Guest Column | October 17, 2023

WWEMA Window: Post-WEFTEC Reflections

By Chris Thomson


The air is crisp. The leaves are colorful. The aroma of pumpkin spice fills the air. It’s autumn and many of us have just returned from WEFTEC in Chicago. As we find time to relax and enjoy the fall season, it's also time to take stock of 2023 and think ahead to 2024.

WEFTEC is an annual milestone for us in the water industry. Not only is it the single largest water event in North America, but it also marks the culmination of months of preparation and hard work. The weeks following WEFTEC give many of us a little more time — and a little more mental capacity — to reflect on our year and our mission. It’s a season of relief, reflection, and then rejuvenation.

I've just turned the space heater on near my desk and comfortably recall the crowded booths and banter just a week ago during WEFTEC. As I relax and look back at the event, I also think about our combined mission in the water industry.

Here are some post-WEFTEC23 reflections. Perhaps my thoughts will resonate with some of your own.

  1. We are all teachers.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “I’m not a teacher, I’m a {fill in the blank… operator, engineer, product manager, etc.}.” However, standing on the floor at WEFTEC, I was struck that the rest of the world does not live and breathe water and wastewater. Outside of our tight-knit community — and it is always amazing to see firsthand how tight-knit we are — many people do not know how water works. For example, late afternoon on WEFTEC Tuesday, a young man approached Xylem's booth. He stood beside one of our submersible pumps and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. I approached him and asked if he had any questions. “You know,” he said very transparently, “I don’t know much about water and wastewater, so I’m just here to learn.” So for the next 20 minutes we talked and toured our booth stations. We discussed the magic our industry makes by accelerating the water cycle. How we can move tons of water to where it is needed. Then how we can take water away, clean it, and return it back to nature safely. For someone not immersed in our industry, he humbly said it was eye-opening to learn how much goes into it all. So, in this post-WEFTEC season, I’m reminded how important we all are in teaching the public about what we do. We shouldn’t be shy about it. Perhaps we can’t be shy about it. Clean water is a finite resource that takes a lot of hard work. By educating the public, we help ensure that our society commits the necessary funds to keep water a clean, available, and affordable resource.

  2. Water is global. I know it goes without saying since 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by it, but WEFTEC always reminds me that water is an increasingly vital issue everywhere. Our community is blessed to have more diverse members with knowledge and expertise. One scene sticks out to me from WEFTEC 2023. We hosted a delegation of water engineers and policymakers from North Africa. I was standing at the front of our booth with two colleagues whose backgrounds are from that region and the Middle East. We began our tour in English, but the delegates soon asked if my colleagues could engage with them in Arabic. After a little laughter and some unease (“I’m not sure if I know the Arabic phrase for nutrient removal,” one colleague whispered to me), they both continued the discussion in a mix of Arabic and technical English. Not only was I incredibly proud to work for a company and in an industry with such diversity and expertise, but I was also struck by how universal our water challenges are — and how it will take global partnerships for us to solve them. 

  3. Keep doing the work of water. Like many of you, I’m exhausted by the time they roll up the carpets at WEFTEC. And like many of you, I’m always inspired to keep doing the work of water when I return home. Looking ahead, we certainly do not lack challenges. In the United States, we still need to work through the details of Build America, Buy America (BABA) and its requirements. We have a generation of water experts retiring, while a younger (and often more tech-savvy) generation rises to take its place. We have the uncertainty of climate change which impacts water quality, triggers frequent floods, and adds to the burden of ratepayers. Despite these challenges, I leave WEFTEC encouraged. After being surrounded all week by colleagues, partners, and customers, I am invigorated to do my small part and ensure we provide clean water for our communities.

So if you’re like me, the change in the air means more than just fall and football. Post-WEFTEC season also gives me some time to breathe and reflect. It reminds me that we all have a teaching mission to educate the public about what we do. It's apparent we have global water challenges and diverse partners to help solve them. And it motivates me to keep doing the good work of water.  

As we all know, we’re on the doorsteps of the 2023 holiday season. Then we’ll flip the calendar to 2024. Before you know it, the air will turn warm, the grass will need mowed, and we'll enter that next season of our water lives — prepping for WEFTEC. Just like clockwork, it happens every year.

Chris Thomson is Vertical Marketing Manager for Xylem Americas and a member of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). WWEMA is a non-profit trade association that has been working for water and wastewater technology and service providers since 1908. WWEMA’s members supply the most sophisticated leading-edge technologies and services, offering solutions to every water-related environmental problem and need facing today’s society. For more information about WWEMA, visit