Exchange Matters / December 13, 2021

Water Smart Engagement Program Enters Year Three

By Marc Weinstein, Associate Director, Exchange Programs 

Malaysian water utility executives attend the WEFTEC Exhibition and Conference in Chicago. Photo by U.S. Water Partnership.

This October marked the beginning of the third year of the Water Smart Engagement Program (WiSE), an innovative program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, managed by the U.S. Water Partnership, and implemented in partnership with Global Ties U.S. and the Water Environment Federation.   

WISE pairs members of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) with U.S. cities, water districts, and utilities to create more innovative, efficient, and effective approaches to 21st century water challenges. 

Through a series of virtual and in-person engagements, the program facilitates the sharing of cutting-edge technologies on topics including non-revenue water loss, storm water management, wastewater treatment, and climate resilienceIn the words of U.S. Water Partnership Executive Director Chris Rich, the WiSE program “is a unique application of city-to-city dialogue to address water security issues while furthering broader U.S. foreign policy priorities.”  

To date, WiSE has created four bilateral partnerships between U.S. and ASEAN counterparts for the purpose of building collective capacity and familiarizing participants with innovative technologies to develop action plans. City pairs include the following: 

  • Permodalan Darul Ta’zim (PDT) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia & DC Water in Washington, DC  
  • Phuket Water Authority in Phuket, Thailand & The Water Council, Milwaukee, WI  
  • Saigon Water Corporation in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam & San Francisco Public Utility Commission in San Francisco, CA 
  • Vientiane City Office for Management and Services (VCOMS) in Vientiane, Laos & Clean Water Services, Hillsboro, OR 

Video conference call between the water utilities in Vientiane, Laos and Hillsboro, OR. Photo by U.S. Water Partnership

This third year began on a high note, with the first in-person exchange of the program. The WiSE team brought a group of six executives from Permodalan Darul Ta’Zim (PDT), the water utility in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to the United States for one week of professional engagements. The Malaysian group attended the 94th Annual WEFTEC Exhibition and Conference in Chicago, and then traveled to Washington, DC to meet with peers from DC Water. 

Organized by WiSE program partner the Water Environment Federation (WEF), WEFTEC is the largest water-related technical exhibition and conference in the world, and offered a unique opportunity for the Malaysian delegation to interact with other water professionals and to learn about cutting edge technologies in water management and delivery. 

DC Water and PDT are “twinned” under the WiSE program, and the two agencies have participated in several video conversations prior to this in-person meeting to discuss common challenges and solutions. The in-person visit allowed the PDT group to tour the state of the art Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant and to have in-depth talks with DC Water executives about how DC Water help PDT improve their operations. 

In its role as WiSE program partner, Global Ties U.S. was responsible for all logistical aspects of the travel, including coordination of flights, hotels, and ground transportation for the Malaysian group. WorldChicago, a Community-Based Member (CBM) of the Global Ties Network, provided on-the-ground support in Chicago. As noted by Chris Rich, Executive Director of the U.S. Water Partnership, “we could not have managed this activity without the experience and expertise of the Global Ties U.S. team. And I’m especially grateful to [WorldChicago President] Peggy Parfenoff and her colleagues for helping with some Chicago-specific issues.”  

The WiSE team is already beginning to plan for further in-person exchanges in 2022, as the program anticipates bringing representatives from eight different utilities – four in the United States and four from members of the ASCN – to Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) in April. After attending SIWW, the four pairs would then travel to the relevant Southeast Asian city for follow-on conversations and site visits. 

Reciprocal visits would then take place in October 2022, as the utilities would once again convene at WEFTEC 2022 in New Orleans, LA.  

In the words of Chris Rich, “we’re very excited to be expanding our in-person activities in 2022, as this will allow us to both broaden and deepen both the technical and cultural aspects of the WiSE program. 

For more background on the WiSE Program, please see here and here.