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Which Water Conferences Should You Attend?

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Tom Walski, Ph.D, P.E, Senior Product Manager, Water

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There is no shortage of conferences serving the water industry. Each of them contributes something to our profession, and attending is usually worthwhile, if not life-changing. But which ones should you attend? You can’t attend all of them, or you wouldn’t get any work done. I’ll run through a few of the conferences I’ve attended, and I’ll give you my thoughts below.

There are two overall categories of conferences depending on the audience: Academic and Applied. The academic conferences attract university folks and some government personnel. The applied conferences attract engineers and operators from utilities, and consulting engineers tend to follow these conferences in search of clients.

Let’s look at some conferences with a water distribution/wastewater collection emphasis that I’ve known and loved:

American Water Works Association (AWWA) Water Infrastructure Conference (WIC) is my favorite. This is a mid-sized conference, but it has a nice focus on things I’m interested in. It grew out of a merger of the AWWA IT conferenced and distribution system symposium a few years back. The papers and committee meetings align with my interests, I was disappointed I couldn’t make it this year. I’m looking forward to next year.

AWWA Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE) is a huge conference that I find a bit overwhelming. The content is excellent but it’s easy to get lost with all that’s going on. I rarely miss it.

Water Environment Federation (WEF) Collection System (CS) is the sewage equivalent of AWWWA-WIC. It has the right focus for me. I haven’t gone for a couple of years, but I’d like to get back.

WEFTEC is the sewer/storm equivalent of ACE but it’s even bigger. There is plenty to do and see but it’s been a few years since I’ve gone. I was at the conference in San Francisco in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. It’s hard to forget that.

Water Distribution System Analysis (WDSA) conference is my favorite academic conference. It is sometimes held in conjunction with the ASCE Environmental and Water Resources Institute Conference (EWRI) but in some years it’s a standalone conference or in conjunction with CCWI (see below). It’s mostly research papers. I enjoy the people and it helps me keep us with research trends. The papers are often presented by grad students and the quality varies widely.

Computers and Controls in the Water Industry (CCWI) started as a UK-based conference but has now become global. The presentations are good, and it covers both water and wastewater. It tends to have a more academic bent.

Hydro informatics is another global academic conference. There isn’t much US involvement. The only time it was held in the US (New York City), there may have only been a handful of US attendees.

I’ve just scratched the surface here. There are many more conferences such as those by IWA, SWAN, and those sponsored by private firms like Global Water Intelligence and Water Finance and Management.

In the US, virtually every state has its own local ASCE, AWWA, or WEF conference. These involve lower registration and travel costs and tend to attract more operations and management attendees from smaller and mid-sized utilities. There may be only two or three tracks so it may be hard to find something you want to attend at any time. I like the contact with people who actually get their hands dirty.

When I was in grad school, my advisor told me that when you go to a conference, about half of what you learn is at the presentations. The other half is what you learn talking with others during coffee breaks, meals, and other socializing. Be sure to mingle.

As much as I dislike travel, I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a post-Covid era when I can attend conferences in person. See you then.

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