By Kevin Wong

Pomp and show came back to Toronto with the ACE 07 show highlighting the best and brightest in the water and wastewater industry. The 125th annual AWWA conference featured the largest professional program of its kind, while at the ACE07 Exposition, more than 500 manufacturers and consultants showcased the latest products and services available to help ensure safe water.

With thousands of attendees on the conference floor, this year’s ACE proved to be one of the biggest, attracting AWWA members, delegates from all over the world and experts from the industry. The show was held in Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Center, Toronto Ontario, with participating hotels – the Sheraton and the Intercontinental – supporting a multitude of committee meetings and sessions.

Downtown Toronto in the waning days of June was stifling hot and humid, but the show organizers had a well-organized array of shuttle buses ferrying folks to the hotels and tours, which kept the delegates mobile and out of the heat. Being a water conference, everybody was kept well hydrated. The participating main hotels were within easy walking distance from the convention center for those who preferred to hike the under-one-kilometer stretch between the convention hall and the Sheraton.

A glance at the conference program and ones first thought was that it would be impossible to be everywhere or see everything. Buckling down and sticking to a plan and path is always the best way to tackle a large conference like this one. And large is an understatement: ACE was huge, with arrays of sessions, committee meetings and, of course, the seemingly massive trade show floor.

The sessions were well-planned, covering every conceivable subject from traditional topics to emerging ideas and innovative technologies. All sessions were well attended and some even packed to the brim.

A grand opening
On opening day, AWWA President Terry Nolan welcomed delegates and exhibitors with an update on the Association’s latest business. The City of Toronto honored the show and the organization with a cadre of bagpipers who streamed into the hall and processed through the wide doors onto the show floor. Talk about a great and unique way of attracting everyone’s attention to the opening the show!

“Best of the best”
Show highlights included the Best of the Best Water Taste Test, where North American water utilities competed to determine who produces the best tasting drinking water.

Participants vying for the title in Toronto included Eielson Air Force Base (Alaska);l City of Minot Water Treatment Plant (North Dakota); Lake Utility Services, Inc. (Florida; City of Aurora (Illinois); City of Savannah (Georgia); Detroit Water And Sewerage Department (Michigan); City of Forth Worth Water Department (Texas;) and Public Utility District of Skagit County (Washington). An esteemed judging panel rated each water system’s product on flavor characteristics. Judges included Jennifer Bain (Food Editor of The Toronto Star), Joel Manning (Brewmaster of Mill Street Brewery, a leading Toronto microbrewery), Djanette Khiari (Chair of the AWWA Taste and Odor Committee), Mike McGuire (former Chair of the Taste and Odor Committee) and Mel Suffet (School of Public Health, UCLA). Suffet commented, “This was an extremely close competition decided by very few points. Each utility truly earned the right to take part in today’s international competition. We appreciate every utility’s interest.” Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) Water and Wastewater Utility won this year. Second place was awarded to Water district No. 1 of Johnson County, Kansas. Local host Toronto Water earned third place.

Featured personalities and keynote speakers at the show included Justin Trudeau, the eldest son of Canada’s popular prime minister, the late Pierre Trudeau. He made an impassioned plea for the environment at ACE07’s June 25 plenary session, saying, “We need to wake up to the fact that our planet is a finite system….For hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve been able to assume that there would be more space and that our individual actions couldn’t possibly have consequences that would forever impact the world around us. Now those assumptions need to change.”

Jim Smith (Chief Drinking Water Inspector, Ministry of the Environment, Ontario) and the Discovery Channel’s Jay Ingram also took the podium. Ingram noted that, “If 100 liters represents the world’s water, then a tablespoon is the amount of fresh water available for use.”

Isreal Hernandez (Assistant Secretary of Trade Promotions and Director General of the US Foreign Commercial Service) graciously presented the AWWA with the Export Achievement Award.

Sessions
Many of the sessions are broken down into themes; while highly compartmentalized, common underpinnings illustrated some interesting parallels that we should begin to think about in our industry.

AWWA’s professionals are beginning to look at sustainable ways to deliver clean, great tasting water to our customers in an efficient, cost effective and healthier manner while conserving and protecting the natural resource. Alternative and advanced treatment technologies, innovative solutions to distribution challenges, energy and water conservation, infrastructure and capital asset security, integrated and neural network technology applications and even customer service and public relations – today, the water treatment industry understands that water is not an easy resource to manage and deliver to the consumer’s often-stringent demands.

