No water to drink, or even to make coffee with. No water to shower, flush the toilet, or do laundry. Water is our most precious resource, and Imagine a Day Without Water (IDWW) is a nationwide day to raise awareness and provide education on the value of water through different points of view.
To honor Imagine a Day Without Water, TruePani teamed up with The Water Tower to host a virtual panel discussion on the value of water. #ValueWater
Read the transcript here:
Shannon (00:00): The value of water campaign is supported by top leaders from across the water industry committed to raising awareness about the importance of water and the often invisible water challenges threatening our community. The value of water campaign host "Imagine a Day Without Water 2019," which this year is today, October 23rd. While many people often take it for granted, daily access to clean and affordable water is not guaranteed. This is the fifth annual day to raise awareness and educate America about the value of water. Last year, over a thousand organizations came together with events for imagine a day without water and we're excited for this panel discussion featuring three leaders in the Georgia water community to be part of the conversation this year. Our first panelist is Rich Cavagnaro, the CEO of AdEdge. He has nearly 30 years of international business experience. Adedge Water Technologies, which Rich has led since 2002 is recognized as a market leader for installing drinking water systems.
Shannon (01:01): AdEdge has expanded its portfolio to treat over 20 contaminants using 20 different product lines, including two innovative biological filtration technologies and an ultra high recovery reverse osmosis process. Adedge has been recognized with a lot of awards, most recently the Partnership Gwinnett 2018 Innovation Award, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development GLOBE award in 2018 as well. Rich, thanks so much for joining the panel. Is there anything you want to add to your bio and could you give a little bit more background on your organization and its role in the water industry and the North Georgia community?
Rich (01:41): Sure. Thank you. Shannon. AdEdge is a company that is involved in the removal of contaminants from primarily in the drinking water space from groundwater wells. We have earned the privilege of having more assistance systems for arsenic removal than any company in the world in addition to arsenic being removed from the drinking water, we also get involved in other contaminants such as iron manganese, radionuclides, and now PFAS are some of the things that we're involved with. Our activity in Georgia has been primarily focused in areas of removing iron and manganese from drinking water. Adedge builds, manufacturer,s and designs everything here in North Georgia, Gwinnett County, and we have over 50 people. The company is growing rapidly and one of the biggest challenges that I'm sure we'll talk about coming up is trying to recruit and bring in the individuals into the company to continue to help us grow with the expectation of execution and customer service that we expect to provide to our customers.
Shannon (02:49) Next we have Melissa Meeker. Melissa is the Director of The Water Tower, which is currently under construction, but will focus on addressing water resource resiliency through applied research technology advancement, workforce training and public engagement. Melissa has a lot of experience in many areas of water. She previously served as the CEO of the Water Research Foundation, the Executive Director of WateReuse and the executive director of South Florida water management to name a few. Melissa, thanks so much for being here.
Melissa (03:20) Yeah, thanks so much for having me today. Just really excited to be here. Really excited to talk about The Water Tower. We've been gaining a bit of momentum over the last year and, and things are pretty crazy right now. You mentioned that we're in construction, really focused on creating a campus for those of you in our area. It's very close to the Mall of Georgia off 85, actually between 85 and 985 Adjacent to the F Wayne Hill Water Resources Facility. It is a series of buildings we're going to bring on water-related businesses like AdEdge, the County DWR, which of course it's their property and they're letting us use itbut really excited to have these two key partners that are so innovative themselves as founding partners in the campus and in The Water Tower. Again, thinking about water, water, workforce, how do we make the water industry sexy and bring people in? Really from GED to PhD. So we've got a full range of job opportunities all contributing back to society and our communities and making, you know, our water safe and our environment protected through water quality protection. So just a neat, innovative campus is what we're trying to create. So very excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Shannon (04:47): Thank you. And our last panelist is Eric Swett. Eric is a section manager at Gwinnett County overseeing preventative maintenance for the department of water resources. Eric has extensive stormwater experience including implementing computerized maintenance management systems, creating performance metrics, investigating citizens, storm water complaints, and implementing a County stormwater asset inspection programs. Eric, is there anything that you'd like to supplement to that bio and can you give a little bit more insight into your work and the role in the North Georgia community?
Eric (05:19): Okay, sure. Thank you again for having me today. Currently I am over the preventive maintenance programs over our water and sewer infrastructure, specifically over our water loss prevention program. So everything from leak detection to preventive maintenance measures such as valve assessment, hydrated assessment in order to identify areas where we could have sources of potential water loss. In addition, I also oversee our sewer preventive maintenance.
Eric (05:58): When people think about water, they seem to always think about what comes out of the tap. But wastewater is a large component of our water cycle. So keeping the water in the pipe where it belongs is extremely important to us. So we do have a robust preventive maintenance program with our sewer department or wastewater inspection program, preventive maintenance for cleaning and flushing. We want to ensure everything collected, gets to the proper place, whether it be a pump station or a wastewater reclamation facilities to make sure we have the opportunity to capture everything we can, treat it, and put it back into our drinking water source, whether it be Yellow River, Chattahoochee River, Lake Lanier. We want to ensure that we're able to convey and collect and treat all of all the water we can from our users or our customers, I should say. As far as how we play a role in North Georgia, Gwinnett County is the most populous county within, within the state.
