Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 IWA World Water Congress in Busan, Korea

Last week I attended the International Water Association (IWA) World Water Congress (WWC) in Busan, South Korea. The WWC is the highest level conference for IWA and so attracts the widest attention, I think. This high level focus has some definite plusses and maybe some minuses too. As a a person that likes to see the world as a glass half full (though it's really always totally full - add link to Pinterest geek thingy), let's dispose of the minuses in short order and focus on the positives. The main minus of a conference such as this is that, with such a diverse audience of water professionals - water resources, water treatment, water supply, used water collection (I returned via Singapore so I'm now versed in the correct vernacular!), used water treatment, reuse, stormwater/drainage, governance, public communications and so on - it's tough to dig deep into issues. However, on the positive side, the very fact that we have such a diverse set of foci and the very diverse geographical affords us the opportunity to take a higher level look at a wide range of topics.

The buzz word for the conference and for IWA in general is "smart." I'm told that this is a British buzz word which is probably why I'm quite comfortable with it. In a very interesting workshop on "Smart Networks" I saw a very nice definition of smart from a Korean colleague. In their definition a smart system is adaptable and can work with future unknowns, whereas an "intelligent" system knows how to work within current constraints based on historical information but is clueless when it comes to working outside of the current realm of knowledge. I like this notion of "smart" versus "intelligent" or knowledgable as it puts in mind someone who is on their toes and trying to be ready for the unforeseeable, whereas an intelligent system based on past knowledge is only comfortable in dealing with things that it has seen in the past. Of course the "smart" course of action builds on past knowledge and develops its intelligence based on historical experience but it is not constrained by it and is ready to adapt to new challenges as they appear. In another workshop on "Smart Utilities" there was a discussion on what "smart" actually means. We can appreciate it when we see it (Singapore is rightly held up as a good example of a smart water utility for example), but we seem to have difficulty in defining it. I'd like to offer a working definition for "smart" as it applies to the water industry. Here goes...

A "smart" water system (network, utility, etc) uses the intelligence gained from historic data collection and the tacit knowledge of it's professionals to provide a system that is robust and adaptable to accommodate current normal demands, future perceived demands and potential anomalous conditions.

How's that for a definition? Please comment or send me an e-mail on your thoughts. Of course, I'm guessing others have already defined "smart" for other systems and have a much better definition but working in my vacuum in the water world, that's my definition for now! Tell me if I'm wrong.

OK, I'm getting a little too serious for a blog. As light relief and as a poop engineer that loves things that put us a little off-balance, I'd like to offer the following as a definite highlight of my conference. At the project innovation awards I was honored to present the research of Professor Hans Van Leeuwen at Iowa State university who have done some cool applied research to convert waste corn stillage into an animal feed product (add link). In the session in which I gave a presentation of Prof Van Leeuwen's work, under the category of public communication I saw a presentation from Oslo that warms this Poop engineer's heart. Please be upstanding for the Poop Bus...


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