The Water Environment Federation (WEF) proudly announces the 2021 WEF Awards recipients for individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the sustainability of water resources and made a profound impact on the future of the water profession.
“Long-term resilience for the world’s most crucial resource depends on the expertise of innovative, proactive, and capable water professionals,” said Lynn Broaddus, WEF President. “We are honored to recognize this year’s Individual and Organizational WEF Award recipients for their transformational impacts on the sector.”
The 2021 recipients for Individual Service and Contribution Awards and Organization and Association Recognition Awards are:
Camp Applied Research Award: Dr. Bruce Rittmann
The Camp Applied Research Award recognizes a WEF Member who demonstrates a unique application of basic research or fundamental principles through the design or development of a wastewater collection or treatment system.
Dr. Bruce Rittmann pioneered the development of biofilm fundamentals and contributed to their widespread use in the cleanup of contaminated soils and ecosystems. Rittmann’s long list of career honors, awards, and accomplishments in developing new and modified treatment technologies make him an ideal candidate for the Camp Applied Research Award, wrote the judging panel.
Engelbrecht International Service Award: Dr. Krishna R. Pagilla
The Engelbrecht International Service Award was named in memory of Richard S. Engelbrecht, who served as WEF President in 1977-78. This award recognizes sustained and significant contributions to the furtherance and improvement of the international activities of WEF.
Dr. Krishna Pagilla has been a member of the Water Environment Federation since 1988, playing an instrumental role as a perennial WEF representative at the annual Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition. Pagilla has also promoted WEF internationally in countries such as Spain, Poland, and India, in addition to advancing WEF programs through attendance at international conferences in Singapore, Germany, and elsewhere.
W. Wesley Eckenfelder Industrial Water Quality Lifetime Achievement Award: Leonard Levine
The W. Wesley Eckenfelder Industrial Water Quality Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes and honors an individual who has made substantial and measurable engineering, scientific, and/or operations contributions to the management or treatment of industrial wastes related to the improvement of water quality.
Leonard Levine has over 45 years in the industrial wastewater profession and has led operations for several industrial wastewater facilities in the Houston, Texas area. He has been an active member on WEF’s Industrial Wastewater Committee for several years, specializing in peracetic acid disinfection, and has published an expansive collection of technical papers and delivered many presentations on the topic.
Ralph Fuhrman Medal for Outstanding Water Quality Academic-Practice Collaboration: City of San Luis Obispo Water Resource Recovery Facility and California Polytechnic State University
The Ralph Fuhrman Medal rewards extraordinary collaborative work by two or more people that has made a positive impact on advancing the water quality profession by increasing the knowledge base, demonstrating the application of innovative scientific concepts or project implementation methods, and enhancing the relationship between academia and clean water practitioners.
The City of San Luis Obispo Water Resource Recovery Facility and the California Polytechnic State University formed a partnership called the Cal Poly Sustainable Utilities Research and Education Group in 2007. The program, focused on improving the efficiency and reach of water resource management by performing innovative research and training the next generation of water quality professionals, so far has directly involved more than 2,200 students with sample analysis, operations, and research.
Public Officials Award: County Executive Steven Bellone, Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, and Senator Sherrod Brown
The Public Officials Award is presented to an elected or appointed public official that has made a documented, significant contribution in clean water legislation, public policy, government service, or another area of public prominence that resulted in improvements to the water environment. The award can be presented for local, state or federal public service.
- Steven Bellone, County Executive of Suffolk County, New York, has made improving Long Island’s water quality one of his administration’s highest priorities, introducing the region’s extensive Reclaim Our Water initiative in 2019. County Executive Bellone has worked extensively with state and federal officials to secure historic investments of more than $380 million to reduce nitrogen pollution, invest in wastewater infrastructure, and help protect coastal vegetation and marshlands, which act as the final buffers against storms such as Superstorm Sandy.
- Mariyana Spyropoulos, president of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) from 2015 – 2019, has championed many environmental policies at MWRD, Including those concerning effluent disinfection, pesticide use, advocacy, and green infrastructure. Commissioner Spyropoulos supported expanding MWRD’s Space to Grow project to the 125 suburbs surrounding the Chicago metropolitan area. She also advocated for the MWRD to sign onto the Paris Climate Accord.
- Sherrod Brown, senior U.S. Senator from Ohio, championed new provisions of the Clean Water Affordability Act to help communities update their sewer collection systems, while keeping rates at a level the citizens can afford and improving water quality. Brown was also instrumental in providing funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Outstanding Young Water Environment Professional Award: Pono Hanson and Vanessa Borkowski
This award recognizes the contributions of young water environment professionals for significant contributions to WEF and to the wastewater collection and treatment industry.