Eric (07:00): We serve at last check over 900,000 residents. We are one of the top water suppliers in the state of Georgia. So we serve a very large population within the state and we look to be leaders in the water industry. We like to be innovative. We like to be recognized as the, as a leader in the water industry.
Shannon (07:27): Yeah. Great. Thank you. So the first question that I have for everyone, what led you to decide to work in water, and what you think needs to happen to engage the next generation?
Rich (07:40): I got involved in the water industry... Primarily due to... I was in a startup company and we were developing some materials science technologies for the removal of arsenic in groundwater. And going back about 20 years or so, the EPA in the US decided to lower their standard of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion down to 10 parts per billion. And during that period of time, we were developing a lot of different technologies that might be able to assist in lowering the expected costs of arsenic removal versus what the EPA was claiming the cost to be. So we were benchmarking different materials and in fact my company that I was working with at that time was struggling as a startup company to make ends meet. So we were benchmarking against the technology from Germany that was better than the one we were developing.
Rich (08:32): So I decided to take the risk and start my own company and contact the company abroad to see if they would let us participate and bring in their technology into the U S market to coincide with the rule change that took place in 2002. So long story short they said, "Oh, okay, why not, I'll work with a US company." And,uso therefore that led to us getting involved in starting a company. In the early years of our business, we were focused primarily on private wells and point-of-use, whole house,reatment systems and dabbling into some very small,usystems around the country, schools and churches and just camps and some very small systems. It took a while to build a resume. One of the things in the water industry is bringing innovation into the marketplace doesn't happen quickly like it can and other industries. So we built our footprint by going after small systems and then gradually growing to larger. I'm proud to say that right now in 2020, we will have the largest groundwater project in the United States. In 2020 that's going on. So the evolution of starting that, the very smallest systems to now the largest groundwater project in the United States, took 20 years, basically for that effort to occur.
Shannon (10:01): Do you think that helps to engage the next generation of workers to have an overview of where you've been and where you are now and where you're continuing to go? Or are there other strategic decisions that you've made as a company to engage that next generation?
Rich (10:18): So culture has always been a pretty dominant impact throughout the company in creating the right work environment. The experience that I had prior to AdEdge, and working with the chemical industry and different companies and, and picking and choosing the right managers that provided the right motivation and the right environment to assist in creativity were always things that when I started AdEdge, I wanted to make sure that I created the right culture environment to attract people. And actually when you're in a startup, a company, you've got to sell a vision and a dream. And it's important you know, to do that to employees that you're trying to come in to compete against larger operations organizations. So for us, you know, creating a company environment was crucial. We're fortunate that, you know, a lot of the millennials who have come into the industry in the last couple of years, they have a purpose to try to do a little social corporate responsibility beliefs that they're bringing in with those.
Rich (11:21): So it's not hard to sell the passion of clean water, which is one of the core values of AdEdge. We get to have the joy of seeing us put systems in communities where we can change the level of arsenic in that water and make safe drinking water. That's a powerful motivator for us to be involved with. We recently installed the system up in Vermont and it was a TV interview on the community and the one lady was just in tears of joy knowing that she's going to be able to drink water without arsenic in it. We see that impact in other places around the world as well, where we've had a community say in Argentina where their arsenic levels were so high that grandparents didn't have a relationship developed with their grandkids. And knowing that we can improve the life expectancy of women from say, 37 years of age and doubling that life capacity by taking the arsenic out of that water is a powerful connector and motivator for people to want to be involved in those kinds of success stories.
Shannon (12:24): That's a really powerful story. Thanks for sharing that. Melissa, do you, you kind of want to go next?
Melissa (12:30): Yeah, I mean we could go on about our past. For me, I was born in water. People always say, did you choose water or did water choose you? I was, I was born in water. I didn't have a choice. So, unlike others who have made career changes based on water, I just knew from day one what I was going to do. And it was working water. So changed a bunch of things along the way, but always I'm in the water field. So just exposure to a whole host of different jobs and, and understanding what the water industry is, which is not just water utility, water, wastewater or a treatment system. It's ecosystem protection, it's river keepers. Water covers almost everything that we do. It's sustainability at large corporations.
Melissa (13:27): Water is involved and underlying literally everything that exists in the world today that we all value. So for me, the water industry and bringing exposure to the opportunities that are there, is just a key passion. So when you think about all the different opportunities, as I said earlier, that GED to PhD. Our goal at The Water Tower is really to bring in companies with a great passion, like AdEdge onto a campus with a whole bunch of other companies who have that workforce need so that we become a pipeline for workforce so that we can set up internships with those companies or with the County and surrounding counties for that matter. Internships, apprenticeships going into the high schools and taking advantage of the work release programs that they have for their seniors to get them real life exposure so that they can instantly, when they graduate, take their exam and become operators at utilities and go into the workforce at companies like AdEdge. So just creating that environment that really focuses on any level and any level of interest, but all contributing back to making our communities better. I come from a family with a long line of veterans. That's another target area that I think is ripe for bringing into the water industry. So there's so many opportunities that we have. And we're going to explore those and really create, like I said, a pipeline that will help the industry.
