CWEA Leader Profile: WEF Past President, Ed McCormick
Ed McCormick is 2015-2016 Immediate Past President of the Board of Trustees of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and a recognized expert in recovering valuable resources from wastewater to produce useful products for society, including renewable energy, recycled water, fertilizer, and transportation fuel.
What led to your involvement with WEF and into the role as WEF President?
Graduating from UC Berkeley in 1980 with a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering (then called “Sanitary Engineering”), I went to work for Brown & Caldwell (B&C), where I worked as a project engineer on both planning studies and design of wastewater treatment and water recycling facilities. Recognizing early on the importance of professional associations, I joined CWEA, San Francisco Bay Section and benefitted immediately from the sharing of knowledge with new friends and colleagues in what we then called “the water industry” (now more commonly referred to as the “water sector”).
In the mid-1980’s, I left the exciting world of consulting engineering for the just-as-exciting public sector world, accepting a position at EBMUD to work for Dennis Diemer, who later went on to lead the District as General Manager for 16 years. A key early career mentor, Dennis encouraged me to present our successful Cogeneration Project at the 1985 CWEA Annual Conference, my first professional association conference.
In the 1990’s, I continued my involvement in CWEA while also participating in CASA and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (then known as AMSA – the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies). During that period, I attended my first Water Environment Federation (WEF) Conference, and joined the Utility Management Committee. I remember being highly energized by the extremely diverse attendees – not only engineers, but chemists, utility managers, operators, superintendents, microbiologists, finance professionals, maintenance mechanics, instrument techs, public outreach managers, equipment manufacturers, university professors, etc. At that WEFTEC Conference I experienced for the first time, the white collar and blue collar world of water, with attendees from more than 100 countries and a large exhibition floor of state-of-the-art technologies! I was hooked on WEF!
Then incoming-Committee Chair, Dr. Steve Graef, in the audience at the 1998 Utility Management Conference in Portland, Oregon, heard my presentation “The Ten Best Practices of Effective Project Managers”. Following the Q&A period, Dr. Steve Graef approached asked me if I would be his Vice Chair of the WEF Utility Management Committee. For three years as Vice Chair under Dr. Graef, I learned leadership skills and gained a deeper appreciation for the global importance of WEF.
In 2002, I became Chair of the WEF Utility Management Committee, a group of nearly 100 WEF members, mostly utility general managers senior managers, and management consultant CEOs/experts. I was elected as a Delegate-at-Large to WEF’s House of Delegates in 2007, and then-incoming WEF President Rebecca West asked me to join the 17-person WEF Board of Trustees the following year. I served as a WEF Trustee from 2008-11, and was selected by the WEF Nominating Committee as WEF Vice President in 2012, the first of four additional years “going through the chairs”, culminating this past year as WEF President.
None of this would have been possible without the strong support from my then-employer EBMUD (including my boss Dave Williams) and from the CWEA Board of Directors who nominated me for WEF President. The last WEF President from northern California, retired CCCSD General Manager Roger Dolan, was also a career mentor who strongly encouraged me to consider WEF Board leadership. Long-time CWEA supporter, Past WEF President and Black & Veatch VP Jim Clark has also encouraged me throughout my WEF career.
What is your proudest WEF achievement so far?
Wow, tough question, hmm…there are probably four or five achievements that come to mind. The achievement I believe I am most proud of is having led the successful development of our first comprehensive WEF Strategic Plan of the 21st Century, including a new WEF Vision, Mission, Core Values, Critical Objectives and measurable Long-Term Strategic Goals, to guide WEF’s priorities over the next decade.
I believe that WEF is a stronger organization today because of the exceptional work done by our Board and representatives of the House of Delegates, the WEF Committee Leadership Council, and outstanding WEF staff over the past year in developing this high quality Strategic Plan that is now the basis for the allocation of WEF resources.
However, there are also four other major WEF accomplishments in 2015 that I am very proud of, including:
- We accelerated the transformation of the water sector from “Wastewater Treatment” to “Water Resource Recovery,” publishing our 2nd resource recovery roadmap, on Nutrients, as a follow-on to our highly successful “Energy Roadmap” publication.
- We enhanced customer service to our Member Associations, establishing a WEF staff Stakeholder Engagement Group, increasing our resource allocation (both staff support and budget) to provide highly responsive support to our Member Associations (MA) across North America, and beyond.
- We adopted WEF’s first 21st WEF Global Policy, strengthening global partnerships with the International Water Association, the Japan Sewage Works Association, Korea Water & Wastewater Association, PUB Singapore, European Water Association, and the Korea Water Environment Association.
