Observations from a conversation with Water Environment Federation (WEF) President Jenny Hartfelder
When Jenny Hartfelder assumed the role of WEF president in 2017, she was tasked with four critical objectives: connect water professionals, enrich the expertise of water professionals, provide a platform for water sector innovation, and increase the awareness of the impact and value of water. And while she vigorously attacked them all, one reigned supreme.
“I really wanted to focus our efforts on that fourth critical objective of increasing the awareness of the value of water,” she related. “Our industry doesn’t really like to brag about what we do every day and how important it is for human health and the environment, but it’s something we need to start doing.”
So what does “awareness” look like? According to the Oxford Dictionary, awareness is defined as “1. Knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.; 1.1. concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.”
Oxford makes a point to parse the meaning very slightly, but it’s an important distinction. To wit: You can truly understand something (awareness 1.0), but that knowledge may not move you whatsoever — that is, you just don’t care. Or, the knowledge is coupled with concern and interest (awareness 1.1), which is far more likely to affect your behavior.
This slight distinction helps explain why Hartfelder is so passionate about the “value of water” objective — because it requires that passion for impact. The mission isn’t just to inform but to inform in a way that inspires action. As an industry reliant on many others for its success, we need people to care.
Addressing The Challenges
In addition to the aforementioned objectives, Hartfelder named three main challenges facing the water/wastewater industry — aging infrastructure, an aging workforce, and lack of funding — all of which require “value of water” awareness to remedy. By enlightening ratepayers and politicians on the scope of aging infrastructure issues, we can increase funds to upgrade outdated pipelines and treatment plants. And educating all citizens on the complexity, importance, and nobility of water stewardship will draw even further public support for the job and bring a new generation of workers into the job.
In Her Words
Hartfelder described specific initiatives WEF has undertaken to address these challenges, as well as her personal objective.
On aging infrastructure and funding: “WEF is involved in the National Water Policy Fly-In, where we bring members to Washington to meet with U.S. EPA and congressional representatives and advocate for the water industry. It’s important that we continue to raise awareness. We need to take care of our infrastructure, and we need additional funding.”
On replacing an aging workforce: “WEF has partnered with AWWA on a program called Work for Water, which helps to promote careers in the industry for both young professionals and veterans and to get them to see all the opportunities. Through this and other programs, we’re trying to tackle the issue of limited resources, both financial and human.”
On “value of water” awareness : “I’m very excited to state that, at WEFTEC 2018, WEF is relaunching its ‘Water’s Worth It’ campaign. This is a program that WEF started a few years ago and had tabled but that our member associations really embraced and were still using in grassroots efforts. WEF has decided to bring it back, refresh it, and provide our members with the tools they need to communicate why our industry is so important and why we need to invest in water.”
WEFTEC, WEF’s Annual Technical Exhibition & Conference, is a venue where all of the critical objectives stated atop this article can be met — connecting water professionals, enriching their expertise, introducing innovation, and promoting awareness. And this mission will carry well into the future, as WEF has formed a WEFTEC 2030 task force to determine how conferences should change with burgeoning technology opportunities, such as augmented reality and virtual exhibits, to even better meet these goals.
Another WEF destination that checks all the necessary boxes is LIFT Link (liftlink.werf.org), part of the Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology program from WEF and the Water Research Foundation. This online platform enables water/wastewater agencies, technology providers, consultants, academia, investors, and regulatory agencies to get on the same page, literally, with a joint focus on facilitating early adoption and implementation of new technologies.
These initiatives and the commitment of those behind them, especially Hartfelder, show true “value of water” awareness — knowledge plus action — on the part of WEF. But the future of our industry depends on more widespread awareness, so let’s all pick up the mantle and spread the word, because “Water’s Worth It.”