September is “back to school” month for kids all across the country. This September, however, was also “back to school” month for the water sector. At the One Water Summit on Sept. 18-20 in Austin, Texas, representatives from all across the country converged to learn more about how to improve water systems, build trust with the community, and value water as a resource.
New Jersey was once again represented by a delegation of over two dozen people at the conference, including community groups, engineers, utility workers, elected officials, and other stakeholders. The Utility and Transportation Contractors Association once again supported the delegation and was instrumental in bringing together the different groups who participated.
However, it wasn’t just New Jerseyans going to learn about what other states were doing. Representatives from a number of different organizations from New Jersey spoke on panels throughout the conference, including Deputy Commissioner Debbie Mans from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Deborah Degillio from American Water, Meishka Mitchell from Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Andy Kricun from Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, and Chris Sturm and Ed DiFiglia from New Jersey Future.
This year’s conference was especially exciting as the Camden SMART (Stormwater Management and Resource Training) Initiative, which is developing a comprehensive network of green infrastructure programs and projects for the City of Camden, was awarded a U.S. Water Prize for their efforts! A number of Camden SMART partners were able to attend, including Jersey Water Works Steering Committee members Andy Kricun and Meishka Mitchell.
While at the conference, attendees had the opportunity to visit sites in and around Austin to show how water is managed locally. A trip to San Marcos Springs to learn about source water as well as stewardship and indigenous culture was especially meaningful for the New Jersey delegates who attended. Other trips included visits to water infrastructure sites throughout the city to see new innovations and technologies.
On the last evening of the conference, T&M Associates hosted a dinner for the New Jersey delegation as a chance for everyone to come together, discuss the conference, and network. Delegates got to discuss their experiences at the conference and share thoughts and ideas that they would like to see brought back to New Jersey.
The conference did have one bittersweet moment: it was announced that there would not be a One Water Summit in 2020. Disappointing as that is at first glance, it was tempered by the fact that the conference will return in the spring of 2021 and will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is sure to be worth the wait!