Clean Water Conference Driving Change: Through Collaboration, Tacoma is Making a Difference
By Kurt Marx
The Water Partners of Tacoma, WA hosted the third annual Wellspring Conference at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center in mid-October. This year’s conference focused on the current and future state of clean water technology and water management. The conference featured more than 30 speakers and hosted hundreds of attendees from around the country, including professionals from the private and public sector, elected officials, foundations and NGOs, private business consultants, financial institutions and sustainability experts and engineers. Speakers and guests gathered to share ideas and strengthen the knowledge and innovation cluster in clean water technology. They discussed the regulation and potential usage of the precious resource, as well as the importance of preparing for what’s ahead. The conference also encouraged the development of new products, systems and policies regarding clean water and Tacoma’s determination to lead this effort on a national level.
The annual Wellspring Conference is one of Tacoma’s leadership initiatives in clean water technology. Through open dialogue with industry experts, the event helps encourage public and private investment and inspire innovative technology solutions. Individuals and organizations worked collectively to share ideas and discuss best practices to improve the various issues facing the water industry. Many issues were discussed, including preparing for an uncertain future, usage of reclaimed water, groundwater and big-data strategies.
Keynote speaker, Jeff Lape, Deputy Director of the US EPA Office of Science and Technology, shared a case study on clean water technology and innovation, in which he confronted the issue of the nation’s limited supply of water resources and how we are facing mounting pressures from drought, flooding, pollution, population growth and aging infrastructures. Lape also discussed the issue of social and political tensions over water regulation. He brought up the problems of declining resources at the state and agency level and limited progress in meeting water quality goals. He stated that collaboration, new tools and improved strategies are now more critical than ever before. The conference this year placed a heavy emphasis on improving water infrastructure by conserving and recovering energy and nutrients. Lape explained that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution affect over 14,000 bodies of water across the nation. He hopes that utilities can begin to use nutrients from human and animal wastes and convert them into marketable commodities as a source of energy, before they impact surface and ground water. Groups and organizations are working to monitor and find solutions to use water as a resource for energy, as well as finding better ways for water resource protection and sustainability.
Sean Senescall, Water Division Manager for Tacoma Public Utilities, mentioned that water utilities are a capital-intensive business where costs are mostly infrastructure-driven. Costs are often fixed, even when the amount of water sold to customers decreases. He addressed the need to take a look at financial management in water utilities, like conservation and flexibility in planning in lieu of uncertainty. In addition to water industry professionals, the two-day conference featured prominent state legislative leaders including Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District and Denny Heck of the 10th Congressional District of the Washington State House of Representatives. Both recognized the City of Tacoma as a leader in clean water innovation and technology development.
Tacoma’s water initiatives over the past two decades have not only cleaned up the area around Commencement Bay, but have spurred innovation and created an industry that has generated many jobs. To name a few, Tacoma now boasts a state-of-the-art water research facility (the Center for Urban Waters), which is home to city engineers, UW Tacoma researchers and the Puget Sound Partnership, each focused on clean water technologies and solutions to protect and restore Puget Sound. The WSU Puyallup hosts one of the largest stormwater research centers in the country. Additionally, WSU Puyallup’s Director John Stark and UW Tacoma/Center for Urban Waters’ Science Director Joel Baker teamed up to form the Washington Stormwater Center focused on emerging technologies and low impact development. It was particularly inspiring to see a wider demographic turnout for this year’s event. Millennials were passionate about creating new technologies and methods to develop solutions that propel growth in this industry. There is hope that there will be a new commitment to restoring clean water globally and a new promise for clean water innovation and investment in the years to come.
Overall, Wellspring 2014 was a resounding success. Attendees explored the various issues facing clean water technology, the impact of regulations on science and production, created lasting relationships between stakeholders and discussed solutions. The conference concluded with a general agreement that all sectors in the water technology industry must come together and experts need to continue to share knowledge and research to best drive innovation for clean water initiatives. It served as a forum for novel ideas and proved that collaboration drives advancement. Planning and preparation for Wellspring 2015 early next fall have already begun and details will be announced soon. For more information visit www.wellspringtacoma.com.
About the author
Backed by the Center for Urban Waters’ scientific and engineering expertise, Kurt Marx leads an initiative to evaluate and promote innovative technologies and practices around sustainable clean water in urban environments. He has an MS Degree in environmental engineering from the University of Washington (1999) and a BS Degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University (1996). Prior to joining the center, Marx was a consultant for over 12 years, focusing on water treatment and water quality and flow monitoring. Prior to this role, he was the lead scientist/engineer for the center’s collaboration with the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Technology Assessment Protocol (TAP) program for approving emerging stormwater treatment technologies.
About the Center for Urban Waters
The mission of the Center for Urban Waters is to build and foster relationships with community partners of the South Puget Sound area, as well as regionally, nationally and internationally. For more information, please visit www.urbanwaters.org.