Pono Hanson has been involved with the WEF Students and Young Professionals Committee since 2015 and serves as its current Vice-Chair. In addition, Hanson has held active roles in the National AWWA/WEF Young Professionals Summit, WEF Student Design Competition, WEF InFlow, and Water Palooza events. As the WEF SYPC Vice Chair, he is currently the leader in developing WEF’s first SYPC Mentorship Program in 2020-2021.
Vanessa Borkowski is a senior civil engineer at Stantec’s Hartford, Connecticut office, where she tackles water projects across North America. Vanessa is the immediate past chair of WEF’s SYPC and currently serves on Strategic Advisory Committee for the WEF Board of Trustees, is incoming Community of Practice Director for Outreach and Innovation, and leads the Plant Operations and Maintenance’s Operators Essentials Subcommittee as Vice Chair. During her time as a leader with WEF’s SYPC, she initiated the Emerging Young Professionals Leadership Workshop and transformed the WEF/AWWA YP Summit for rising talent to learn unconventional leadership skills.
Outstanding Member Association Award: Virginia Water Environment Association
The Member Association (MA) Awards were established to recognize outstanding Member Associations and MAs that excel in areas of membership retention, financial strength, new memberships, scholarship programs, student achievement and support, technology transfers, and/or award programs.
When the pandemic began last year, Virginia Water Environment Association (VWEA) leaders knew connecting the state’s water and wastewater utilities was critical. The Association’s VA WARN Committee established weekly COVID webinars allowing state agencies to communicate directly with utilities, providing an avenue to ask critical questions to state health officials and regulators. The weekly webinars were held from April to July 2020 and attracted over 1,700 attendees. Additionally, VWEA distributed over 82,000 face masks to 15,000 utility employees in Virginia.
WEF Mentorship Award: Michael Sedon
This award recognizes the life-altering impact one person can have on a young professional and the difference a mentor can make by offering intellectual, social, and personal support.
Michael Sedon from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, is the Manager of Plant Operations at the Brush Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. During his 30-year career he has mentored dozens of young professionals. Eight of his operators have passed the certification exam on their first try. Michael is a member of the WEF House of Delegates, a Past President of the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association, and continues to serve on their committees. He has also helped coach several Operations Challenge teams from Pennsylvania.
Water Heroes Award: Contra Costa Water District; Chesterfield County Department of Utilities; Clackamas Water Environment Services; and Carlos Aldape and Johnathon Truong (Watershed Protection Program-City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works and Bureau of Sanitation)
The Water Heroes Award recognizes individuals or municipalities who performed duties above and beyond the usual call of duty during an emergency to continue to protect the public and the environment.
- In November 2020, a landslide occurred on a downslope canal embankment within the Contra Costa Water District (CCWD; California) service area. CCWD mobilized a dive inspection which identified extensive cracking in the concrete liner that was causing saturation of the hillside embankment. If left unaddressed, the landslide would worsen and potentially breach the canal. Extensive crack repairs were completed during the week of Thanksgiving to temporarily patch the damaged canal liner panels until a permanent repair was implemented. CCWD successfully completed these improvements and returned the canal to service in March 2021.
- On Aug. 15, 2020, severe localized stormwater flooding in Chesterfield County, Virginia prompted a state of emergency declaration, as well as loss of electrical power and evacuation of the water resource recovery facility serving the area. The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA, systems for the WRRF and its distribution system were rendered inoperable. Six county staff members manually operated the distribution system to ensure no loss of service or pressure throughout the system, stationed at critical pump stations for 72 hours until the computer servers could be restored.
- In one of the worst ice storms in memory for Clackamas County, Oregon which took place February 12 – 23, Clackamas Water Environment Services (WES) staff rallied through power loss and icy conditions to maintain wastewater service for over 190,000 people. WES staff responded to over 1,000 alarms, working around-the-clock to keep facilities and pump stations running. During this extraordinary event, there was not a single by-pass, no sanitary sewer overflows, no NPDES permit violations, nor a single compliance sample missed.
- Johnathon Truong and Carlos Aldape are part of the Pollution Assessment Section of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works’ Watershed Protection Division. Johnathon and Carlos were assigned together on a regular field run to program and check the status of an automatic water sampler at a drain site before an upcoming storm. Upon arrival, they noticed an individual at the center of the filled drain struggling to stay afloat. They called out to the person in the water and when they received no response, Carlos proceeded to call 911, while Johnathon went closer to assess the situation. After realizing that the man in the water was staying below for longer periods of time and struggling, Johnathon went into the drain to bring the man ashore. Carlos and a civilian showed up soon after to help completely pull both individuals out of the water.