Environmental Protection

Commentary

Water's Value Needs Clearer Definition

I am the fourth woman president in the Water Environment Federation's history. One thing that affects my passion for this role is my personal passion for doing all I can to bring access to sanitation and clean water to communities across the world. WEF members do this everyday -- whether they are active in developed communities or developing communities.

A human right

I believe that access to sanitation and water is a key component of human rights -- when people have access to both, they can live their life with their basic needs met (food, water, controlled diseases) and then build on their talents, skills, and dreams for a better future.

I am especially passionate about the undeveloped world where women and children may spend the majority of their days collecting and transporting whatever water they can find. They may face the risk of personal assault in areas that lack safe sanitation. The lack of any sanitation facilities are keeping young women from a week of school each month. These issues fuel my passion and define a focus I wish to bring to issues during my year as WEF president.

We water professionals will face tough issues ahead. Growing populations, climate change, and urbanization will continue to affect water supplies and water quality. The fact that we have not provided access to sanitation and clean water to a significant part of the planet should cause us to pause and ask if our priorities are right. Are we leveraging all the resources available to address these needs?

Water's value

Today we find ourselves navigating through the financial, infrastructure, and water challenges that are a part of our world. We realize that now, more than ever, we must better define and communicate the value of water. This must be translated into clear and personal terms so that the public understands its role as a water steward.

Water is essential for life, and access to safe sanitation and clean water are preconditions for civilized communities. Our members spend their lives ensuring that the best water science, technology, knowledge, and polices are developed and applied to provide safe sanitation and clean water to communities across the globe. This noble service enables others to live free of waterborne diseases, free from worries about where the next drop of clean water will come from, and free to pursue the quality of life they desire. I believe that this type of communication about water – defining it in a personal way so that each individual can clearly see how it relates to their well being and the values that define their lifestyle -- will result in a better understanding of the value of water.

2009 goals

My goal during the upcoming year is to help WEF continue developing and leveraging its resources to further the mission of preserving and enhancing our global water environment. Specifically, this year we will work toward:

Connecting the role of the water profession to public health and the quality of life for communities in a way that furthers the understanding of the value of water, defines the contributions of water professionals to public health, and attracts professionals (including young, “new,” and “seasoned” professionals).

Promoting water stewardship by advancing and advocating sustainable watershed approaches to resource management, further defining the public’s role and engagement in watershed protection, and promoting water reuse and the honest public dialogue that “reused water” is an essential component of all communities and water supply. My hope is that in the not-so-distant future all communities will have purple pipes, and that the water in these pipes will be recognized for the role it plays in the community water cycle.

Ensuring integrity and credibility in all of the products and services that WEF provides so that as the technical, economic, social, and political barriers to water challenges are addressed, WEF products and services are trusted and seen a credible enablers to global water solutions.

Defining and implementing technology that sustains the business needs of the Federation in a way that improves the “WEF Web site experience” and enhances product and service delivery to members and customers.

WEF members have the capacity and have been blessed with the skills and talents to enable water solutions that are holistic in approach and recognized as sustainable and equitable. This is our future because of who we are, because of those we work with today and in the future; and this is our future because of the values that we hold.

I am excited to have the opportunity to work alongside members of the Water Environment Federation and its partners to achieve our desired water future.

About the Author

At the 81st annual WEFTEC meeting in Chicago, Rebecca West, director of Technical Services at Spartanburg Water in Spartanburg, S.C., became president of the Water Environment Federation, which has 35,000 individual members.

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