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Nov 14 2019Share

You Are Not Alone - A Newcomer's Perspective on the Water Conservation World

AMWUA was pleased to partner with WaterSmart Innovations to award a full scholarship to attend the twelfth annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas, Nevada, in October 2019. The conference drew more than 900 participants from 39 states and D.C., as well as from countries around the globe. Since its inception, the conference has served as an invaluable platform to advance water use efficiency and conservation. We were excited to have Amy join us this year.

By: Amy Peterson, Water Conservation Specialist, City of Surprise 

When I first stepped into position as Water Conservation Specialist in April 2019, I immersed myself in a myriad of training opportunities aimed at rounding out my knowledgebase of what conservation means in Arizona and how it fits into the bigger picture of water resource management. In seven months, I completed Smartscape and Master Gardener training, attended six water resource and landscape related conferences, started the Water Management Certificate Program, and spent countless hours trying to absorb the vast body of knowledge of my esteemed colleague, Jennifer Davidson. Truth be told, the more I learned, the more I was overwhelmed by the possibilities of this job. Where do I start? What do I go after first? What is or should be my strategy in growing and steering this program? How do I know if my programs are making an impact? These were the big, burning questions that kept me up at night. 

By the time I got to WSI in October, my mind was like a jigsaw puzzle of ideas waiting to be put together. Thanks to the AMWUA and WaterSmart Innovations scholarship, I was able to attend a full day of workshops to kick off the conference. My biggest “a-ha’s” from the conference occurred during the Water Conservation 101 and Benefit-Cost Analysis workshops. Up until then, my impression of being new to water conservation was, “Wow! there should be a training manual for all of this.” Lo and behold, Maddaus Water Management had structured their workshops exactly for young professionals like myself. They introduced us to eight different manuals including the all-encompassing AWWA M52 manual, “Water Conservation Programs – A Planning Manual.” After briefly introducing the scope of each manual, they moved briskly into a review of several case studies that demonstrated different ways to measure programs and gauge their effectiveness. Coming from the business management world, I had been yearning to hear how data driven decision-making is applied to water conservation program planning. As I expressed this sentiment in a breakout session, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of my peers in the room had felt the same way and were equally inspired by the workshop. It was truly a breath of fresh air to sit in a room with about a hundred other water conservation professionals, and hear them ask the same questions I had. And that was just the beginning!

After sitting through several conference sessions covering a range of topics from water budgets to WaterSense, and from landscape transformations to community outreach techniques, I was overcome by a sense of community. Throughout the conference, the level of networking and information-sharing I experienced was unlike anything I had previously witnessed on the wastewater treatment side of the industry. My impression of the more seasoned professionals in our field at WSI was that they continue to learn from their peers as well, and that municipal water conservation programs are ever-evolving. Moreover, the skills and knowledge we must employ as water conservation professionals are quite diverse: irrigation, landscaping, plumbing code, mapping and GIS, federal and state water rights doctrine, local development ordinances, land use characteristics, program management, customer service, public outreach, education standards, portfolio management, etc. Also, there is no one-size-fits all program, especially when one considers the diversity of communities served by the water conservation profession. 
These realizations triggered a displacement of my anxiety over “catching up” to my peers with a comforting acceptance of the fact that my own City’s conservation program was evolving before I arrived, and will continue to evolve at a greater pace with my guidance even as I continue to develop my technical knowledge. 

In a vocation in which our central objective most days is to act as a resource hub for a variety of different sectors within our community, I cannot emphasize enough the value of being able to attend a conference that does the same for us. WSI has been the single most valuable training opportunity I have received so far as a new water conservation specialist. By attending, I was able to get my head out of the sand a little to evaluate my City’s water conservation program from a big-picture perspective, and then dive right back into technical discussions led by my peers in the industry. In summary, I learned at WSI that there IS a manual (or resource) for that, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to water conservation, and you are not alone, so do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

AMWUA looks forward to celebrating the 13th annual WSI Conference and Exposition by awarding another scholarship next year. Check back in summer 2020 for details!

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