AC 2013: High energy, great education and networking

By Ryan Orr, Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority

This year’s CWEA Annual Conference marked one of the organization’s very best. The conference registration, number of vendors and overall energy was at nearly an all time high.  The conference provided myriad opportunities for training, demonstrating new technologies and networking with other folks in the industry. Even elected leaders joined in the festivities this year, attending the opening session and hosted lunch to specifically discuss important topics in the industry. This year’s events in Sunny Palm Springs raised the bar and ensured that every attendee truly found the Key to Success.  

Ice-Breaker Reception

The turnout for this annual event to kick of the conference was through the roof. The poolside lounge of the beautiful Renaissance Hotel in Palm Springs was packed to the brim with industry leaders, vendors and wastewater professionals. There could be no better way to kick off what turned out to be one of the best conferences yet.

Opening Session

The Opening Session program, “California Wastewater Professionals: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going” presented a diverse group of highly skilled and extremely experienced speakers kicked off Dr. Nick Pinhey who explained who explained through historical examples how our water past is being recycled in the 21st century.  Renowned Desert Sun water and energy reporter K Kaufman followed Dr. Pinhey. Kaufman spoke in depth about her experience in learning the ins and outs of the water and wastewater industries, which she had never covered before joining the Desert Sun’s team seven years prior. Ron Wildermuth, Manager of Public & Government Affairs for the West Basin MWD, delivered an enthusiastic presentation entitled “How We ‘Sold’ Drinking Sewer Water in Orange County” in which he describes the countless benefits of a good “Influencer Focused” public outreach program, and overcoming the infamous “yuck factor.”  Headliner Dr. Carl Hensman who serves as the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Program Officer for the Gates Foundation gave a moving speech on the sanitation crisis in developing countries complete with video clips that showed the strife of the folks that struggle with sanitation everyday and what his team is doing about it. Together the opening session took audience members through the whole gamut of human emotions, and further laid the foundation of the importance of the job that wastewater professionals do.

Pre-Conference Workshops

The Annual Conference started off with a bang featuring nine Specialty Workshops.  More than 200 water professionals were in attendance for an excellent day of training.  Their was something for everyone on this fun filled day of training, including the Collection Systems Boot Camp 203, New and Proposed Regulations for Laboratories and a class dedicated to skills to boost your Leadership Success.

Technical Sessions

The Technical Program at this year’s Conference provided workshops on a host of topics and the participation was overwhelming. As part of 49 technical session tracks, over 194 technical presentations were given during the 3-day conference and ranged in topic from emerging regulatory issues and using performance measures to the latest in renewable energy technology and research.

Technical Tours

A lot of time and effort went into planning the technical tours. They we’re both unique, and highly informative. More than 152registrants turned out receiving valuable contact hours for participating in the five tours to various environmental facilities throughout Palm Springs.  Tour attendees were impressed with the wide variety of tours from biosolids to recycled water facilities. Highlights included sanitary sewer overflow simulators, a 12 mgd wastewater treatment plant that is a major provider of recycled water to a 160-megawatt natural gas power generation facility, the largest wastewater treatment facility in northern California – serving over 1 million residents, a 26,000 dry ton biosolid facility, and a combined sewer system – originally established in the 1800’s.

Manufacturers’ Exhibition, Lunch and Receptions

More than 226 vendor booths strutted their stuff at the Exposition, filling the massive exhibit hall to the brim. Booth hosts and attendees alike deemed it a wild success. Door prizes in the exhibit hall included large gift cards and kindle fires and Thursday’s complimentary pasta lunch attracted swaths of conference goers to the informative exhibit booths.  Each evening of the EXPO, exhibitor’s hosted an outstanding reception with food, drink and valuable networking for all who attended.

Cutting Edge Technology Seminar

New to the annual conference this year was the “Cutting Edge Technology Seminar” which featured a program entitled “What Does the Future of Wastewater Treatment Look Like?” The seminar boasted a great turnout and the room was full of folks eager to learn about the newest and most cutting edge technologies in the wastewater industry today. Attendees were able to exchange idea and innovation all in the name of improving wastewater treatment.

