The AWWA George Warren Fuller Award Recognizes Raed Armouti for Multiple Contributions to the Water Industry

Raed Armouti’s water career was inspired in part by growing up in a community where a daily supply of water was not a certainty.

The AWWA George Warren Fuller Award Recognizes Raed Armouti for Multiple Contributions to the Water Industry

Raed Armouti, vice president and Water Resources Business Unit director for Crawford, Murphy & Tilly in St. Louis.

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Raed Armouti grew up understanding water in a way few people do.

Although he didn’t know it as a boy, water would form the theme for his life, leading to his current job as vice president and Water Resources Business Unit director for Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT) in St. Louis.

His group deals with a variety of water projects, and his division comprises about 20% of the company’s revenue. His work drew the attention of the American Water Works Association, which in 2019 gave him the George Warren Fuller Award for wide-ranging contributions to the water industry.

Living with shortage

Armouti knows water so well because he grew up in Amman, Jordan. The earliest remains of the city date to about 4000 B.C. It sits on a plateau about 2,800 feet above sea level and 4,238 feet higher than the Dead Sea, about 20 miles away.

In Amman, Armouti says, “Probably from the end of April through mid-October they don’t see a drop of rain. Water is pretty scarce in Jordan. In Amman there is not enough water to supply every house every day. So different neighborhoods get water on different days of the week. The neighborhood we lived in would get water on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each house, each business, had its own storage tank.

“On Monday, when the water came, we filled the storage tank, and we used it on Tuesday when there was no water. It definitely played a role in my growing up to see how precious water was, and how scarce. I also think that instilled water conservation in my blood. When I’m brushing my teeth now, the water’s off.”

Amman still has a shortage of water: It is still pumped several hundred miles to the city, neighborhoods don’t get water every day, and every roof still holds a pair of 500-gallon tanks.

The other part of his childhood that influenced Armouti was working in his father’s construction company. It was one of the top five in the country, and he worked within a 50-mile radius of Amman. Water projects were the biggest source of revenue.

“The country at that time didn’t have a lot of infrastructure,” Armouti says. “You could drive around Amman and see his equipment in many neighborhoods.” He started with his father’s company at age 13 during the summer school break. He shoveled dirt, dug trenches and pushed plate compactors and roller compactors. His father had excavators, loaders and dump trucks, but there was a need for laborers in the trenches. At 16 he made foreman of a water main installation crew, scheduling materials and running the jobs.

Then he was selected as an exchange student and spent his junior year of high school in Los Osos, California. After a year back in Jordan to finish high school, he returned to the U.S. to study general civil engineering. “But all along, based on my experience with my father’s company, I wanted to do something with water.”

Value from the trenches

When he graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1986, he went back to Jordan to do two years of compulsory military service, in the Civil Defense Directorate. In that role, he also had time to work for his father’s company as an engineer instead of a laborer.

When he returned to the U.S., he worked for a construction company in Alton, Illinois, for six months and then for nine months in an engineering firm. In fall of 1990, he was hired by CMT, starting as resident engineer on a water treatment plant the company was building for the western Chicago suburb of Aurora. His construction experience was an asset.

His experience digging ditches continues to lend value. Most of the time he sees students coming straight out of college into engineering positions without field experience. In the last five years, CMT has hosted interns, and part of that process is sending them into the field because early, hands-on experience is so beneficial.

“Drawing things on paper is easy,” Armouti says. “You can show all kinds of line work and pipes and walls, but unless you’ve seen it actually get installed, you may not appreciate the spaces you have to work with.” 

Building facilities

Of all the projects Armouti has worked on, his favorite was the $91 million Spring Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant for the Sangamon County Water Reclamation District in Springfield, Illinois, a 32 mgd facility that opened 2012.

The job involved the design and construction of 12 buildings enclosing more than 100,000 square feet for administration offices, a lab, dewatering, disinfection, pumping and other functions. These replaced buildings from the 1920s, and the job won 2013 Project of the Year in the environment category from the American Public Works Association Illinois Chapter.

It was also the largest project Armouti managed at CMT. He was assistant manager during the design phase, overseeing the people handling the electrical and mechanical and site planning. During construction, he was the manager on site. He and a team of six engineers worked for 24 months to build the plant, train the operators and start it up. For him, the project lasted from 2007 to 2012.

“I started with cost-estimating with the client, then went through design and construction,” he says. “It was very rewarding to see that our estimates came right on. The client got a new plant within budget and on schedule. I’m not a wastewater treatment process engineer, but I managed it, so it was fun to see all the wastewater pieces mesh to help the client meet the permit requirements and help the community treat its wastewater.”

Daily business

He doesn’t do much design work now. He may help on a large project and he mentors younger engineers, but his job is management.

“The bulk of my day is spent with the business unit management, the operations of the unit, responding to questions, looking at financials for the unit,” he says. “I think the job is what I expected it to be. It’s a big responsibility, but I feel like I’m transitioning into it well.”

Armouti’s predecessor held the position for a long time, and as a result, the unit developed habits for how things were done. He didn’t want to make a lot of changes in a short time, instead waiting to make sure people were comfortable.

He has been in his current position since 2016: “I still consider myself settling in, but after this year, I think I will have that transition completed.” Armouti manages 72 people in seven offices spread around the country. It’s a challenge having his staff so spread out, but he has six group managers. He tries to visit each office at least once every quarter, although it doesn’t always work out that way. There are regular phone calls and constant emails, and he and his staff have video chats through Skype. But face-to-face meetings are still best, he says.

Longevity makes management easier, too. Armouti has been with CMT for almost 28 years, and many of the people he now manages were previously his peers: “I know them well. I know their capabilities. I know their expertise. I consider them colleagues and a lot of them friends.”

As a young man, Armouti managed a construction crew for his father. Now he manages more people in a more complex structure, but he’s still the person making the call. “At some point you have to make decisions, and ultimately you’re responsible for the performance of the unit,” he says. “So at the end, I’m very comfortable making the decision after listening to all sides and points of view.”

Growing into the American Water Works Association

Raed Armouti was chair of the Missouri Section AWWA in 2016 and 2017, was past chair for 2017 and 2018, and headed several committees. His involvement in and passion about the organization started from a clear motive.

“Part of the engineering business is to develop clients,” says Armouti, now vice president and Water Resources Business Unit director for Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT) in St. Louis. “As a company policy, we want our young engineers to get involved with the industry organizations: AWWA and the Water Environment Federation.

“When we get involved with these organizations, we get exposed to utilities, companies, other engineering firms, water districts and sewer districts. And when we volunteer on committees, we can showcase our professionalism. And so we use that to develop relationships with these potential clients.”

But over the years, those relationships become friendships, and a desire grows to help others and make sure the industry and the public are well served, he says. “The more you get involved, the more you want to do and the more they ask you to do. And then by that time, they’re your friends and you don’t want to turn them down.”

He has backed off his involvement because expanded responsibilities for CMT made it more difficult to attend all the necessary meetings. “They basically gave me permission to cut back a little bit,” he says with a laugh.

He still helps with nominations for offices. “At some point I plan to go back and volunteer for whatever committee the section needs help with.”


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