WEFTEC Update: What's Your Legacy?

WEFTEC opening session addresses legacy, leadership.
WEFTEC Update: What's Your Legacy?

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Editor's note: TPO Editor Ted Rusleh is attending WEFTEC 2016 in New Orleans. Here are a few of the newsworthy topics from the show floor.

As a water professional, what legacy are you creating for your community and the world?

Water Environment Federation posed that question to attendees at the opening general session of WEFTEC Monday morning, Sept. 26. Bowen laid out four components of building a legacy. “A sound legacy starts with inspiring others to pursue careers in water and carry on our shared mission of smart and sustainable water management,” he says. “Future leaders are waiting to be discovered,” and they can include students, neighbors, friends and family.  

He mentioned a profile series WEF is developing to honor water legacy families – those with more than one generation working in water careers.

Legacy building also includes investing in career growth for young professionals – operators, engineers, scientists, lab technicians, regulators and others – to help create strong and stable workforce. He lauded young people for their work ethic, commitment, innovation, enthusiasm and “unwavering passion.”

The next legacy building block is promoting widespread adoption of ways to manage water through resource recovery, as well as development of green infrastructure.

Finally, Bowen said, a water legacy is “built on collective giving of time.” That means contributing beyond work hours to support the community, colleagues, local industry associations and WEF in developing programs and taking action. “The work we do together is creating a bright future for water for our children and, for some of us, our grandchildren,” he says. He highlighted a new social media campaign, #mywaterlegacy, showcasing “work being done by WEF and members as it happens.”

He concluded, “We are positioned to make a positive, lasting impact on this magnificent world we share.”

Preceding Bowen on the program, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu greeted attendees, recalled his city’s experience during and after Hurricane Katrina, and described how through collaboration among many parties the city “turned tragedy to triumph.” He stressed the importance of renewing infrastructure and making communities more resilient against future disasters and offered New Orleans as an example: “We want to be the place where people come to learn how to live with water and not against it.”

WEF keynote speaker: 10 percent better is not good enough

Water problems are bigger than ever, and incremental progress is not enough to fix them, WEFTEC keynote speaker Joe Whitworth told attendees.

In his remarks at the opening general session on Monday, Sept. 26, Whitworth recalled a bit of wisdom from his grandfather: “The economy and the environment, when operating correctly, operate together.”

Too often today, the two are seen as competing interests, said Whitworth, president of the Freshwater Trust and author of the new book, Quantified: The Future of Water.

To get the economy and environment working together, it’s essential to deal with the interface between agriculture and water, he said. He observed that technology can play a huge role in helping limit the affect of farming on water supplies. For example, data analysis can sort through millions of acres of cropland to find the few thousand acres where best management practices can cure a phosphorus problem in a river.

Besides technology, Whitworth observed, the key is to emphasize and demand outcomes in return for dollars invested in solutions. “The environmental war is over, and greens won, but only on paper,” he says. “There is no through line from what we have written on paper all the way to impacts on the ground.

“In 21st century conservation, farmers can and should be compensated for growing a bushel of nature. Water should be priced by the market and managed as an asset. Everyone, everywhere should get real-time information about their watershed that helps them make good decisions. In short, I see a world that works. It either works for real or it doesn’t matter.”

In terms of outcomes, Whitworth borrowed an idea from Google that real progress comes from improving things not by 10 percent but by 1,000 percent: “One thousand percent improvement allows you to rethink how the question is even asked. To solve a problem, you have to go big. Governments and philanthropist should no longer pay for effort, only for outcomes.”

He concludes, “The world is changing and if we don’t change, we will drive this plane into the side of a mountain. We are living in an era that will literally decide the limits of human existence on this plant. The problems we have are way bigger than ever before, but so is our ability to solve them. We are living in the moment. This is an inflection point. People in this room will have a huge say in how this turns out.”


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