In 2017, Jenny Hartfelder became president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF). At the time, she was given the tasks of connecting with professionals in the water industry and enriching their expertise, focusing on programs designed to innovate the water sector, and building awareness of the value and effect of water. According to Hartfelder, increasing awareness was the most important of these tasks because “our industry doesn’t really like to brag” when it comes to the importance water has on people and their environment.
So, what exactly is awareness? The Oxford Dictionary defines awareness as the “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” More specifically it is defined as having “concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.”
Hartfelder has a passion for spreading “value of water” awareness in the sense of the more specific definition above. She understands that to help others truly understand the effect the industry, they must be passionate about its effects. She doesn’t want to just spread knowledge but desires to empower industry leaders to take action so that others will care.
Tackling the Challenges
Not only is there a need to address the objectives listed above, but the water industry in itself faces 3 key challenges that need “value of water” awareness in order to find a solution. The three key challenges that must be addressed are aging infrastructure, limited workforce and lack of funding . There are opportunities to improve the amount of funds available to fix the US's aging infrastructure issues, starting with educating the public on what they stand to lose if they don't address the issues and getting political by in. Increasing support from citizens can be gained by educating them on the importance of water stewardship which can help bring new awareness to a very important topic.
What does Hartfelder think about these challenges?
According to Hartfelder, the WEF members advocate for the water industry by discussing funding and the aging infrastructure with the EPA and representatives in Congress. The need for political backing and by in is paramount for successfully navigating our water resources in the future.
To address the aging workforce issue, WEF and AWWA (American Water Works Association) are working together on “Work for Water,” a program designed to encourage younger professionals and veterans to be aware of the opportunities in the industry. According to Hartfelder, programs like this one seek “to tackle the issue of limited resources, both financial and human.”
WEF is bringing back their “Water’s Worth It” campaign at the 2018 WEFTEC (the WEF’s Annual Technical Exhibition & Conference). According to Hartfelder, this will bring awareness to the “value of water.” Although it was discontinued by WEF, it was widely accepted in the industry and has been used by grassroots efforts for a few years. By bringing it back and updating it, WEF hopes to give members what they need to improve awareness.
Opportunities for All
All of the objectives discussed by Hartfelder were addressed at the WEFTEC annual conference, which brings together professionals in the water industry to increase their awareness, enrich their expertise, and introduce innovation. WEF has created a task force called “WEFTEC 2030” to carry their ideas into the future. The WEFTEC 2030 task force will decide the necessary changes based on opportunities in the tech industry to meet their goals, including virtual exhibits and augmented reality.
Another program that helps address the objectives is LIFT Link, which was designed by WRF (Water Research Foundation) and WEF. LIFT which stands for Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology brings together water and wastewater agencies, providers of technology, investors, consultants, and others to focus on the utilization of new technology and innovations.
Although the efforts of Hartfelder and others at the WEF help bring awareness to the “value of water”—that is, knowledge plus action—more is still needed, and the future of water depends on it. “Water’s Worth It,” so help spread the word.
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