Speaking at the conference, Ray Yep (Santa Clara Valley Water District) hit on a topic that addresses the industry at its cultural core. He separated the needs for improvement into four categories: decision making, terminology standardization, adequate resources and asset management established as a districtwide priority – or rather in a big box scope of thinking. Terminology is needed to define whether maintenance is preventive, corrective, or emergency and should distinguish between modifications, planned work and strategic projects, Yep told the standing-room only crowd. Resources need to be added to ensure that there is adequate support from engineers and planners, who must work together. Procurement and business processes need clarification and performance metrics needed to be established. Basically, the planners, need to work interactively with the engineers, city finance personnel and the vendors to really scope out needs and options. Finally, Yep said SCVWD has determined that all those who are affected need to be involved in the discussions. They have established a districtwide asset management council charged with determining customer service levels, authorizing expenditures, approving implementation strategies and developing the policies and performance metrics.

Tours and events
Nobody comes to Toronto without surfing around the delightful city, filled with lots of interesting stuff to do, and ACE attendees were no exception. Some went off to the CN tower, others caught a ball game. Various tours sponsored and led by the ACE conference organizers included visits to the John Street pumping station, the Toronto Island water treatment plant, the Canadian Center for Inland Waters and the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.

There were also receptions from each of the sections going on, industry company receptions and hospitality suites and a slew of networking events so even a first-timer (like your author here!) could meet and greet the industry’s who’s-who.

The tradeshow floor
Reviewing the show in a mental kaleidoscope, what comes to mind verbally is packed, busy, diverse, options and solutions. It was truly enormous in scale, but most importantly, there was a lot of buying: this tradeshow is all about business, with exhibitors showing their wares and services and dedicated buyers out there to fill their needs at the best negotiated price. Can’t imagine the deals that were made or the business that was initiated at the show, but it was happening everywhere, up and down the aisles. Buyers were acquainting themselves with vendors, vendors were working with existing clients and meeting potential ones and everyone was having a great time at it.

Passing the torch
AWWA President Terry Nolan passed the torch to Wisconson’s Nilaksh Kothari, who began his term by praising the accomplishments of AWWA’s past 126 years and laid out five ways he wants to work to make the organization better in the future: listen to the members, strengthen the section-association relationships, focus on technology, identify and engage strategic partners and continue succession planning.

Among the plans Kothari outlined in his brief remarks were holding town hall meetings at AWWA events to hear from the grassroots – and he encouraged sections to do the same. He also wants AWWA to begin providing services using the most current technologies and to set an example for utilities, which he feels need to become, “the intelligent utilities for the next generation.”

Kothari is General Manager of Manitowoc Public Utilities (Wis.); also speaking at the ceremony was the Mayor of Manitowoc, Kevin Crawford, who said Kothari, “is an amazing individual and he has done an extraordinary job for the city of Manitowoc.”

Looking to next year
In closing, there is a great demographic cross section at the ACE show that indicates an industry that is strong and dynamic. The succession of one generation of water treatment professionals by the younger generation is a goal those of us in the water treatment industry will have to grapple with in coming years.  The waterworks professionals have done so simply by putting education and excellence out front in their industry and let those educational initiatives reap dividends over time. A strong educational front can carry any association well into the future.

In short, it was a great conference – mark your calendar for AWWA’s ACE 08 in Atlanta next year. The delegates had a great time, Toronto is an ideal city for these events, full of distractions and engaging sites for water treatment professionals to explore. All agreed that the closeness of the hotels made networking and business easier, but that it would have been made easier still with all at one hotel. Unfortunately, there are few facilities that can handle the scope of such a conference and its attendees so the future, no doubt, will include multiple hotel sites, an inevitable truth for growing shows like the ACE.

About the author
Kevin Wong joined as executive director of the Canadian Water Quality Association in October, 2007. 8 years prior, Kevin began his career in environmental consulting at Jacques Whitford Environment Limited- one of the largest Canadian environmental consulting groups. His regard for the environment led to work with clients such as Inco, Ontario Power Generation, Environment Canada and Petro Canada. Kevin’s new role provides the opportunity for him to contribute to the industry-dealers and manufacturers on a personal level, various levels of government, councils and standards committees including CSA B483 (Drinking Water Treatment Units) and Health Canada-Lead Issues Working Group. Kevin can be reached at CWQA, 295 The West Mall, Suite 330, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M9C 4Z4, telephone (416) 695-3068 or via email at k.wong@cwqa.com.

About CWQA
The Canadian Water Quality Association promotes the individual right to quality water; educates water quality professionals; promotes the growth of the water quality improvement industry; serves as a unified voice in government and public relations; provides a role in consumer education. Canadian Water Quality Association members are kept in the forefront of the industry by way of the latest technical and scientific information acquired through laboratory testing and research studies. This information is disseminated to members through newsletters and special publications.

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