Jun 16, 2021

Editor’s Takeaways: AWWA ACE21

The American Water Works Association’s annual conference went all-virtual in 2021. The WQP team provides key takeaways below.

AWWA ACE21, editor's takeaways, one water

June 14 to 17, 2021, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) hosted its Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE21) virtually. This year’s virtual event provided up to 80 hours of professional programming, including educational sessions, networking events, solution provider resources and more. The WQP editorial team sat in on several sessions and provided thoughts below.


WQP Managing Editor’s Takeaways

This year’s all-virtual version of AWWA ACE21 found new ways to connect with water industry professionals from behind their computer screens. In addition to educational tracks and sponsor messages, the show sought ways to bring professionals together across the miles, including networking breaks with pre-set topics, yoga breaks, daily water trivia challenges and even a “vote for your favorite sponsor commercial” section. In between sessions, attendees could relax by tuning into a puppy, gorilla, big cat or panda cam even.



Water quality, sustainability and innovation were hot topics this year, perhaps more so than past years. Small system management also saw a spotlight through session tracks and discussion topics. The questions: 1) what does 21st century infrastructure look like and 2) How can One Water play a role, were highlighted throughout the week-long event.

I attended three sessions live — though more are on my hopeful list to engage with throughout the next 30-days while they are available on demand — and I will provide a short synopsis on key points from each below. I will also link out to the live Tweet threads through @WQPnews, if you’d prefer to digest the content in brief news bites.

Leading With Diversity

Premiering live June 15, “Leading With Diversity” offered a deep dive from several speakers into how diversity can increasingly play a role in positive professional environments, experience and growth. The sessions had a positive, productive Q&A session.

Roy Mundy of McWane Ductile kicked off the session by discussing processes to train young professionals entering the water workforce and balance ideas presented by multiple generations. COVID-19 brought an accelerated loss of institutional knowledge and less exposure, smaller work groups and cross-training, he explained. Operational costs were also subsequently affected.

“Focus on the receiver, not just the source. Younger employees should be involved in deciding how they receive knowledge," Mundy explained when it comes to training the next gen. “[...] Start listening and stop assuming.”

Next, Ari Copeland of Black & Veatch Water presented on “The D and I for What We Do” to explain more about Black & Veatch’s approach to DEI. He stressed that employee ownership in DEI starts with you and that there is a need to celebrate differences.

“I love celebrating differences because I’ve learned through my life that when you embrace differences your life is richer for it,” Copeland said.

He also shared a brief quote that resonated in the live group chat during the session: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” ~Audre Lorde



Innovations in PFAS: What’s on the Horizon?

“Innovations in PFAS: What’s on the Horizon?” premiered live June 16. The session’s speakers provided overview of the regulatory landscape surrounding PFAS, impacts to service providers and treatment solutions.

Chris Moody of AWWA Government Affairs spoke first, providing an overview of the U.S. regulatory landscape surrounding PFAS contamination and remediation. The PFAS regulatory landscape is shifting quickly and he highlighted this with a chart outlining new developments in the past few months alone, including the regulatory determinations for PFAS, the fifth unregulated contaminant monitoring rule, effluent limitation guidelines and standards for PFAS, final toxicity assessment for PFBS, and the EPA Council on PFAS. He also stressed the role of One Water in PFAS management.

“Because we have so many different types of products that are using PFAS ... it really becomes a One Water issue,” Moody said.

Next, Carol Walczyk of SUEZ North America presented on impacts to service providers. Challenges to service providers include, varying regulations between states, rapid regulation promulgation with limited past data, sampling challenges, treatment challenges, contamination ongoing & difficult to identify, research needs, resource capacity, public concern, and costs, she explained.

Walczyk also walked through some ways SUEZ NA is working to proactively prepare for potential future PFAS challenges. In the Q&A, she provided great actionable advice to other service providers to launch a proactive plan.

Finally, Chris Curran of AECOM presented on PFAS treatment considerations. He explained that GAC, ion exchange and RO are some of the most common drinking water treatment methods, but PFAS-contaminated waste remains a treatment concern. He also touched on other emerging approaches to PFAS remediation, including novel adsorbents and including PFAS removal in a reuse treatment train.

"The 'holy grail' of PFAS treatment is destruction technologies," Curran said of other emerging technologies, like electrochemical oxidation, plasma and sonication.




Affordable Water Treatment for Smaller Systems

“Affordable Water Treatment for Smaller Systems” premiered live June 16. Lee Odell of MurraySmith kicked off the small systems session with a discussion on how to find cost savings for iron and manganese systems. 

The following components are key to consider to make iron and manganese plants more cost-effective, according to Odell: optimize removal mechanisms, eliminate backwash pumps and supply tanks, buy standard package equipment, use standard controls, evaluate residuals handling options, and consider balance of plant.

Next, Michaela Bogosh of CDM Smith and Doug Martin of Franklin, MA, walked through the town of Franklin’s water supply journey to treat manganese.



WQP Associate Editor Takeaways

Wildfires & Water Quality

“Wildfire Impacts on Water Quality and Distribution” premiered on June 15.

This session focused on detailing the impacts of wildfires on water resources and treatment, with speakers: Levi Haupert, physical scientist for the U.S. EPA; Yvonne Heaney, water resources control engineer for the California State Water Resources Control Board; and Monica Emelko, professor at the University of Waterloo department of civil & environmental engineering.

The session also emphasized sampling methods to assess contamination after wildfire events, contamination types, and planning and preparedness strategies for wildland urban interfaces (WUI).


Though microplastics are everywhere and particularly in our drinking water, there is still no precise definition agreed on for the word. The "Microplastics: Charting a Path" session, which premiered June 16, explores this theme, detailing key issues of microplastics in water supplies and the water treatment processes that may remove them.

Other components of this presentation led by Brent Alspach, director of applied research for Arcadis, are the toxicity of microplastics and some of the ongoing treatment needs.

Final Thoughts

The WQP team thanks AWWA ACE21 for hosting an enjoyable virtual show. The increased focus on water quality, sustainability and innovation likely echoes trends seen throughout the water industry. What will 2022 bring? See you in San Antonio, Texas, June 12 to 15, 2022, for AWWA ACE22!