By Denise M. Roberts

As sure as spring brought changes in weather, the change in atmosphere at this year’s WQA Aquatech Convention was filled with positive attitudes and high hopes. With an approximate 25-percent increase in attendance, new product launches, new companies and the sense that the industry is moving forward, there was a palpable air of excitement (almost relief) throughout. The high-quality educational sessions and presentations drew large audiences, more than in past years, many of them standing room only. And the caliber of speakers and presenters definitely pointed toward a renewed sense of optimism about the future of the water industry.

Section meetings and presentations
For manufacturers, the continuing battle with water softener bans elicited a specific response: the industry must demonstrate it is serious about developing new technologies to deal with the issues of salinity and water waste. Key to the battle will be educating regulatory bodies of the positive steps being taken to address these issues. Tom Palkon of WQA suggested a tiered approach of technology implementation to help in this approach and Douglas Oberhamer noted that the efforts in Arizona are “a pre-emptive effort to prevent municipalities from taking the lead on issues.” He said the industry needs direction and needs it soon.

On the dealer side of the aisle, Richard Mest’s presentation was well-attended and received. The emphasis on final barrier approaches included WQA’s efforts to assist dealers by providing a brochure to help dealers understand and explain what final barrier solutions are, how to present them and how to educate consumers and local officials alike. Mest noted that the final barrier approach is not limited and can be applied anywhere. Lead is an ongoing problem for many regions and Mest reiterated that there was no guarantee the treatment at the plant ensured clean water for the end user; treatment options should be included at the point of use. Mest noted that the industry needs to create a foundation for growth, now and in the future.

Dr. Charles Gerba and Dr. Kelly Reynolds of the University of Arizona were on hand to cover the needs aspect of final barrier approaches. From the microbiological point of view, there are new risks to water supplies that may not yet be known and testable, but cannot be overlooked. Based on recent studies, the number of contamination events is far greater than expected. Not everything is reported and as such, the data reflect a gap in that reporting and analysis. According to their presentations, 35 percent of municipal wells, eight percent of homeowner wells and 23 percent of small public groundwater sources are contaminated. Gerba also noted that in premise plumbing, the risk of Legionella contamination is higher. All of this more recent data pointed to the necessity of additional steps being taken to prevent waterborne disease and illness by POU treatment. Dr. Reynolds’ presentation on emerging pathogens enlightened attendees about the future possibilities the industry may face as detectable limits of contaminants increase with technological advances. What is known and not known about those contaminants will change as testing methodologies bring into sharper focus what is really in our water sources. After Reynolds finished speaking, there was little time for questions and she offered to speak to attendees individually. They started lining up immediately, hungry for answers.

Opening General Session highlights
Primetime was the name of the game for the Opening General Session, well-presented by WQA President Dar Watts and Secretary Sam Karge. The pair worked in tandem to announce the strategic changes being made by WQA, the focus of which is industry integrity. The association has three primary goals: 1) collaborating with members; 2) maintaining relationships and 3) focusing on science and technology. Radical changes within the industry were highlighted, such as the push for no-salt technology and a change in consumer focus. The strategic plan outlined by Watts and Karge will be an ongoing, five-year process that will be updated each year. Specific areas of concern included maintaining the value of the organization to the membership, embracing new technological advancement and creating a more accessible educational process. Several areas were tagged as needing immediate attention, including sustainability, water scarcity and quality, globalization, technical and market development and of course, regulation and certification.

John Packard paid a moving tribute to retiring Executive Director Peter Censky, who received a beautiful clock (mainly for his wife, Sue) and a standing ovation from the membership. Censky will not be departing immediately, though; he will be a consultant to the association for the next year. In an earlier discussion, Censky said that he will be open to new opportunities and is ready for the next stage of his life, though the path is undefined at this point. And there’s always that long list of chores Sue has for him to accomplish! Packard also announced The Censky Challenge, in which the WQA Board of Governors has authorized up to $25,000 (USD) in matching funds for donations.

