We’re listening to water industry wants and needs inside American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual conference. Here are some of the best bits of advice, culture building and strategy we heard.
1. Water is the source; respect that.
“No water. No coffee. No water. No beer. No water. No wine,” joked AWWA CEO David LaFrance, but the elemental truth of it can’t be escaped.
“Can you imagine an urban society that doesn’t exist without clean water?” added Sue McCormick with Great Lakes Water Authority later in the program. She answered her own question with: Of course not.
2. Be proud of water’s spot in the ecosystem—and your work bringing it home to customers.
Early in the annual conference’s opening session, Jeanne Bennett-Bailey, AWWA president, showed a video of various water industry professionals commenting on how they felt about working in the water industry. Quotes ranged from “I’m passionate about water and what I do because water is life” to “we protect the environment and we protect public health” to “working in water is tremendously rewarding.”
3. Keep on moving forward (but prep on where you’re headed).
Carla Reid, the first female GM and CEO of her utility, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, had three words of advice for the water industry: preparation, process and prosperity.
“You have to have proper training and education to be a good industry leader,” she said. “And our leaders need to be self-developed and self-aware.” So, she advises learn from both the good and the bad stuff, process it, use that info to prep for the future and, in the end, you will accomplish the goal—you will “prosper.”
4. Think sustainability. Think about it across the board.
McCormick’s key word is sustainability, from its definition of cycling through reliable, affordable service to finding and keeping a workforce that’s experienced and knowledgeable. (They’re looking at community, cross-region partnerships to help with that sustainability.)
“We need good solid operations and to serve our communities well into the future,” she added. “That takes a long-term plan and having on-going communications and on-going conversations about everything.”
5. Know this: security issues are coming. You can’t wish them away.
William Stowe with Ds Moines Water Works labeled security (both cyber and physical) as an area his water utility—and all water utilities—need to become more familiar with, and he labeled it one of his major concerns for the future.
“We’ll hear more and more about it,” he told the audience at the annual conference. “We, like most of you here, continue to invest in automation. With that comes a vulnerability.”
6. Water needs to come out of its shell.
Stowe noted a sense of complacency and insulation in this industry that is “increasingly under pressure from both regulators and ratepayers.”
McCormick added that the industry needs to “be the voice of reason.”
Reid said, “We need to figure out how to tell our story. We need to do a better job of ‘selling’ what we do and why it’s important.”
But, all three statements come down to one basic thing: It’s time to talk more—to each other, to press, to communities, to regulators. It’s time for a conversation or two or three.
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