Written by Alexandra Webb, Eastern Canada Regional Director
PHEW! Finally recovered and back into the routine after WEFTEC came back with a bang this year in its first New Orleans (NOLA) appearance since 2018.
Reportedly a standout conference in the numbers for a NOLA-based conference year, with near-peak attendance (compared to pre-pandemic numbers), and more exhibit booths than previous years (both to be confirmed once the numbers are tallied and press releases released). All this meant that the mood was right for a big week – with the YPs kicking off the week at their Saturday service project before joining other WEF professionals in letting their hair down and basslines fly at the Jammin’ for Water concert.
Sunday saw a day of committee meetings as well as a full evening of regional icebreakers and, of course, a morning of football with several socials centered around folks’ home teams. An audible cheer could be heard from the city when the New Orleans Saints won their afternoon game, and there was even a Wisconsin contingent who were up and at ‘em by 8:30 am to cheer on their team as they played in London, England!
The opening ceremony on Monday was a bright, energetic, and thought-provoking start to the week, with a speech by outgoing President Jamie Eichenberger about WEF’s strategic direction to start. He was followed by a true master of not only her métier in digital communications, but of giving a keynote address as well. Shama Hyder was topical and hilarious as she mapped out how the water industry can, does, and will have to engage with the digital space going forward. Following her was a beautiful and poignant performance by the New Orleans ‘Black Masking Indians’ with their stunning attire and captivating story which touches on both Black and Indigenous history in the region.
Following this spectacular opening ceremony, the show was on! Technical sessions held throughout the massive convention center covered what seems like every water topic you can imagine. The trade show floor stretched for hundreds of meters with booths showcasing hardware, equipment, sensors, and software, and the Innovation Pavillion brimming with brand-new tech. Swag bags swung as attendees made their way through the booths to check out the elaborate OPS challenge set up at the back of the venue, where nearly 50 teams competed in the classic OPS tasks over the course of the week.
Now, as anyone who has gone to WEFTEC, or a water conference in general knows – the daytime is only half of the fun! The after-hours happy hour and social networking game was strong this year. Ritzy rooftop terrace venues and hospitality suites overlooking the famed Bourbon Street saw industry professionals from all facets of the sector bonding over the joy of being truly ‘back’ in person this year. Discussing the shared challenges and joys of working in water, and of course which of the canapés being waltzed around the room by diligent servers were worth chasing down. Two of our IWA-YWP Canadian execs even managed to catch up over mini chicken n’ waffles and a cheese board worthy of legend at one such event.
After the more subdued WEFTEC conference last fall in Chicago, this was WEFTEC in its full conference regalia: a great week to spend time catching up with water friends and meeting new ones. A week to learn about emerging technologies and best practices, and hear about the work being done in municipalities across the US and Canada to treat wastewater and water more effectively to ensure better watershed health for all.
If you are new to conferences, be sure to check out our IWA-YWP blog on rocking conferences as a YP!