Industry Partner and CWEA Local Sections & Committee Displays

This marked the fifth year that we invited our industry partners and CWEA local sections and committees to come share their programs and activities with our conference attendees, and was one of the most successful outings yet. Several unique organizations were represented lining the hallways of the Palm Springs Convention Center, including industry partners such as

The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists; CWEA Public Education Committee; Office of Water Programs; State Water Resources Control Board; National Association of Sewer Service Companies (NASSCO); Kirt Brooks Memorial Water Environment Scholarship Committee; Tri-State Seminar; Santa Ana River Basin Section; Southern Section Collections System Committee; CWEA Pretreatment, Pollution Prevention and Stormwater  Committee; Southern California Alliance of Publicly Owned Treatment Works, Santa Clara Valley; and SAWPA – Inland Empire Brine Line. An impressive number of attendees stopped by the conveniently placed booths to learn more about the offerings of the organizations.

Food, Fun & Networking:

Committee Meetings and Breakfasts

If you haven’t been part of one of CWEA’s committees, than you are missing out. These committees contribute to the sustainability of CWEA and of our industry. They provide great new networking opportunities, a wealth of information, fun events, and only demand from you the time you are willing to give.  More than 17 committee meetings and breakfasts were held at this years conference with groups focused on subject that would meet anybody’s interests.  At these meetings, CWEA committees conducted their important business including reviewing annual activities, approving new committee officers, discussing conference/seminar speakers and topics, reviewing certification issues, presenting awards, and much more. Committees cover a wide range of topics from government affairs, to collection systems to biosolids. Consider attending these valuable meetings at next year’s conference or check with the CWEA office to see how you can get involved now.

Awards Lunch

During the Awards Lunch,50 state and national level awards were presented to individuals and organizations for their extraordinary achievements in serving our profession and protecting our environment.  We are pleased to report that our CWEA local sections have been more than generous with their support of the Kirt Brooks Memorial Water Environment Scholarship. A total of $16,439 was pledged by our Local Sections!

Students and Young Professionals’ Sludgey Scavenger Hunt

The Students and Young Professionals Committee hosted the Sludgey Scavenger Hunt at the Exhibition Hall on Wednesday evening proving that age doesn’t always come before beauty. Twelve teams each consisting of one student or young professional and one seasoned veteran of the trade scoured the exhibit hall, taking photos and videos and interacting with exhibitors to check off items on the extensive and always challenging scavenger hunt list. The winning team won a Galaxy tablet and runners up also received generous rewards for their efforts, including gift cards. This is always a favorite among conference attendees and a way for students and young professionals can learn a whole lot in a short amount of time.

Conference Banquet

This year’s conference banquet was highly anticipated and wildly successful. Dancing with the CWEA stars was the theme and while everyone had a blast, some were happy to know that contestants were going back to their full time jobs in the Wastewater Industry. Distinguished WEF President-Elect Sandra Ralston and CWEA President Carrie Mattingly presented the awards as they recovered from some intense dance competition.  The Dancing with the CWEA Stars was something to behold, and attendees continued to dance the night away as they celebrated the end to one of the most successful conferences to date.

Special Events and Activities:

5S Induction Ceremony

An outstanding list of CWEA members joined the Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers as the Class of 2013 at the 5S Induction Ceremony that was conducted at the end of the Opening General Session at the Annual Conference on April 17. Co-Chairs thanked the nominators and the selection panel.  Similar to previous years the presentation included a PowerPoint with pictures of the new Shovelers, a few highlights of their CWEA activities, and some humorous information about them.  This year we had a number of Art Carney’s who sung the“Song of the Sewer” award the new Shovelers. The audience enjoyed the show and the new Shovelers proudly displayed their shovels for the rest of the Conference.  Listed below is the 5S Class of 2013

Doug Boss Giti Heravian Sandra Ralston
John Boyd Basil Hewitt Michael Simpson
Vicki Caulfield Steve Krautheim Doug Wing
Kirk Cloyd Juan Martinez
Tim Costello Eric Nielsen