- We launched WEF’s New Stormwater Institute, expanding beyond our historical core service of wastewater and water recycling.
What motivates you to do what you do?
You know, what motivates me most really hasn’t changed much since the day I switched undergraduate majors from meteorology to environmental engineering – to help make a positive difference for society. “Water is Life” – helping to protect the earth’s water and helping to lead the “Water Resource Recovery Revolution” are the things that excite me at this stage of my career. Both include sharing my knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm with students, young and seasoned professionals, and colleagues in the numerous organizations involved in water, energy and food to address the greatest environmental crisis of our times – climate change and its impact on people. So, this is the issue that I am most passionate about….and at the center of climate change is changes in the water cycle, the realm of water professionals. The challenges are enormous, but I am confident that we will rise to meet these challenges and turn this crisis into an opportunity for mankind. Frankly, we don’t have other options.
As WEF President, what was your most memorable event/trip and why?
I feel truly honored to have had the privilege and opportunity to represent our 35,000 WEF members at conferences, water summits and events around North America and the world during my past year as WEF President.
Traveling to 10 countries, and to numerous North American WEF Member Association conferences, symposia and workshops, it is very difficult to single out the most memorable event. The World Water Forum in Korea was an eye-opener for me in better understanding global water issues and why they are important to Californians. I was highly impressed by CWEA’s new annual conference, which has set new water sector best practices in how MAs can more effectively engage attendees and deliver world class knowledge exchange and networking opportunities.
But the most inspirational, memorable event that I participated in was representing WEF at the 25th Anniversary (Silver Jubilee) of the Stockholm International Water Week, of which WEF is a Founder. This included honoring the winner of the 2015 Stockholm International Water Prize, Rajendra Singh (the “Water Man of India”), and the winner of the 2015 Stockholm International Junior Water Prize, Perry Alagappan of Texas, at a Royal Banquet hosted by the King and Queen of Sweden.
Representing the United States, incoming Stanford University Perry Alagappan successfully competed with contestants from 50 countries to win the 2015 Junior Water Prize. Perry invented a low-cost, filter for removing toxic metals (mercury, cadmium, lead) in technology sector electronic waste from water.
This historic event was just one of many amazing experiences that I had at the conference in meeting students and professionals from NGOs/environmental organizations, government officials, universities, industry and municipal water agencies from six continents. Stockholm is one of the great water cities of the world, and every water professional owes it to her/himself to come to this inspiring conference at least once in their career.
Did you participate in the Jammin’ 4 Water event at WEFTEC?
In just three years, the pre-conference Saturday evening “Jammin’ 4 Water” Event has become one of the absolute highlights of the entire WEFTEC week. This year, we had a sell-out crowd of 770 attendees and an amazing number of corporate sponsors that raised a net $34,000 for water charities based in the U.S. and Canada. Jammin4Water Executive Producer, WEF member Dave Kinnear, was presented with a 2015 WEF Presidential Award for his role in helping WEF achieve its Vision of “A community of empowered professionals creating a healthy global water environment.”
WEFTEC has attendees from over 115 countries who speak dozens of languages – like water, music cuts across language boundaries to help us further strengthen our global water partnerships and friendships alike.
It was great fun to share the stage with numerous fellow WEF members on numerous songs, ranging from playing mandolin on “Friend of the Devil” and “Country Roads”, and leading an all-star cast on two rock classics – the Beatles’ “Revolution” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to a full dance floor at the Park West venue where so many rock legends (the Stones, Springsteen, etc.) have played over the years. I selected “Revolution” because my theme for WEF’s Opening General Session this year was “The Resource Recovery Revolution!” We just started the Revolution two days earlier on Saturday night.
What is your involvement with the Sludgetones?
The Sludgetones were first formed a decade ago to provide entertainment at CASA Conferences. My wife, Debbie (who sings jazz, swing and folk) and I created the Sludgetones and rewrote the lyrics to many popular songs for CASA and later CWEA audiences to sing along to (“This Land is Your Land” became “This Sludge is Your Sludge”, “Margaritaville” became “Wastewaterville”, “Kansas City” became “Sacramento” – I think you get the picture).
The fun part was pulling together many talented California wastewater leaders to partake in the festivities (Jack Foley, GM from Mid-Coast Sewer District and Rich Luthy, GM from Fairfield-Suisun; Bob Reid from West Valley Wastewater District; just to name a few). Who could ever forget Jim Kelly’s (past GM of CCCSD) rousing rendition of “Okie from Muskogee?”
Can you tell us about the California Recycled Water Beer Tasting?
