From scientific discoveries about harmful algae and invasive species to technical advances in materials and machinery, the municipal water world is always changing. Yet for municipal water district managers tasked with the weighty job of providing water to hundreds of thousands of users, it is difficult to stay up-to-date on all these changes. Tage Flint, the chair of the National Water Resources Association (NWRA) Municipal Caucus, recently took part in an NWRA tour of the Water Council’s headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The tour provided a valuable chance to get ahead of the curve on upcoming technologies as well as to provide feedback to the researchers and entrepreneurs at the council.
In an interview with Kris Polly, editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader, Tage Flint spoke about how institutionslike The Water Council can help busy water district managers stay on the cutting edge and the value the NWRA Municipal Caucus brings to its members.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about yourself and your organization.
Tage Flint: Personally, I am a registered professional engineer with an MBA, and professionally, I am general manager and CEO of Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which serves five counties in northern Utah with a population of 680,000. We’re primarily a wholesaler of a range of water types, from drinking water (which we wholesale to 60 cities and districts) to agricultural irrigation water, to a lot of industrial and urban irrigation water. We operate a federal Bureau of Reclamation water project that includes seven major dams and reservoirs in northern Utah on two river systems.
Kris Polly: Recently you participated in an NWRA tour of The Water Council in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tell us a little about the purpose of the tour and what you thought about it.
Tage Flint: The tour was an opportunity for water industry folks to see innovation at the ground floor. Much of the time, we are busy with our own day-to-day work, and it is difficult to spend time learning about the development of the technology in our industry. The tour allowed us to see where technology is headed, and where new upstart companies might be focused. We are always interested innew products coming out, but there’s often a delay of several years between the research and development of a product and its availability on the market. That doesn’t give us a good picture of what’s being developed.
It was interesting to find out that there are places now that encourage new technology in the water industry, which hasn’t been true to the same degree in the past. The center in Milwaukee has focused its entire process on the water industry, which I find encouraging. There is a broad spectrum of water technology being developed, and we saw most of that range in this research center. On one end of that range, we could talk about drinking water quality, which would be in the realm of algotoxins, algae growth, early detection, and elimination of certain species in our waterways. All that relates to the ultimate quality of our drinking water in most every drinking water system in the country that uses surface water. The other end of that range could be the research on new mechanical systems that help aerate our water supply.
We were encouraged by some of the research being done on invasive species such as quagga mussels, which we think will inevitably spread to all areas of the western United States and are certainly in many of the major waterways already. That’s a major infrastructure issue for most of us. Quagga mussel infestations affect our water reservoirs, intakes, pumps, pump stations, canals, and the like, and increase our end costs. That a research institution has partnered with the university to do work on learning about the species, its characteristics, and ultimately, how to eradicate it is hugely valuable. We’re encouraged that there are people working on that research.
Kris Polly: This tour came about because Mr. Dean Amhaus was a guest speaker during the NWRA’s Municipal Caucus in Park City this past summer, and he invited us to go on a tour, an offer you accepted. What would you say to your fellow caucus members about the value of going to The Water Council? Would you encourage them to go on their own?
Tage Flint: I would encourage them to go on their own to see it, or, if they’re interested, we could always arrange for another joint visit at a future date. First, a visit would allow them to appreciate the work being done at the cutting edge of their industry, and second, it would allow them to provide input regarding the industry’s needs. I think we can help them as much as they us in pointing out what kinds of needs the actual operators of water systems have.
Kris Polly: Would you talk a little about the NWRA municipal caucus, its members, and who you would encourage to join?
Tage Flint: The Municipal Caucus has been an integral part of the membership for a long time. I joke that it is the growth industry within the NWRA as populations continue to increase, sometime at breakneck rates, especially in the western United States. We are becoming more and more of an urban water supplier. Municipalities’ drinking-water systems and urban water-delivery systems are becoming more of our reality every day. As we have common issues related to the municipal water world, and since we have been involved with the NWRA for a time, I think it gives us the position to make meaningful comments back in DC, and to the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency and other organizations that deal with municipal water.
Kris Polly: What else would you like to add?
Tage Flint: I’d like to add some encouragement to join the NWRA Municipal Caucus. Anyone who is interested in the municipal side or is a wholesaler to municipal water suppliers can gain insight there. The caucus is valuable for the agencies that are working on both ends of the spectrum. The NWRA gives us the range and focus and recognition to be a meaningful player in the national dialogue.