Looking Back at a Houston-Sized Texas Water 2019

Looking Back at a Houston-Sized Texas Water 2019!

Texas Water 2019 was a wild success. This was due in no small part to the enthusiasm and support from the City of Houston Utility and all the committed members from the Houston area. When you read this, the 86th Texas Legislative Session will be in our rearview mirrors and WEAT will be wrapping our head around important outcomes; including bills that passed, those that didn’t, and no doubt those that passed but were vetoed by Governor Gregg Abbott. Important legislative information can be found on WEAT’s website at https://www.weat.org/legislative-issues. Spoiler alert, this Texas WET article real estate will be completely taken up with recapping Texas Water and thanking our incredible host committee members and host utility, City of Houston. Shannon Dunne and Drew Molly pulled together a dynamic committee of people from the City of Houston and the greater Houston area to plan all aspects of the conference. Kudos go out to them for their Houston-sized and wildly successful effort in Texas Water planning!

If everything is bigger in Texas, than everything Texas Water related is biggest in Houston! Across the board, Texas Water 2019 was the biggest Texas Water to date. At 5400+ total badged folks, 2019 enjoyed 500 more people walking the exhibit hall, volunteering, attending technical sessions, and/or participating in the competition events than ever before. Many technical sessions were standing room only and the exhibit hall was absolutely packed. With 638 exhibit booths and 8 kiosks in the Innovation Lounge, there were technologies, hardware, firms, and competitions that not only filled but also energized the space.

As mentioned above, the technical program was very well-received and incredibly strong as demonstrated by the competition to present at Texas Water. More than 700 abstracts were submitted. These go through a rigorous peer review process whereby each abstract is reviewed, ranked, and considered for inclusion in the program by the appropriate knowledge committee covering the topic/track. After the abstract ranking and program production, Texas Water boasts one of the strongest technical programs of all water conferences in the U.S. Texas Water 2019 covered more than 25 different technical tracks related to water.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Anna Julia Peña-Tijerina with City of Fort Worth and Melissa Bryant with SARA for their exceptional work as our 2019 Technical Program Co-Chairs. These two received and compiled all abstract rankings and developed the program, which is an extraordinary accomplishment when you think about culling the top scoring abstracts out of those 700+ submitted and working with many different stakeholders to develop a representative technical program showcasing the great diversity of water-related topics important to our membership. And an additional bravo goes out to Anna Julia, who has done this incredible work representing WEAT for three years in a row! Texas Water program Co-Chair is one of the most important and time-consuming commitments for a WEAT leader and volunteer. It is also arguably one of the most significant and impactful commitments for a WEAT leader as it shapes the technical program at Texas Water, which as we said previously has the foot traffic and potential eyes of 5000 badged people at Texas Water.

Texas Water attendees and WEAT Operations Challenge program participants also enjoyed a record-breaking number of teams and energy was WEAT’s Operation’s Challenge. Please refer to the Ops Challenge article that covers all of the details of the 13 teams that competed, including the first ever all women’s team, City of Houston W20. W2O Team members included: Rae Mills, Lashandra Hall, Tonya Kickerson, Alixs Morris-Jourbert and Team Coach Carol LaBreche. City of Houston fielded 3 teams total this year, which included; The Drip Squad, W20, and Bayou City Brawlers. The growth and support of the Operations Challenge Competition is very intentional with credit due to the hard work of Jeff Sober, Matthew Jalbert, and Heather Wootton. The Operations Challenge program is one pathway towards workforce development as it’s a vehicle to showcase the critically important work of our operators and attract new talent.


(Julie Nahrgang on left and Aisha Niang, center, pictured with W2O Ops Challenge team)

Workforce development was a major undercurrent for WEAT throughout Texas Water. Workforce development and the staggering statistics noting an increasingly short supply of capable workers in the water industry due to an aging and retiring workforce and lack of a pipeline for new talent, provided impetus behind a number of WEAT programs. (For more information on current water workforce statistics, see The Brookings Institute report; Renewing the Water Workforce). One of WEAT’s premier workforce development programs was on full display at Texas Water. WEAT’s Workforce Development Committee worked with Houston ISD to arrange for a tour of the exhibit hall by 15 students and their instructor from Fur High School in Houston. Two of our fantastic members Katie Zheng with AECOM, Dylan Christenson with Black and Veatch, and Brianna Morales with Gulf Coast Authority are all part of the Workforce Development Committee and participated in this inaugural event that sparked interest, engagement, and perhaps even a pipeline for the water industry in Texas. The Committee will now make this an annual tour at Texas Water intended to strengthen connections between local ISDs and Municipalities.


(Fur High School students pictured with WEAT Workforce Development Committee members. 15 Students toured the exhibit hall at Texas Water 2019)

Within WEAT, we understand that workforce development is intrinsically bound with increasing diversity and inclusion in the sector, as well as, actively championing innovation and change. Texas Water 2019 was the first Texas Water to carve out space dedicated to our innovative technologies. These companies were curated by Imagine H2O as they were all in the top 35 to come out of the Imagine H2O accelerator application process. We’re excited to have an expanded Innovation Lounge at Texas Water 2020 and promote, champion, and provide real estate to some of the most innovative technologies providing solutions to some of our most pressing water challenges.

Innovation is realized at its greatest potential when you have many different voices and perspectives approaching a common problem. Through WEAT’s Diversity and Inclusion Sub-Committee, we hope to bring a greater breadth and depth of voices and perspectives to WEAT through actively promoting gender and racial diversity in WEAT programs. The first action item on this agenda is working to bring an InFlow type program to Texas Water 2020! If you’re unfamiliar with InFlow, (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water) it is a wonderfully dynamic and forward thinking program developed by WEF and first introduced at WEFTEC 2018. It connects the dots between WEF’s core values, workforce development initiatives, and an acknowledgement that the water sector “tends to lack gender and racial diversity… in 2016, 85% of… [the workforce] were male and two-thirds were white, pointing to a need for younger, more diverse talent” (Brookings Institute, June 2018: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Brookings-Metro-Renewing-the-Water-Workforce-June-2018-Executive-Summary.pdf) The InFlow program’s overall objective is to expose underrepresented groups to professional careers in the water industry as part of their workforce development strategy and personification of core values. WEAT is excited to pursue a similar initiative for Texas Water 2020. The full potential and power of innovation is not realized when you always have the same people at the table or the same people driving the conversation. We all benefit from a breadth of perspectives and voices. WEAT is excited to develop new programs in order to attract new talent, leverage innovative ideas, and promote growth through diversity and inclusion while embracing and promoting innovation and change. Look for WEAT’s InFlow program at Texas Water 2020! Please contact me if you are interested in serving on our Diversity and Inclusion Sub-Committee.

I want to close the article with recognizing and thanking one of the greats within the water sector and a personal mentor of mine, Betty Jordan. If you missed the Friday morning Gloyna Breakfast at Texas Water, you missed one of the jewels of an exceptionally strong Texas Water conference. Betty Jordan was the keynote speaker and provided an extraordinarily entertaining, edifying, and moving presentation entitled Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. If you don’t know Betty Jordan, give me a call or call one of her many friends, colleagues or clients. She is one of the giants in the industry and has had a profound impact on my career choice and work with water, as well as so many others. Betty, if you’re reading this, know your were the capstone of a fantastic Texas Water conference and so many of us are forever grateful to have had you as our giant of the industry.


(Giants of the industry, L-R: Raj Bhattarai, Betty Jordan, Walter Chiang)

Stay tuned for the next issue of the Executive Director’s corner, which will take a hard turn and discuss the fast times in the 86th Legislative Session and the wonderful world of clean water regulation!

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