The American Water Works Association (AWWA) is the oldest and largest water management organization in the world, having been established in 1881. As an educational and technical organization, its mission is to provide effective solutions to manage the world’s most valuable resource.
AWWA is devoted to protecting the public health, safeguarding the environment, strengthening the economy and improving the quality of life through water-based initiatives.
Over the past 134 years, AWWA has stayed true to its mission. The association has grown into the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational organization dedicated to managing and treating water resources. Given the current state of water around the world, the work that AWWA does becomes more important with each day.
AWWA was founded on March 29, 1881, at the Washington University campus in St. Louis, Missouri, by twenty-two men representing water utilities from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. The original constitutional purpose was to exchanging information pertinent to the management of waterworks in the interest of mutual advancement and uniform operations in waterworks for consumers and water utilities, alike.
In 1976, the constitutional purpose of AWWA was reframed, helping the organization stay relevant to the water management issues of the day. Its mission was updated to highlight the organization’s commitment to promoting public health, safety and welfare, improving the quality and quantity of available water resources, while educating and sharing knowledge, working with legislators, and providing training and other development opportunities.
AWWA operates out of two offices, its headquarters in Denver, Colorado, which has close to 150 employees and its Washington, D.C. office, which works on legislative and regulatory policy. AWWA works with Congress to develop legislation that is supportive of the water sector, helping to make a difference on a larger scale.
In addition to its two offices, AWWA has 43 sections across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, which serve as affiliated entities and provide on-the-ground training and support in a regional context. AWWA has plans to expand its international reach, opening an office in India in the near future. It also maintains relationships with members and water utilities across the world.
Each year, AWWA conducts a ‘State of the Water Industry Survey’ in order to identify and address the major issues to the water sector. In 2014, the top three issues facing the industry were: the state of water and sewer infrastructure, long-term water supply availability and financing for capital improvements, as they apply to the achievement of water sustainability.
From a financial perspective, AWWA is helping its largest member category – water utilities – to achieve water sustainability by advocating for more innovative water utilities financing options. “The regulations are getting down to a minute level, so the treatment is getting more and more advanced, and as you get more advanced treatment, you get more expenses associated with that treatment,” explains Cynthia Lane, director of engineering and technical services with AWWA.
AWWA works diligently to engage with not just water utilities, but the general public as well. It helps to educate and to change public perception and consumer behavior. The goal is to have the value and importance of water, as a resource, better recognized. AWWA works with organizations such as the Value of Water Coalition, to better communicate with the general public the value of safe, accessible water.
As an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited organization, AWWA has published over 170 standards, subject to rigorous processes and industry recognized consensus-based review, for water utility management and operations. These standards provide valuable information about the design, installation, disinfection, performance, and manufacturing of a variety of products. In the interest of water resource sustainability, standards are provided for such items as pipes, chemicals, storage tanks, valves, and meters.
AWWA membership consists of individuals, utilities, service providers, partner agencies, and institutions involved in the state of water, wastewater, storm water, reuse, or any other aspect of water sector management and operations. Its membership of over 50 000 communicates, cooperates and collaborates with a network of manufacturers, consultants, engineers and the regulatory and academic communities.
AWWA also works with other water-intensive industries such as food and beverage, and increasingly the oil and gas industry, to improve the state of water as a resource. Many companies are choosing to participate in industrial reuse. “We’re starting to really look beyond our water utility community to see who else we can work with to communicate the value of water and what we can do as a sector,” shares Lane.
As an organization, AWWA also works to ensure that they are strengthening membership benefits, to better engage and develop membership. Becoming a member of AWWA provides access to information and professional networks to share problems and experiences. Members receive discounts on products, resources, and services offered by AWWA, including conference registration.
ACE15, which will take place in Anaheim this year, is the largest event AWWA will host and will see over 12 000 industry professionals and organizations come together over a four-day period in the interest of water utility management, best practices, and sustainability. The conference acts as a venue for the industry to network and problem solve collectively.
“A lot of our members really take to heart the fact that they are protecting the community and that they protect the public health, and they really feel like they make a difference in their day-to-day jobs,” explains Lane. She cites examples of crises such as super-storm Sandy affecting the water supply in New York City and the chemical spill in West Virginia as examples of how the water industry unites to overcome adversity for the collective benefit.
AWWA, a standard-setting industry-leading organization, faces a number of challenges. Many of these are regionally contingent and subject to any number of variable conditions. Much of the work that it does is preventative and preparatory in nature, allowing it, and its membership, to respond quickly and efficiently to crises that may arise across around the world.
With the opening of its office in India, built through collaboration with India Water Works Association, AWWA’s efforts can have an even greater reach. “We are going to dedicate some time and some resources there, providing them with access to the services that we have, whether it is our education, our technical knowledge, our training, really trying to work with them to see what they need in the country and figure out how we can help them accomplish those goals,” advises Lane.
Expanding its reach internationally, AWWA is interested in strengthening partnerships in several core countries, such as Australia, the U.K. and Japan. The goal is to continue to assist with any water issues that may arise, advocate for smart water policies and establish the highest scientific standards.
One major issue facing water utilities is that much of the senior workforce in the water utilities sector is set to retire. The loss of the highly skilled operators of our water utilities will leave a significant gap in the workforce; a problem that is plaguing a number of industries that are unable to find satisfactory replacements to address employee attrition.
“So as they [water utilities] are fixing their finances, and as they are devoting attention to securing water availability, they are also trying to get the workforce in place to be able to run everything when their people retire. So we are putting a lot of effort into the workforce, doing initiatives such as hiring veterans and trying to teach college students that the water sector is a good sector to work,” explains Lane.
Additionally, droughts are having a significant impact, notably in the southwest United States, calling into question future water availability, conservation, sustainability, and management of resources in stressed environments. “We’re supporting water utilities, developing new training as they look at new water sources. How do we use potable reuse more? How do we take wastewater and treat it to drinking water standards and provide that as a new resource?”
As a result of drought, some communities in Texas have resorted to using emergency water supplies, including wastewater treated to drinking water standards. Though the process can be controversial, Lane states that wastewater undergoes more rigorous testing and extensive advanced treatment than it would in a traditional drinking water facility. In most cases, the water from these advanced treatment facilities is actually sent to the traditional drinking water facility for even more treatment before being distributed to the community. Throughout the entire process, it is held to the very highest of standards.
AWWA makes significant efforts to change public perception and mitigate problems in times of crisis. This is done “through the collection and sharing of knowledge through our standards program, our manuals, our handbooks, our periodicals, and all the other publications, as well as through the networking and conference events where people come together and share their experiences,” Lane explains.
Focused on education, new technology, innovative approaches, and the adoption of new management techniques, AWWA is an industry leader continuing to build a better world through better water.
“We are constantly trying to innovate and look for new ways that we can manage water as a resource, new ways that we can protect it and new ways that we can work together as communities.”