Every Drop Counts – A Call to Innovation

by Zach Sample, P.E.
Stormwater Products Manager

A Request for Startups post on January 3rd on the Y Combinator Blog caught my eye.  The blogger talked about the need to prepare for things to get worse with regard to climate change, and called for applications for funding from those working on new technologies that could inexpensively produce clean water.

Being someone with a background in Water Resources Engineering, water in the environment and its part in the cycle of life is near and dear to my heart. Current water-related events in our world have shown that even when water is abundant (which isn’t always the case), we often still can’t drink it. Not only is safe drinking water an underappreciated and terribly important need (see Flint’s problem, which is still ongoing!) but safe non-potable water of all kinds is a litmus test for the health of our society.

What really piqued my interest was the concept that innovation within the greater water resources realm is at a point where small ideas and support could lead to large positive change for everyone.  Change doesn’t require huge or costly innovation or technology.  Successful startups disrupt and/or energize established market components.  The Request for Startups post illustrated to me the built up potential that is waiting to be unleashed in the water resources realm.

Here at home, I generally spend a majority of my time considering the various facets of stormwater engineering – how we plan, design, construct, utilize, demolish and reuse the world around us and how stormwater is affected or alternatively affects the various parts of the infrastructure lifecycle. I recognize that there is still a lot I don’t know and a lot of habits I have professionally that could use more critical analysis.  What small thing could I do that might impact the larger picture?

It got me thinking about which professional education opportunity I could pursue, conference I could engage in and local company or team practice I could improve. Once I started looking there were a range of things that I could easily accomplish that could make positive impacts far beyond just myself or even my company. I’ll be presenting this year at Stormcon and the Ohio Stormwater Conference, and listening to ideas and input from other stormwater professionals that we might use to improve software tools – which could in turn help people improve our infrastructure.  I’m learning why habits are so hard to change in “The Power of Habit”.  Change can be great but it’s almost never easy.  I ask to sit in on meetings with departments outside my team to learn how they overcome challenges in what they do to see if I could use their ideas.  This is just my starting point.

With that I raise a call to action:

Look around yourself in your work/life and consider what small practices or habits you could improve upon.  Keep in mind that when it comes to water resources, small changes can have a big collective impact. Private engineers, city officials, contractors, permit reviewers, surveyors, and the industry sector as a whole work together on stormwater issues by communicating and implementing their individual portion of the greater process. Small improvements, small boosts in efficiency or clarity of communication impact the larger process. Find something that will engage you, enlighten you or simply make your work easier – I imagine you will have a lot of fun and we will all benefit from your innovative contribution.  Thank you for that.

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