Denise Urbans related the story of her rise from teacher to business owner to President of the Board of Directors. She maintained that the organization needed ‘younger folks’ to come on board to help WQA grow and support the industry with new ideas and new energy. Urbans announced the the 2012 nominees for the Board and noted terms for new board members were three years: manufacturers section: Cindy Gresham and Doug Horner; dealer section: Gil Gibson and Kelly Parks and industrial section, Michael Urbans.

Awards galore
Each year, WQA bestows awards upon those most deserving. Of notable response to the accolades, two awardees gave especially heartfelt thanks that resonated throughout the room.

Hall of Fame Award: Dennis Rupert, CWS-II, CI, of Rupert’s Culligan Water Conditioning, Hillsdale, MI, for “lifetime dedication and service to the water quality improvement industry, and extensive participation and unfailing support for the betterment of the association.” Rupert noted in his thank you speech that the continued support and love of his wife was a major factor in the success he’s achieved. His humble gratitude was remarkable!

Lifetime Member Award: Douglas C. Haring, CWS-VI, CI, CSR, Atlantic Filter Corporation, West Palm Beach, FL, in recognition of his “exemplary service to the association and knowledge and accomplishments in the field of water quality.” Haring noted the vaunted company he has joined by naming each of the previous honorees in a humble and inspiring speech. Truly a class act!

Ray Cross Award: Richard Jerzak, CWS-I, Pentair, Milwaukee, WI, for “pioneer spirit and unwavering commitment to make a notable difference in the water treatment industry.”

Key Award: Jeff Hellenbrand, CWS-I, Hellenbrand, Inc., Waunakee, WI, for the “highest qualities of leadership within his/her company, industry, and various associations, and local civic and community activities.”

Award of Merit: Bret Tangley, CWS-VI, Sterling Water, Inc./Culligan of Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI, for “exceptional service to the water quality improvement industry.”

International Award of Merit: Marzin R. Shroff, Eureka Forbes, Mumbai, India, for “exceptional service to the water quality improvement industry.”

Regent’s Award: Kirsti Pihl of the Pacific Water Quality Association, Tustin, CA, for “significant contributions at the state or local level on issues affecting the industry.”

More highlights
Amsterdam RAI’s collaboration with WQA has made the annual conference the place to be for water industry specialists, manufacturers, dealers and distributors from around the world. As Theo Linghout noted, the attendance figures for exhibitors and visitors had increased over last year by a significant amount and is expected to continue that progress in the future. Marieke Leenhouts was also on hand to experience the show firsthand and see the fruits of her intensive labors in making the show better than before

After the awards ceremony, Keynote Speaker Warren Greshes offered a very energetic and upbeat presentation in which he noted, “People don’t listen – they feel your attitude.” He also emphasized that successful people see themselves as successful. No excuses, no blame. They create and communicate their visions. Greshes also focused on a down economy being a good time for business. “Sales people stop selling long before customers stop buying. It’s great for business because so much of the competition has given up!” His key points hinged on what customers want to deal with: someone who is an expert advisor resource single point of contact. “Stop having great conversations,” he continued. “Make sure customers know about everything you do and offer. And always be looking for new business.”

Product launches around the hall
Some of the big news at the convention was the RainSoft/Pentair partnership for Pentair’s newest technology. RainSoft’s sales channel drove the marriage, according to Andy Palframan, Vice President. He and Aquion’s President/CEO, Cal Stuart, outlined the strategic benefits of offering the Pentair technology through RainSoft’s Home Depot channel. Unknown to most people is another aspect of the big-box’s service: the ‘do-it-for-me side of the house. Primarily, the relationship is a lead-generation channel. Through this arrangement, RainSoft dealers are service providers that have been subjected to background checks and require extensive credentials. RainSoft dealers are very satisfied with the new technology. At the Pentair booth, Sam Karge explained the company is primarily focused on technology and manufacturing. The new DI/RO technology combination, sometimes called a hybrid, will be aimed at commercial platforms. Karge noted that changes are afoot and he hopes the industry can keep up.