Shannon (15:05): Yeah, that's, that's really exciting and I can't wait to see what happens with that. Eric, do you want to share a little bit more about your story?
Eric (15:13): Sure. My path was a little different. I suppose. Mine came a bit by happenstance. I actually started working at Gwinnett County, right after college. I was looking for a job right out of school. I recently graduated with a biology degree and throwing a lot of fields or positions looking for biology majors. My stepmother at the time was working at the Clerk of Courts Office at the time, and she said, why don't you look online at Gwinnett and sure enough, there was a position available. I started as an intern working, doing inspections, doing detention pond inspections, erosion and sediment control. They were looking for someone with an environmental degree. After working in that group for well over a year. I was actually hired full time and my career has, has grown over the last 15 years. Having many opportunities to advance within our department.
Eric (16:13): It's given me an opportunity to see all the different roles and positions that are available at a water department. When I came in fresh out of college, I just assumed the water department was a bunch of guys digging ditches and fixing pipes. But there are so many job opportunities here at DWR from accountants, engineers, skilled labor, heavy equipment operators, operators at the treatment plants, planners, people with business backgrounds, financial backgrounds, management. I mean we essentially cover, in my opinion, almost every single basic job function one organization could have.
We need HR support. So there's many, many different opportunities here in or at department of water resources that provide jobs. Currently we are trying to seek and retain staff, which has been pretty challenging over the last several years we're experiencing or have experienced a large number of our longterm employees retiring.
Eric (17:23): We are trying to fill those gaps, but we ended up losing years worth of field experience and knowledge and replacing it with brand new staff. Our department has tried to help new hires, get all the training and education they need to bring them up to speed. We've currently started an employee skills development program, which allows and employee to come in as a trades associate one and work their way through some qualifications, getting some skilled labor and within the course of four years have the opportunity to advance two times without having to go and seek another job and get them on a path for management, getting them to be crew leaders, supervisors, and be able to be the next generation of leaders here in the water department.
Shannon (18:16): Yeah. And that raises a really good point around all of the different opportunities that are available. You know, you mentioned a wide variety of positions that need to be filled for the water industry to advance. And that kind of leads into my next question, which is what do you think the biggest misconception around water is? From a public perspective, from outside the water industry.
Eric (18:52): This is Eric. Personally, I've, I feel one of the ones, one of the big misconceptions we fight day in and day out is: Is it safe? There was actually a really good article in the consumer reports I just read about the bottled water industry and how they tried to portray public water as maybe not being the best, the best option. I see it all the time. I'll be in the grocery store and I'll see people buying bottles and bottles of water thinking why on earth are people buying all these bottles of water? Do they not take their water is safe? Are they preparing for a day without water? Possibly. (Haha).
Eric (19:30): I feel though that some people think it's not safe. It doesn't taste good or it's too expensive. You know, we have a monopoly on the water, but when people really do the math and think about it, what they're paying per thousand gallons of water and then what they're buying per gallon of water or 20 ounce bottle of water at the store, I don't think they understand the value we provide. Not only will we take it, clean it, treat it, we will deliver it to your home for pennies on the dollar. And I think that's something that people don't actually take the time to think about. They're "no problem" to buy, you know, a dollar bottle of water at the gas station. But when it comes time to pay their water bill every month, they don't miss maybe necessarily see the value that we provide to them every day and every month.
Melissa (20:27) It's interesting on that point, just a couple of things pop out first to me, it's the value of water, right? People, they see it everywhere. They see it in Lake Lanier, they see it in the river, it rains, it ponds up at the end of their driveway. So of course there's plenty of water. We're not worried about water on the, on the safety piece and buying bottled water. The best thing that's happened in our industry is this push on plastics. I mean, that to me at least has people considering tap water as a viable option and a safe option and using a reusable bottle. So to me that's one of the cool things that's happened really in the last year is this focus on single use plastics and bottled water as a, as a no-no for our community. So all of those things working together, we'll get to a value of water, which is really what I think we're lacking in society.
Rich (21:24 ): Yeah, of course. So all these, all these points that Melissa and Eric just mentioned, they are spot on. I think another real major misconception that we battle all the time is the cost of affordable water. Right? I mean, consumers think it's expensive. Eric alluded to it, somebody will go out and spend a dollar for a bottle of water. And yet we're talking about we provide water to the homeowners home kitchen faucet at pennies on the dollar. I mean, it's just a ridiculous situation that people can afford bottled water and complain about the costs of their tap water. So we still have to win the public perception here. And of course we're faced with the, you know, problems when you look at the US is a population approaching whatever close to 400 million or whatever that number is.