So you've been a leader in the water industry for many years. How did you get your start, and what advice would you offer someone starting out in the water industry today?
My passion for the water environment began as an inquisitive kid living on a lake in Central Ohio, where I grew up. It's a good field for somebody who is passionate about water, and passionate about the environment, because you can accomplish things and see a real-time result or impact. If you are passionate and you are willing to work hard, you can make a difference.
It's also a field in which you need to think globally but act locally. I don't remember exactly who came up with that phrase, but it has applicability in our industry. It's important to consider the big picture, but you shouldn't wait for some sort of centralized, unified solution. It's not coming. You will have to do with what you have locally, and be an example for others to follow. That's one of the things WERF has done pretty well.
Now that you've completed your stint as interim executive director for WERF, what did you find most exciting during that time? Can you tell me about an "a-ha" moment or a lesson learned?
My first "a-ha" moment was that I'm capable of this, that I am able to make a difference in a relatively short period of time, that I've got the skills to do it. It's not only the skills, but also having the respect and trust of the people around me that help me accomplish what I've been able to accomplish. The most excitement I get in this position is to see what the people around me are capable of doing, particularly the staff, but also the volunteers and the researchers. You know, if you give people the opportunity, they step up. The staff has taken their game to the next level. They've made lemonade out of lemons.
In the 11 years that you've been with WERF, how have you seen the organization evolve?
When I got here, the staff was very capable, and very effective, but people were project managers and now they are subject matter experts leading their research programs. And I think that is a big boost for them, and it is a big boost for WERF and for the things that we are able to accomplish.
Another one of the evolutions I've seen is that, from our communications standpoint, we've evolved from being an end-of-project report, and maybe an executive summary, to a much wider array of effective communication engagements and tools, and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the water community and subscribers in terms of what we do, in terms of getting the research findings into the hands of end-users; getting it into practice.
And also, we've evolved in terms of where we get our ideas for the research. We do a lot better job of asking for input from subscribers, to find out what's important to them and then try to help find solutions for their toughest issues.
And through all these changes, we've always remained true to our mission: research. I remember when I started, Chuck Noss, who was my predecessor as the director of research, said, "Dan, one of the biggest challenges you are going to have is that people are going to want to change the mission to maybe advocacy or something else. You just have to be true to the research mission." And we have been.
In the future then, what do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for the organization?
I've got three. The first one is staff succession planning. WERF parallels the industry, in terms of an aging workforce. And so one of the challenges is to recruit and bring along the next generation of people who are going to do the jobs that we do.
The second one is the challenge to focus on the highest priorities. There are so many things that could be done, so many things that subscribers and the water community would like to have done, so how do you call the priorities given the limited people and funding resources? The third challenge is to replace the more than $2 million that we were receiving annually from the federal earmark. That's a big chunk of change for an organization our size. We are making pretty good strides in terms of replacing that money, but it takes a lot more energy, effort and resources.
Our opportunities are strengthened because we are a recognized leader in the water research field, and that recognition bodes well for us being able to identify the right research, get the funding and resources for our world-class researchers, and then put the findings into the hands of end-users; to implement it.
The WERF Board has announced its intention to explore options for aligning or merging WERF and the Water Research Foundation. I think it bodes well for Integrated Water Management, because if we are truly going to pursue IWM, from the research perspective, then the water community will benefit from WaterRF and WERF working as one.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities in IWM or how do you think that organizations can justify investing in IWM at this time?
To quote Plato, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Meaning that a difficult or impossible scenario prompts the invention, and that's exactly where we find ourselves today. With more and more utilities facing water crises, either too much water or not enough water, how can you afford not to think more seriously about IWM?
Before you took on the Interim Executive Director role, you were WERF's Director of Research for about 10 years. During your tenure there, how have you seen your research priorities shift with regard to IWM? When did that even show up?
Back in about 2010, during one of our subscriber surveys, the term Integrated Water Management popped up, and it was high on the priority list, so that lead to our sustainable IWM Research challenge.
The goal was initially stated as furthering the development and adoption of a sustainable IWM paradigm that considers such issues as water availability, water treatment, water reuse, and water quality. We established a technical advisory committee of experts and they came up with the objectives that cover the different aspects of IWM. Each of those aspects then became an opportunity for a research project or multiple research projects.
We started to think in terms of a wheel with the spokes being the many stakeholders. We did not want to set this up with WERF as the hub. That wasn't going to work. We are one of the spokes, but we saw the opportunity to be a catalyst. WERF has helped to establish a number of meetings with a much broader array of stakeholders than we've ever done before, as well as supporting and funding emerging technologies and infrastructure configurations to try to look at the next generation of water management.
So what steps has WERF taken with regard to IWM that you believe will have the biggest impact to the subscribers?
A big first step was hiring Theresa Connor as the Research Program Director to lead this effort, because not only is she a subject matter expert, she's a practitioner, having been a utility director in Sarasota, Fla., that dealt with IWM. We've got the right person at the right time to lead WERF's effort. We've also partnered with WEF and NACWA on the Utility of the Future initiative, in which IWM is a key part. And again, our alignment with WaterRF or the pursuit of an alignment, whatever that will end up looking like, is very important to our ability to deliver IWM.
What do you think are your greatest accomplishments or what are you most proud of during your tenure with WERF?
I'm most proud of a world-class staff and world-class research. I had a significant role in the evolution — from WERF doing things project-by-project to taking a broader view, getting more subscriber input, and doing things programmatically. Having the trust and respect of the staff, the volunteers, the subscribers and the Board has been something I'm proud of as well.
So what's the next step for you?
As I said, I developed my passion for the water as an inquisitive kid living on a lake in Ohio. My next step is to go back 50 years and once again live on the water, but this time in Melbourne, Fla. I'm going to enjoy the full range of water, from aesthetics to boating and fishing and swimming. And I will look for some way to continue my professional involvement in the water community. The passion is still there.