Finding a Rhythm and Finishing Strong

As we wrap up 2019, I’m somewhat overwhelmed in trying to put pen to paper (or hands to the keyboard) and provide our annual retrospective. I keep coming back to easily invoked running analogies. WEAT found a rhythm and stride this year. And we finished exceptionally strong - strong as an organization and strong in our advocacy and commitment to improving the water quality of Texas.

WEAT welcomed a few new fully-fledged Committees to the Board this year:

  • Workforce Development Committee: Co-Chairs, Katie Zheng with AECOM and Justin Rackley with CDM Smith and Vice Chair Dylan Christenson with Black and Veatch
  • Philanthropy Committee: Co-Chairs, Jason Cocklin, Freese and Nichols and Adam Conner, Freese and Nichols
  • Diversity and Inclusion Committee: Co-Chairs, Aisha Niang with City of Houston and Ana Julia Pena Tijerina with City of Fort Worth

One of our three guiding pillars is advocacy. WEAT is your voice in the Texas Legislature. Our process is transparent and positions are informed by our member stakeholders and advanced through our technical committees. For example, WEAT’s testimony on the handful of bills relating to biosolids or domestic septage that came before the HERC Committee was vetted and discussed by our Biosolids Committee leaders including our Chair, Matt Berg with Jacobs.

Senate and House Interim Charges

Every other year around this time of year we look for interim charges to be released. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released the interim charges for the Texas Senate Committees on October 30, 2019. Of particular note are the charges issued for the Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee and the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee to jointly study:

  • Future Water Supply: Examine current laws, processes, and water storage options and availability. Make recommendations promoting the state's water supply, storage, availability, valuation, movement, and development of new sources.
  • River Authority Infrastructure: Examine the roles and responsibilities of river authorities in maintaining their managed assets including, but not limited to, dams. Evaluate the impact on the economy, water supply, and flood control due to deferred maintenance. Make recommendations to promote infrastructure stability and maintain the usability of these bodies of water.
  • Groundwater Regulatory Framework: Study the state's groundwater regulatory framework and make recommendations to improve groundwater regulation, management, and permitting.
  • Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under each committee's jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following:
  • Senate Bills 6, 7, 8, and 500, relating to disaster response and recovery, disaster funds, state-wide flood planning, and dam maintenance;
  • Senate Bill 698, related to expedited permitting;
  • Senate Bill 700, relating to water utility ratemaking reform;
  • Senate Bill 2272, relating to certain CCN amendment and revocation procedures;
  • House Bill 1325, relating to the production and regulation of hemp;
  • and
  • House Bill 3557, relating to civil and criminal liability for engaging in
  • certain conduct involving a critical infrastructure facility.

We also have a sneak peek into the hot button issues the House will study and focus on during the interim. With the Speaker of the House announcing he will not seek re election, we are left with no clear heir apparent but some water mandates and studies that will form some of the major legislation moving into the 87th legislative session. The following are of particular importance to our members and stakeholders:

Energy and Resources Committee:

  • Statutory and regulatory changes regarding recycling and reuse of produced water from the oil and gas industry

Environmental Regulation:

  • Implementation of HB 2771 from oil and gas industry to TCEQ to prepare for delegation of discharge permitting authority from EOA
  • Study of the regulation of commercial and residential irrigation backflow devices to determine incidences of pollutant backflow into drinking water sources and review TCEQ stakeholder groups

Homeland Security and Public Safety

  • Implementation of disaster preparedness and emergency response legislation from the 86th session

Natural Resources

  • Implementation of bills passed past session related to flood planning, flood funding, aquifer storage and recovery, aquifer recharge, brackish groundwater development, state water planning
  • Promotion of regional water supply projects
  • Groundwater district joint planning for achievement of desired future conditions

Innovative Technology, Strategic Partnerships, and Innovation Lounge and Webinar Series

Bringing technology solutions that seek to solve water management issues to WEAT members was one of our core focuses in 2019. WEAT developed a strategic partnership with Imagine H2O, a water tech accelerator that helped curate the inaugural innovation lounge at Texas Water 2019, which WEAT championed. We are taking our innovative tech partners that exhibited at Texas Water and showcasing their technologies through a webinar series entitled WEAT Innovative Tech Webinars. This brings the technologies showcased at Texas Water to your desktop during lunch and allows you to become informed and inspired by new solutions to pressing problems. And continuing in this vein, WEAT will be awarding our first Innovative Technology Award at Texas Water 2020! This synergy between innovative tech exhibitors, webinar presentations, and spotlighting this important slice of the water sector, all combine to produce WEAT’s innovative tech showcase efforts realized in 2019.

WEAT’s Diversity and Inclusion Program

Within WEAT, we know that everyone benefits from diversity of ideas, experiences, and perspectives. Water issues are as diverse, wide ranging, and dependent on social, economic, and environmental factors as the vantage points from which people view them. That is, the problems are big and the solutions can never be one-size-fits-all. Because of this, we know that the water sector must embrace diversity of people as it embraces diversity of ideas. We must include everyone at the table to better address the challenges and dynamic solutions required. Aisha Niang and Ana Pena have taken on this mantle as Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chairs for WEAT. And one of our central efforts is bringing the InFLOW program to Texas Water. InFLOW stands for Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water and will provide a half day of mentorship and networking experiences to previously underrepresented groups in the water sector. This year, we are bringing in students from UT RGV and working with Texas A&M Prairie View.

Water Workforce Development through WEAT

We started this year deep in the 86th legislative session and individual bills and issues relating to flood funding, planning, preparedness, and resiliency while keeping simultaneous focus on on some of the pressing issues the water sector is grappling with. One of which is how to attract, train, and retain the future workforce that will be needed to fill the positions left open by the nearly 35% of water and wastewater operators set to retire in the next few years. Our Workforce Development Committee in consort with a number of other WEAT leaders set out to address this issue by building on relationships with Workforce Solutions, Inframark, and the Department of Labor. The end result of nearly 24 months of committed effort led by private firm volunteers, public sector workers, regulators, workforce development groups like Workforce Solutions, WEAT Staff and leadership, and the Department of Labor, is the first Water and Wastewater Operator Apprenticeship Program in the State of Texas. By the time you read this, WEAT will have received official Apprenticeship Program designation from the DOL as the umbrella group through which Texas’ water/wastewater apprenticeship program functions. WEAT will operate the program that will attract, train, and retain the future workforce all while unlocking federal funds to do so. Implementing and getting Apprenticeship Program designation is the big picture approach and full view of the sector, it’s challenges, and opportunities. WEAT is finding, augmenting, and applying existing programs to introduce the future workforce to our partner entities including TRA and City of Houston. This is truly a monumental achievement. And one that was made apparent and available because of our member volunteers like Katie Zheng and Dylan Christenson, and the incredible support of their employers, AECOM and Black and Veatch respectively.

As 2019 winds down and we usher in a new year and new decade, I could not be more excited to work alongside you in fulfilling WEAT’s mission to preserve and enhance the water environment of Texas. And, I could not be more humbled and honored to be the Executive Director of an organization whose strength and vitality is directly proportional to that of its members. And you, our reader and member should know that WEAT is larger, more diverse, more dynamic, and better poised to serve the water environment, water sector, and our members that ever before. Cheers to another year and another decade of incredible growth. And cheers to you, our members and all the front-line defenders of public health and the environment!

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