A Hard Act to Follow

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Veterans of the Water Environment Federation's big WEFTEC conference and exhibition (www.weftec.org/home.htm) say this year's event was pretty good. Overall attendance was well short of the 10,000+ of past years, and this was evident from the small audience that heard five senior EPA officials discuss administration priorities and policy at the Oct. 13 "Clean Water Policy 2009" session. Held annually, this session is usually packed by municipal water systems' managers and others eager to see what the government -- particularly a new administration -- has in mind. But not this year.

(Editor's note: WEF Public Information Director Lori Harrison wrote Oct. 20 to say the "well short of the 10,000+ of past years" characterization is inaccurated. She said "confirmed overall attendance as 17,722." For Environmental Protection and Water & Wastewater News Editor Lisa Williams' report on the event and attendance, visit this page.)

Even so, the WEFTEC expo was bustling. Exhibitors theatrically unveiled new products -- including an explosion-proof, submersible sewage pump capable of standing up to today's wastewater and a new, autonomous robot that rolls through water pipes cataloging defects and measuring hydrogen sulfide and other gases, if you want, leasing for $65,000 plus 10 cents per foot traveled. A host of new pipes, valves, pumps, analyzers, separators, screens, and even manhole covers were displayed. The mood was upbeat. Exhibitors' representatives said projects funded by federal stimulus money are keeping them busy, and some said they expect at least 10 percent revenue growth next year. In fact, this industry may have too much money on its hands: One EPA official said only $744 million (20 percent) of the $6 billion in stimulus money for clean water projects that must be under contract or under construction by Feb. 17, 2010, had reached that status by Oct. 17, 2009, so the push is on to move projects even faster.

The only gripe voiced in earnest here was record heat for the month of October in Orlando, with the midday temperatures reaching the mid-90s during most of WEFTEC's run.

For at least the next two years, the National Safety Congress won't be chasing WEFTEC as it does this year. NSC heads to San Diego in 2010 and Philadelphia in 2011, while WEFEC will visit New Orleans in 2010 and 2012, Los Angeles in 2011, and Chicago in 2013.

Safety in Evidence
Workplace safety and security are important to water and wastewater facility managers. Gas monitors, fall protection, noise-deadening barriers, and confined space rescue equipment were the most visible safety products Oct. 12-14 in this year's WEFTEC expo.

The conference included the 22nd Operations Challenge, in which 41 four-person teams competed in five events: a written exam about wastewater treatment processes and troubleshooting, a biological oxygen demand analysis, timed repair of an 8-inch PVC sewer pipe, a timed repair of a pump at a simulated disabled lift station, and a timed, simulated rescue of an unconscious co-worker from a manhole.

The rescue involved use of an AED for the first time in this competition, according to WEF. The Division 1 winner of this year's Operations Challenge was the 2008 defending champion, TRA CReWSers from the Water Environment Association of Texas. WEF said this team was coached by Raudel Juarez, and the team consisted of Jacob Burwell, Dale Burrow, Steve Price, and David Brown. The Division 2 winner was Windy City Wizards of the Illinois Water Environment Association.

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