This May I took about a week out of the schedule to visit sunny Ontario, California, home of the western HQ of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, and host city for the 6th Emerging Water Technologies Symposium.
Pete DeMarco, IAPMO’s Executive Vice President for Advocacy and Research was kind enough to extend an invitation for me to help moderate the Symposium, and afterwards attend the meeting of the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition.
For me, it was a rare treat to meet two of my friendly rivals in the trade press, Sharon Rehana, Editorial Director for Plumbing Engineer, PHC News and The Wholesaler, and John McNally, Chief Editor for Plumbing & Mechanical Engineer, who joined me in the moderating duties. It was a chance to compare notes on the state of the industry with people who work basically the same job I do. (Also, I got to have my first In-and-Out Burger with John and my Editor-at-Large, John Mesenbrink. The verdict? Damn good burger!)
My other takeaway from the Symposium was that for all the good work the plumbing industry has done to improve water efficiency and safety, this is no time to rest on our laurels. Most of the easy gains have already been made, and in the meanwhile the population continues to grow, and the climate continues to change.
One illuminating presentation was made by the Australian contingent, which included Brett Lovett (Sr. Manager, Stakeholder Engagement, Standards Australia), Carol Grossman, PhD. (Director, Water Efficiency Labeling and Standards for the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources), and Yvonne Orgill (CEO, Bathroom Manufacturers Association).
Listening to their discussion on the development of the ISO Water Efficiency Standard had the eerie quality of a message from the future. Some parts of Australia have been in drought for more than a decade, which has given them a unique perspective on water efficiency techniques and standards, and led them towards a leadership position in the fight to develop an international standard. They have had to push the efficiency envelope in ways we won’t have to for a decade or more. But make no mistake, where they are is where we are going.
And those new, highly-efficient plumbing systems will present problems of their own. The one law no one gets to avoid is the law of unintended consequences. High efficiency fixtures mean declining flow rates, which in turn can lead to pathogen growth. The hope – and research presentations by Dr. Juneseok Lee and Prof. Steven Buchberger gave me plenty of reason to hope — is that the science will keep us at least one step ahead of the potential threats.
And I’m also hopeful that a new generation of plumbers, designers and engineers is equal the challenge. The last session I moderated was with the Robo-Rebels of Suzanne Middle School, as they presented a pressure-sensing automatic shut off they invented to help reduce water waste from excess flushing. Here was a group of kids – ten- to thirteen-year-olds – who were having fun building robots, but not just to play with robots, or even to win a robot building contest, but to solve real-world problems.
It’s an attitude that younger generation is going to need, because who knows what new challenges they are going to face?