve funded about 141 projects and have attracted about $42 million from public and private funding sources. I think the future emphasis will be on public acceptance. The California Section of the WateReuse Association has a direct potable reuse initiative looking at what it would take to practice direct potable reuse by the end of the decade. We’re already engaging in some of that research. Of course the number one thing we must do is to ensure chemical and microbiological safety. Thus, a significant proportion of our research is geared toward achievement of that goal. The board of directors has a goal of allocating 33 percent of research dollars to desalination by 2013.
There is a growing recognition that the more water we use, the more energy it takes. The opposite is also true: The less water we use, the less energy it requires. Industries, large and small, have caught on to this, and I think every industry will understand that in the near future. Former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici was fond of saying, “It takes energy to produce water and it takes water to produce energy.” We’re certainly going to be focusing on the energy/water nexus. We’ve also done a small project dealing with the need for national water reuse standards. I expect that to become an issue of importance in the next few years.
If you could change one thing about the association, what would it be?
There is a great deal of excitement and energy around our efforts in recent years to extend our global reach. We established our first international division in Australia in 2008-09, and we see potential for divisions in Europe and the Middle East. We have also partnered with the Water Environment Federation on an international trade journal titled World Water: Water Reuse & Desalination. The issues of water sustainability are indeed international issues. However, the process of extending our global reach has taken much longer than I had hoped. It takes time, money and focus to extend that global reach. If I could, I would speed up the pace at which we are able to build new global partnerships. Our members have been able to benefit greatly through their connections with their counterparts in other regions of the United States; the industry will only be enhanced by increased global collaboration.
What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a great student of history and I collect presidential biographies.