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E-Splash May 2012 - District 1 Trustee
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash -  May 2012

Greg Swanson
District 1 Trustee

A few weeks before WATERCON 2012, I journeyed to jolly old England to visit my youngest daughter, who has been working abroad since January. As water workers know, once water gets into your blood, it is there to stay and it colors one's journey through life. Accordingly, one afternoon of my UK visit involved wandering through the seedy streets of the Soho area of London in search of the Broad Street pump. I have been intrigued by the story of John Snow and how he removed the handle from the Broad Street pump to stop the 1854 Soho cholera epidemic ever since one of my mentors, Rob Schab, introduced me to this bit of history. I succeeded in finding the John Snow memorial on what is now called Broadwick Street and added my signature to those which filled the pages of a dusty visitors' book in the nearby John Snow Pub. It seems that others with water in their blood have completed a similar quest in the past.

My Broad Street pump quest was an interesting and powerful experience, which caused me to reflect deeply regarding the many changes that have occurred in water supply practices and the human condition since the time of John Snow. I carried those reflections with me back to the US. When I attended WATERCON, I was truly struck by the complexity, diversity and effectiveness of water supply practices today. The depth of scientific knowledge and the variety of technological solutions reflected in WATERCON's technical sessions and vendor exhibitions were awe inspiring. We are certainly blessed to live in an era in which science and technology have risen to such a high level.

However, most water professionals have come to realize the greatest challenges facing them are not necessarily the technical challenges, but more often they are the human challenges. In this regard, it seems that perhaps not that much has changed since the time of John Snow. His greatest feat was overcoming the common belief that waterborne disease was caused by "miasma” (bad air), which was no easy task. John Snow's scientific investigation yielded the foundation for his theory that the cholera was due to the water from the Broad Street pump, but the true key to his success was his outreach efforts. His ability to communicate effectively and to convince the local powers to remove the pump handle allowed his theory to be proven, as the outbreak quickly subsided.

Today, a wide variety of human challenges are currently facing Illinois water utilities and professionals. These challenges encompass areas such as consumer and youth education; political advocacy; recruitment and retention; and funding. ISAWWA has established a wide variety of resources designed to assist its members in addressing such needs and to provide professional growth opportunities, which can enhance one's abilities to succeed in negotiating the many twists and turns associated with public water supply and the human condition.

Although our water work involves healthy doses of science and technology, it is really all about people. Our ability to reach out, and to interact and communicate effectively with other fellow human beings is fundamental to our success and to the future of drinking water in our country. As we all know, this area of endeavor can be both extremely frustrating and extremely rewarding. I would like you to know that l have found that my interactions with other ISAWWA members, in both formal and informal settings, has allowed to me to refine my abilities in this crucial area. While I don't expect these improved abilities will find me a place in the history books like John Snow, I do find that they allow me to do a much better job in serving my community and profession. I encourage you to explore this facet of ISAWWA involvement and to enjoy the humanistic development that accompanies such involvement.

In closing, I extend my sincere appreciation to all who invested time and energy to make WATERCON 2012 an outstanding event; and a special thank you to Lydia Balla for making the journey all the way from Greece to enrich WATERCON and our Source Water Protection Committee; and a huge congratulations to Billy Nichols and his University of Illinois poster team.

Read "The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson and "The Blue Death” by Robert D. Morris to learn more about John Snow and the Broad Street pump.


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