I recently attended a symposium in northern California entitled “The Meeting of the Minds.” My WEF role was to be part of a panel of leaders who would perform a blind taste test to determine what tasted better – two nearly identical beers, the difference being that one was brewed using tap water, and the other using highly treated recycled water.
The water that tasted best to the panel of four judges was the recycled water-made beer. I was not surprised, as the quality of the highly treated recycled water was even higher than that of the drinking water!
The reality is that ALL water is recycled. No new water has been created on earth for millions of years. Potable Reuse is coming to California, and I believe that it will be sooner than we think!
When you think of the future of our profession what gives you hope? What makes you concerned?
What gives me hope for the future is that so many of the world’s young people that I meet are choosing to become water professionals because they want to play a role in creating a healthy global water environment. They understand that climate change is largely about water – drought, floods, typhoons and hurricanes of historic size, ocean acidification – too much water when and where we don’t need or want it, and not enough water when and where we need it. These students and young professionals are seeking careers and opportunities in areas like environmental science, engineering, communications, public policy and international law so that they can help protect water for both their and future generations.
What concerns me is that although the United States was founded on the principles of reason and science, too many Americans today are not aware of the findings of scientists, and are often overly swayed by nonscientific views on water and environmental issues – though they are now in the minority across the continent, “climate change deniers” slow progress toward our solving the climate crisis.
Unfortunately, we do not have much time left to act, which is my greatest concern. We are rapidly approaching a 1 degree Celsius temperature rise above the Earth’s baseline average temperature. Very few Americans are aware that the reason that scientists have established a 2 degree Celsius rise in the earth’s temperature as the “point of no return” is because beyond that, human beings lose control of the ability to reduce temperature rise. Above a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise, we will lose most of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps and perhaps more significantly, the tundra/permafrost will thaw, releasing CO2 and methane a level of magnitude higher than what humans currently emit.
So, given that we have so little time to act, the “revolution” needs to “start now.”
What’s next for you?
I feel so fortunate to have worked for great water organizations like EBMUD and Brown & Caldwell, and to have volunteered for world class professional water associations like CWEA, CASA and WEF over the years.
My plan going forward is to continue what I have done throughout my career – to help water sector organizations, particularly utilities, and nonprofit organizations and associations, by doing independent consulting.
Some of the areas where I feel I can bring value to organizations include:
- Strategic Planning Facilitation & Development (for organizations and/or boards)
- Utility of the Future/Water Resource Recovery (energy, water reuse, biosolids reuse)
- Leadership Development/Executive Coaching/Facilitation
- Construction Dispute Resolution/Claims Mitigation
- Utility Management/Continuous Improvement Programs (perhaps including interim or part-time utility General Manager assignments).
- Capital Program Management
I also plan to continue to speak at the regional, national and international levels on topics related to water, energy, food and climate change. I will be keynoting Michigan State University’s annual “Fate of the Earth” Symposium on the Food/Water/Energy nexus, and on “Water Resource Recovery” at Water Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa, both in early 2016.
I am also overdue in speaking at a CWEA Bay Section Monthly Meeting, so look forward to that also!
Any advice for someone entering the water profession?
My advice for someone entering the water profession:
1) Get involved in professional associations like CWEA and WEF early in your career – The professional and career development opportunities and benefits cannot be overemphasized. As I travel the world on behalf of WEF, there is one trend that is crystal-clear – our water sector leaders – consulting firm and manufacturer CEO’s/VPs, utility general managers, operations superintendants, lab managers and university department heads, almost all got involved in professional associations early in their career.
2) Establish your own “Mission Statement” – A lot of soul-searching goes into identifying your career “Mission Statement” or “purpose”. It is important to do this work. One huge benefit is that it will help you make the tough career, job opportunity and life decisions that you will inevitably face during your years in the water profession. Faced with the forks in the road, your Career Mission Statement will help guide you to the decision choice that will get you where you ultimately want to be.
3) Make “continuous improvement” your personal mantra – No matter how strong our technical, communication and interpersonal skills, we can always improve. Work for organizations that support professional development, reward performance and delegate authority along with responsibility.
4) Do something else fun beyond work – For me, this was long-distance running, mountaineering, travel and playing guitar in a rock and roll band (not all at once)! It really doesn’t matter what you choose, but the best leaders and colleagues are often those with the broadest life perspectives, and they also make for interesting friends. Remember, “work is part of life”, not the reverse. Taking up guitar and songwriting in my 40’s kept me from becoming a “workaholic manager.” And I can’t think of anything more fun than being on stage with people you like, creating music for a floor full of dancers.