Operations Challenge

The 2013 Operations Challenge proved to be as exciting as ever for both the competing team and those in the audience cheering them on. Conference attendees once again packed the aisles around the challenge areas to see the teams give it their all in an attempt to be crowned the state’s best.  The LA Wrecking Crew (LACSD) successfully defended their Operations Challenge Title at this year’s conference.  The Vallejo North Bay Ryders (VSFCD) and the South Bayside Sewer Avengers (SBSA) both competed fiercely in an attempt to defeat the Wrecking Crew.  All 3 teams look forward to representing CWEA at WEFTEC 2013 in Chicago.  A special 3 team Ops Challenge exhibition took place just prior to the main event.  The 3 teams were the the “Has-Beens” (Past CWEA Presidents), “Board Stiff” (CWEA Board Members) and the “CakeEaters” (SYP & CWEA Staff).

Sludge Trudge 5k Fun Run/Walk

This year’s Sludge Trudge 5k race was held at Demuth Park on April 18. The organizers could not have arranged for better weather on the course which ran alongside a park, golf course, and of course a water treatment plant. There was a great turnout with39 runners/walkers!  The overall winner was Nick Janous  of Aquarius Technologies, Inc. in a time of 20 minutes and 21 seconds, the women’s overall winner was Katy Rodgers of Carollo Engineers in a time of 25 minutes and 21 seconds. Age category winners walked away with prizes including brand new Garmin watches and waistbands from SPI for storing important items during runs.

Thanks to Our Conference Sponsors

We wish to thank the following companies for their sponsorship contribution:

Operations Challenge Veolia Water North America
Hotel Room Keys ehs International, Inc. & Dansure, Inc.
Lanyards Root X
Sludge Trudge Aquatic Bioassay
Student and Young Professionals Event Brown and Caldwell
Titanium Xylem

HDR Engineering, Inc.

Diamond-level Dudek

Black & Veatch

CH2M Hill

GHD Inc.

M. E. Simpson Co., Inc.

Shand & Jurs


Pacific EcoRisk

Gold-level The Coombs-Hopkins Company

Municipal Maintenance Equipment, Inc.

CDM Smith, Inc.


West Yost Associates

Pipelogix Inc.

Lee & Ro, Inc.

RMC Water and Environment

Platinum Level Owen Equipment Sales

Thanks to Our Volunteers, Staff and Supporting Organizations

We wish to thank all of the volunteers and staff that worked in front of and behind the scenes to plan and conduct this conference.  Whether part of the Conference Committee, a technical session moderator, a speaker or other contributor, it was because of you and over 450 other volunteers and CWEA staff members that this year’s conference a true success.  Most especially, we wish to recognize and thank Conference Committee members and CWEA’s Education and Training staff, for their significant efforts, imagination and dedication in planning the 85st Annual Conference.

2013 Annual Conference Committee

CONFERENCE Co-Chairs Gina Cloutier and Connie Leonard
2012-2013 CWEA PRESIDENT Carrie Mattingly
PROGRAM Jenny Hsu and Patrick Griffith
SPECIALTY WORKSHOPS Jon Hay, Andre Schmidt & Luis Leon
OPENING SESSION Berlinda Blackburn and Jon Ganz
TECHNICAL TOURS Tom Falk, Chuck Greely & Denis Pollak
EXHIBITS Dave Badgley, Tom Roberson & Dave Thomas
LOCAL ARRANGEMENTS Debra Bogdanoff, Matt Copeland & Scott Schmitz
SIGNAGE Natalie Miramontes
GOLF TOURNAMENT Steve Agor and Bradley Davis
BANQUET Barbara Langley and Jim Langley
SLUDGE TRUDGE Greg Jowyk & Carlos Guerra

Don’t forget to follow the conference page on Facebook at We’ll continue posting photos of the great events from this year’s conference, which included the first live Facebook updates at the conference and contests. More importantly you can keep up with all of the updates for next year’s conference, which is already well under way!

We hope that you enjoyed yourself and learned many lessons to take back to your job! See you next year in Santa Clara!

About the Author

CWEA Staff

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