Advancing Community Water Reuse with WateReuse Association’s Melissa Meeker

August 11, 2015

 
John Shegerian: This is the Wharton IGEL GE water innovation technology edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown San Francisco and we are so honored to have with us today Melissa Meeker. She is the Executive Director of WateReuse Association. You can find them at www.watereuse.org. Melissa, welcome to Green Is Good. Melissa Meeker: Thank you. Nice to be here. John Shegerian: Melissa, what is WateReuse Association for our listeners that aren’t familiar with it? Melissa Meeker: So the WateReuse Association is focused on greater implementation and policies around promoting the implementation of water reuse projects. John Shegerian: OK. Melissa Meeker: We also have a research foundation, which is a separate organization that looks at technology innovation, operation challenges that the water agencies deal with, helping them with their day-to-day challenges and the research needs for the actual industry to implement reuse projects. John Shegerian: And where are you located? Melissa Meeker: We are located in Alexandria. So Washington, D.C. John Shegerian: Washington, D.C. So talk a little bit about how did you come to this position. Were you always very water interested or sustainability interested, or was this something that came up along the way in your journey? Melissa Meeker: So I am actually from South Florida. Born and raised in South Florida. This is my first – I guess – stint out of the state of Florida – moving to D.C. – so I jumped right out of the fire into the pit. John Shegerian: Wow. Right. Melissa Meeker: So I’ve always been involved in water issues. Grew up working for the state – Department of Environmental Protection. So I handled the regulatory side, went over to the water management district and did more water supply planning and alternative water supply development, which is what they call “water reuse” in Florida. John Shegerian: Right. Melissa Meeker: And have always just been involved in that side of it. So when the position opened up, I had always participated with WateReuse and their conferences and different things like that as keynote speaker and other, so for me it was a perfect transition to explore the not-for-profit world, which is completely different but also continue along an area where I have great passion. John Shegerian: Got it. So we are here today at this very important conference that GE and Wharton IGEL School are putting on. Why was it important for you to come here and talk about water reuse, and why is this conference so important with all the great thought leaders that are here today? Melissa Meeker: Yeah. Absolutely. So to me it’s fascinating to look around the audience and see just the brilliant people that are in there and the honor to actually be there myself. John Shegerian: Right. Melissa Meeker: And be able to participate in a panel. So, for us, we’ve been working in this industry before water reuse was in vogue. Before, it was the thing to talk about it as the redheaded stepchild – if you will. You had drinking water, you had wastewater and then you had that other stuff that people really didn’t want to talk about and it was all irrigation and different things like that. So the transformation in our industry from really being a waste management issue – how do you handle this waste product and get rid of it – to an actual water resource issue is just fantastic. So any opportunity we have to come and share what we know and share what our members feel about and look for when they’re talking about projects is critical. John Shegerian: Is it even more critical that we’re here? We’re talking about innovation technology and water and sustainability and we’re here in California and in Northern California – very close to Silicon Valley and sort of the bastion of innovation. Talk a little bit about innovation technology and water reuse and water recycling, and what does the future look like of the water reuse not only here in California but around the world? Melissa Meeker: So, of course, right now, California is the central area that everyone thinks about because of the severity of the drought which we’re going through. John Shegerian: Right. Melissa Meeker: No one wants a natural disaster like this to happen. John Shegerian: Right. Melissa Meeker: But what it does for the industry is it’s really given us a push. People are now much more open, because they really don’t have any other options. Same thing in Texas with Wichita Falls. They didn’t have other options for water supply so they went to WateReuse to actually supply their drinking water. So as we look at the environmental state of the drought in California, this is the perfect place to be. But as you mentioned, it’s also just a fantastic area in terms of the access to technology and new innovations that we have. They were talking earlier on some of the panels about us having all the technology we need to treat the water. What we’re doing now with our research is really driving the cost down of those so that everyone will be able to afford it so that it can even be more greatly implemented. John Shegerian: Got you. And at the Water Reuse Association, what is the greater mission and the goals that you want to see come out of there with your involvement with the Water Reuse Association and given the crisis that we have not only here in California but around the United States and frankly in many parts of the world? Melissa Meeker: So a big part of what we focus on is the openness of policies regulating reuse. Again, historically we thought of reuse as being a waste stream and a waste product, so we worked very hard across all the states and with other countries to change the thought process and the policies governing reuse to be more of a water resource. So that is a key part of what we spend a lot of time and energy on. We also spend an enormous amount of time on public engagement processes. So coming up with tools that local agencies can use to inform and engage their public so that they understand we’re not talking about really bizarre things. We’re talking about really strong technology, which has been around forever, and we’re coupling it in ways that provides a safe and reliable water source. John Shegerian: Are you seeing more calls from the media? Is the media more interested now about this, and are you doing more interviews and more thought leadership on this than ever before? Melissa Meeker: Absolutely. John Shegerian: And that’s a good thing. Melissa Meeker: That’s a great thing. John Shegerian: In terms of visibility, do you get to travel outside of the United States and see other great examples of success stories, which hopefully can beget more success, such as Israel or Singapore or other shining examples of water reuse and recycling? Melissa Meeker: Yes. So I have been to Israel, Singapore and Australia. John Shegerian: Wow. Melissa Meeker: And I’m actually going to Singapore in a couple weeks. John Shegerian: Great. Melissa Meeker: So yeah, there are great success stories around the world that we can bring back, but also we’re sharing ideas and concepts with them. John Shegerian: And that only makes you a better evangelist and ambassador on water use. We’re down to the last minute or so. I just want you to have the final word on your great association, what you’re doing and the future of water technology and water reuse. Melissa Meeker: Just that this is a fantastically exciting time for water reuse and have an open mind. Ask us questions, and we’ll have the answers and you too will become a fan. John Shegerian: I love that. You too will become a fan. To become a bigger fan of Melissa’s great organization, please go to www.watereuse.org and you can learn a lot more. Melissa Meeker, we really appreciate your time today. Melissa Meeker: Thank you, John. John Shegerian: And you are truly living proof that Green Is Good.