Oasis International hosted a media session that provided insight to its new water cooler that was developed in partnership with Philips. The proprietary InstantTrust UV technology was hailed as unique to the industry and was very well received. The system, which features instant on, doesn’t have to heat up, is temperature independent, compact and mercury free, will be launched in late summer.

QUA Group LLC made its debut with a commercial launch of product improvements to fractional EDI. Those include two compartments independently operating. The company manufactures its own fiber and is working on fiber for OEMs for POU use. According to Vice President Jim Dobos, the company recently gained certification for its Q-SEP UF product and is studying the possibility of residential product development downrange.

BoD meeting notes
The Board of Directors meeting saw the induction of new members and retirement of others. Outgoing President Denise Urbans officially passed the gavel to Dar Watts. who proceeded through the agenda with immediacy. John Packard reported that WQRF’s fundraising efforts had been relatively successful, noting that $103,000 had been raised for the septic study. In additioin, $9,850 had been committed to the Censky Challenge. Within minutes, that rose to an even $10,000! Eric Rosenthal reported on the convention results, noting that the number of companies attending was up 10 percent, spaces where up about four percent and new companies made up about 12 percent. Pre-registration for the convention was up 21 percent. The change to a two-day format was very well received as was the $90 full-access package. Rosenthal commented that a subtle marketing shift to branding and focus on consumer language was being implemented. The Association was also advancing on a Water for Dummies reference work and a membership survey would be available online soon. Rosenthal reiterated that the recent studies needed to be marketed better. He also announced the next Mid-Year meeting will be held in Indianapolis, IN, April 2-5.

Tanya Lubner reported on a three-year certification cycle and said recertification was at 70 percent. WQA has begun a four-year, million-dollar program to move books to the online format and the education program is restructurin into a step-wise approach. Marty Jessen gave insight into the efforts of Government Relations to deal with salinity issues not only in Arizona and California, but also in Indiana and Wisconsin. In Maine, licensing issues are being watched closely. Jessen said that would be a prime opportunity to extend certification programs. Gary Hatch reported on the Water Sciences Committee, noting projects in progress include the Plumbers Task Force, the septic study, the scale removal device study and US EPA small system compliance meetings. He also announced his retirement from the committee with Mark Brotman becoming the new chair. Robert Hague announced his retirement from the Manufacturer Supplier/Retail Channel committed, to be replaced by Shamus Hurley of Kinetico. Robert Maisner will become Chair of the Retail channel.

David Hawkins noted the Dealer Section will be more focused on final barrier education. Mike Urbans announced the Industrial Section would be going forward with a webinar education program (that began in May) and the relationship-building efforts with ASPE will continue. Stephen Ver Strat, reporting for the International Section, noted the India Task Force was going very well, though the momentum in Southeast Asia is not as strong as in India. He advised that Italy is still a hotile market but legislative changes are possible; Canada’s B43 Standard is active in Ontario; Brazil’s mandatory standards are being revised; The Philipines have adopted the NSFANSI protocols and standard and Israel has revised restrictions.

Watts announced the search for a new Executive Director was on target and progressing. WQA hired a search firm and 250 probable candidates were narrowed to 35, then down to six. At the time of the conference, four or five were being reviewed. Interviews were expected to be held in Chicago and Washington D.C. A replacement will be selected by July and formal appointment by the Board of Directors will take place in the Fall. Peter Censky has been retained in a consultant capacity for a one-year period.

Conclusion
As WQA moves through its five-year plan, significant changes are expected in the industry. Member and non-members would do well to keep themselves informed of what is happening and how it affects them. With more restrictive regulations on the horizon, the need to be up-to-date and well read on industry happenings will become ever more important to anyone involved. Here’s to making this a much better year!

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