Do You Remember When?
A Retrospective of 45 Years of Passion and Influence
Forty-Five years ago, ground was broken for the World Trade Center, the first Star Trek episode aired, gasoline in
the U.S. cost $0.32 per gallon, and the Water Research Foundation (known at that time as the AWWA Research
Foundation) was incorporated. Although the founding date is notable, the real action at the Foundation didn’t
start until 20 years later when an inspired group of water utilities pledged to match an annual Congressional
allocation of $1 million to develop solutions to an ever-expanding list of challenges. This marked the beginning
of the Foundation’s research subscription program and a unique and influential partnership between Foundation
staff, utility volunteers, researchers, and other industry professionals.
Since the research program’s inception, the Foundation has sponsored over $500 million in research to address nearly every aspect
of utility operations. Trying to select a “greatest hits” list of key contributions made by the Foundation is daunting to say the least.
However, here goes:
Disinfection By-Products: Although the disinfection of drinking water is arguably the most important advancement in public health
protection ever achieved, modern chemistry identified by-products of the disinfection process that may be harmful. The Foundation
has invested tens of millions of dollars to identify, prevent, and control these by-products, and partnered with EPA in a Microbial/
Disinfection By-product Research Council.
Cryptosporidium (and other beasties): The 1993 Milwaukee Cryptosporidium outbreak exposed utilities’ vulnerability to
unpredictable changes to raw water quality despite finely tuned treatment processes. The Foundation conducted numerous studies
on detection methods and treatment schemes for Cryptosporidium, including effective membrane, ozone, and eventually ultraviolet
radiation (UV) treatment alternatives. Of particular significance, the discovery that UV effectively inactivates Cryptosporidium oocysts
enabled the development of an affordable and effective surface water treatment rule.
Endocrine Disrupting Compounds and Pharmaceutically Active Compounds: The Foundation facilitated occurrence research
on these headline-grabbing compounds as early as 1999. When a media frenzy flew around this issue in 2008, the Foundation was
ready with relevant occurrence, treatment, and toxicological information. This research provided our subscribers with the science
needed to develop a rational response to the hype created by the trace amounts of these chemicals in water bodies.
Water System Security: In the aftermath of the events on September 11, 2001, a national concern surfaced about the vulnerability
of water supplies. Fortunately, the Foundation had undertaken related research a few years earlier and was ready within 60 days of
the event with a vulnerably assessment tool for water suppliers. The Foundation trained 134 large utilities on the implementation of
that technique, which later became the industry standard for assessing water supply vulnerability.
Asset Management: Years of deferred investment decisions has resulted in enormous estimates for unmet infrastructure repair/
replacement needs in the water/wastewater communities, making asset management a critical issue for all water suppliers. The
Foundation responded with tools for utility managers to cope with these issues, including rate and revenue structures, life-cycle
analyses for various pipe materials, and predictive models of pipe failures.
Customer Service: Over the past two decades, customer expectations have grown tremendously as instant access to information
(and misinformation) has expanded. Foundation research has developed surveying tools to determine what is important to customers
and effective communication strategies to respond to these priorities. Of particular value are recommendations to convey the facts
about chemicals of emerging concern without causing alarm or appearing defensive.
Climate Change: In 2006, the film “An Inconvenient Truth” triggered a new public interest in climate change. Almost simultaneous
with the film’s release, the Foundation delivered an innovative primer on how changing weather patterns might affect water
suppliers and how some utilities were addressing related changes in water supply and/or quality.
Over the past 45 years, the Water Research Foundation has remained an industry leader—supporting the international drinking
water community with compelling and applicable research. We continue to focus on developing solutions to critical challenges and
planning proactive research so that key resources are available “at the ready” when they are needed.
Richard J. Karlin, PE, DEE
Director, Research Services Development
Rick Karlin has a long history with the drinking water community. After 15 years serving as a
state regulator in CO, Karlin joined the Water Research Foundation where he has spent the past
25 years overseeing the organization’s technology transfer, research, subscriber services and
partnership programs. As Rick prepares to retire in 2012, we couldn’t think of a better person to
provide a retrospective of key issues that the drinking water community has faced in the last 45
years and the Foundation’s contributions to solving them.