Early this May I flew out to San Antonio to attend the 7th Biennial Emerging Water Technology Symposium. It’s a special show—with a special place in my heart—for several reasons.
I took on the top job here at CONTRACTOR back in February of 2018. The first show I went to in my new capacity was the 6th EWTS held in sunny Ontario, CA. Even though I had been working for CONTRACTOR since 1996 it was also my first time attending the show.
I was still feeling very unsure of myself at the time, but I received a warm welcome from people like Russ Chaney and Pete DeMarco (respectively, CEO and Executive VP for Advocacy and Research at IAMPO), Kerry Stackpole (who had recently become CEO of PMI) and my fellow members of the trade press.
What also helped me get over my jitters was that Pete DeMarco put me right to work, moderating part of the symposium and a panel discussion. It’s hard to be nervous about your new job when you’re overwhelmed by your fear of public speaking!
Aside from my personal associations, the show is special in that it brings all the major industry advocacy groups together to discuss priorities and talk about the major issues. And all of this happens in a manageable-sized group of about 100 or so attendees, not like an AHR or a KBIS with their thousands of people and thousands upon thousands of distractions.
So, what are the important things I remember from my trip to San Antonio?
Let me get my punchline out of the way: I remember the Alamo. It was just a short walk from my hotel, right there in the downtown area. It was smaller than I thought it would be but all the history that infuses that building and its surroundings makes an impression.
But to get back on topic, I learned we sometimes take the quality of our water for granted here in North America. People simply assume that what’s coming out of the tap is contaminant- and pathogen-free, and that assumption causes problems. System designers who are trying to take extra steps to ensure safety conflict with builders and owners trying to manage costs. Water management planners conflict with facility managers who are understaffed, under-equipped, or who sometimes don’t see the urgency.
Next, climate change is already straining municipal water systems. The keynote speaker this year was Robert Puente, President and CEO of San Antonio Water System. Although San Antonio gets most of its water from an aquifer that’s in good shape, the city is making a major investment in smart metering in an effort at conservation.
The flip side of the coin was presented by Philip White, Manager of Plumbing and Mechanical Inspections for the City of Vancouver (Canada), where his city faces some dangerous consequences from insufficient sewer capacity; even moderate rainfall can cause closures of beaches and fisheries. The city is trying to adapt with good landscaping, non-potable reuse strategies, detention tanks and other solutions.
Also, soberingly, I learned from Sun Gil Kim, Senior Program Officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that toilets remain a life-and-death matter for most of the world. 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation. 494 million practice open defecation. Diarrheal disease kills more than 350,000 children under five every year.
Lastly, I learned that Pete DeMarco—who invited me to my first EWTS—will be retiring soon. Introducing myself the first day I called him, “The only human being who could make me put on a suit and tie in 100-degree weather.” His intelligence, warmth, administrative acumen, and constant work bringing people together will be greatly missed. I wish him all the best in whatever his next chapter holds.