Another WEFTEC is in the books. It was my seventh WEFTEC and fourth time in New Orleans, which just about qualifies me as a NOLA expert—or so I thought.
Upon our return, our staff read an amusing and eye-opening blog from a Milwaukee startup company called Microbe Detectives on “Bourbon Gumbo.” No, that’s not a can’t-miss NOLA dish, which was what I initially thought when I read the email’s subject line. It’s actually an affectionate term for the stagnant water puddles that—much like the endless throngs of party people—meander through Bourbon Street at all times.
Microbe Detectives decided to collect a sample of water from one of these puddles during WEFTEC, and took it home with them to analyze using DNA sequencing to identify the bacteria present. For the sake of anyone who might be enjoying a meal as they’re reading this, I’ll stop right there, as the results are not exactly appetizing, but can be viewed in full at https://microbedetectives.com/bourbon-gumbo-test-results/.
Experiments like this add an element of amusement to the dirty job of water and wastewater management and highlight the importance of water testing. But all jokes aside, the Microbe Detectives believe the work they do is especially important after a year that highlighted severe water crises like Flint. They believe that innovations such as DNA sequencing, big data analytics and aquatic “biobanking” will play an increasingly important role in identifying and preventing water quality and operational problems.
On the flip side of that, however, how does one assure the public that the water flowing from their sinks is clean and safe in cases when it is, in fact, clean and safe? During WEFTEC, I caught an education session called “Enhancing the Pure Water San Diego Community Outreach Program: A Partnership With the University of San Diego,” on a program that will use water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water. The multi-year program will provide one-third of San Diego’s water supply locally by 2035. The city currently depends on importing 85% of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River.
College students worked with Pure Water San Diego on a video project designed to lessen the public’s aversion to consuming recycled water, complete with social media slang and interesting factoids on San Diego’s water sources and bottled vs. tap water.
In that same spirit of facing the ick factor head on, the Innovation Pavilion at WEFTEC showcased a variety of beers made with recycled water. Sampling these beers definitely meant getting past the ick factor; and our staff was glad we did, as we enjoyed the tasty drought-friendly beverages.
I think the key to balancing passivity and pandemonium lies in empowering the public to become their own water stewards. Now that our industry has firm footing in national headlines, we must leverage that stage to educate the public on the importance of maintaining and replacing our nation’s aging infrastructure, and using water wisely in the wake of severe drought.
What were some of your takeaways from WEFTEC? Share them with us via email, or our social media pages. Also, don’t forget to check out our videos from the WEFTEC show floor and beyond at wwdmag.com/videos.