Water Leader Q&A: Jennifer West, Executive Director, WateReuse California

“We’re Doing a Great Job Working Together Towards Common Purposes”

Jennifer West

WateReuse California's Jennifer West (right) with Wade Crowfoot (center), Deputy Cabinet Secretary & Senior Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown and Chris Calfee (left), Governor’s Office of Planning & Research.

Jennifer West is the Managing Director of WateReuse California and was CWEA’s special guest at our June Board meeting. Jennifer helped our Board build a better understanding of WateReuse issues.

She described the Direct Potable ReUse initiative, SB 918 and SB 322 (water recycling), the creation of an Expert Panel and Advisory Committee. The Expert Panel is charged with developing a report to the legislature about the feasibility of direct potable reuse. A first draft will be submitted to the Legislature by Dec. 2016.

In a separate Q&A, Jennifer shared with us her experiences and how she found herself diving into the State’s toughest water reuse issues during one of the worst droughts on record.

  1. What attracted you to joining the water reuse profession?

    As a child growing up in Sacramento, I remember the drought in the 1970s and lots of talk around the home about what California needed to do differently with its water and how we could conserve and reuse.

    My father was involved in California politics and discussed water policy all the time. I grew up thinking about water from a policy perspective. My father was Deputy Director for Finance and also Deputy Director for the Resource Agency under Governor Ronald Reagan.

  2. What path led you to become Managing Director of WateReuse California?

    I started as a legislative advocate for Inland Empire Utilities Agency working almost solely on reuse issues from 2000 to 2010.

    It was lots of work and very exciting. I loved water reuse issues and picked up more water clients interested in reuse during this time.

    When the WateReuse California managing director position came open I knew it would be a perfect fit.

  3. What do you think California’s water associations are doing well?

    I think the associations, especially in this drought, are doing a great job working together towards common purposes.

    WateReuse California really enjoyed and benefited partnering with CWEA on the recent Sacramento Drought Summit and is working closely with CASA [California Association of Sanitation Agencies] on a few projects

    Working together there is so much potential to increase the water reuse message and help our respective memberships keep informed and engaged.

  4. What do you think we need to do better?

    For WateReuse California, I think we can do a better job gathering recycled water information and communicating what it means.

    For example, California policy makers are intensely interested in water reuse and how it can be a solution in this drought and the next. But many conversations with policymakers start with a request for accurate, up to date facts and figures about the recycled water use and potential for California.

    In this age of instant data, it is less acceptable to cite statistics that are six years old or to say we don’t know. It is a constant challenge to keep this information updated and accurate. But it is critical!

  5. Have you come up with the perfect elevator speech or terminology when talking with a member of the public about indirect potable reuse (IPR)? And for direct potable reuse (DPR)?

    First I’ve learned that no one outside of the industry knows what IPR, DPR or even what “potable reuse” means. So unless I’m talking to regulators or the industry, I try to keep the acronyms to a minimum. I often call it “drinking highly purified recycled water.”

    Once that is clear then I introduce the concept of the environmental buffer as either groundwater or surface water. Then it is easy to explain that with DPR there is no environmental buffer.

  6. The 1990s were tough on our water reuse projects, the unshakable toilet-to-tap slogan was first thrown around, but in 2015 we have greater support for reuse projects. What changed? What made the difference this time?

    I think a number of things have changed. First, the public seems to now understand that water is an incredibly precious resource that needs to be used more than once.

    Second, there is recognition among policy makers that California communities need reliable, local water supplies to help adapt to this drought and the impacts of climate change.

    Finally, the media, in general, is presenting more balanced information that includes the incredible level of treatment technology involved in water recycling and potable reuse.

  7. What’s coming up next CWEA members might be interested in?

    WateReuse California is working closely with the California Urban Water Agencies (CUWA) on a policy paper for the development of operational certification for potable reuse. We are also partnering with CWEA, CASA and AWWA [American Water Works Association].

    Workshops to discuss and help develop the policy paper are planned for late September.

  8. Any advice for new people entering our profession?

    Someone once told me to follow your passion and success will follow. I firmly believe this.

Thanks Jennifer for being a leading voice for California’s valuable water resources!

During Jennifer’s CWEA Board presentation, she said WateReuse continues to emphasize the importance and value of non-potable reuse. CWEA partnered with her association and others on a Drought Summit in 2014 and again in 2015. Those programs were spearheaded by CWEA Santa Clara Valley Section President Eric Hansen.

About the Author

Alec Mackie

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