• Hampik Dekermenjian, PE leads CDM Smith's Water Services Group.

file under: Water, United States

An Era of Revolutionary Change In Water

The truth is that 1 year into my engineering career, I was bored. I’d started out as a structural engineer and it wasn’t a passion for me. That’s when I decided to hit the reset button and get involved in water. For me, the choice was obvious, and it remains so twenty-five years later.

When we win a project, we don’t merely win a piece of work. What we win is the trust of the community to fix a problem, deliver needed innovation, or provide the basis for the community to thrive.  

When you think about how vital safe and reliable water services are to every aspect of our lives, it starts to feel pretty important. Working in water, you’re contributing to the global community of species—not just humans. What’s more, we’re in an era of revolutionary change in the water industry, change that helps water professionals deliver better results and build more resilient communities.

From Building Projects to Building Communities
Twenty-five years ago, a municipality or utility decided what the community needed, and that was the end. The only time the customers knew there was something new happening was when the construction trucks drove by. Today, projects don’t happen without a complete involvement and contribution from all stakeholders. Public outreach and communications are of paramount importance because building trust with the community is essential to a successful project or program.

From the engineer’s perspective, the same is true. When we win a project, we don’t merely win a piece of work. What we win is the trust of the community to fix a problem, deliver needed innovation, or provide the basis for the community to thrive. We’ve been entrusted with one piece of the larger puzzle. To do that properly, we have listen to what the community needs before we figure out the answer and execute the work.

Delivering Smarter Infrastructure Insights
Today, billions of dollars of water infrastructure assets are currently in place. Most of those assets are maintained; of those, most are maintained with regularity. But few water infrastructure assets are maintained efficiently.

Technology is evolving our ability to change that. Smarter infrastructure improvements help utilities and agencies make forward-thinking decisions. These innovations help answer questions like, “How much water do I move, when do I move it, where do I move it to, and how can I use the least energy in doing so? How do I invest in my assets to maintain them, and how can I do that as efficiently as possible?” A community can start making investments because the data suggests we’ve hit a tipping point where deterioration is going to accelerate—not because we hit some predetermined, conservative lifespan estimate for a piece of equipment.

The next huge step forward will come when we take all our data and put it in the hands of the people. End users need access to real-time data so they can understand how much they are using when, and therefore, how they can be more efficient. If I can see my water consumption hour-by-hour, and how it affects my water bill, I’m triggered to assess my water habits to save money and resources. It’s not going to happen overnight, but when it happens, we’ll dramatically empower the ability of a community to get smarter about their water use.

A New Generation of Water Professionals
The third huge aspect of revolutionary change is the water professionals themselves. CDM Smith is transforming our workforce through generational change, just like many utilities are doing. In that process, we’ve greatly changed the way we train and mentor younger staff.

It used to be that an entry-level engineer would take direction from one person for several years, essentially entering into an apprenticeship. Today, an engineer joining CDM Smith has one or two official mentors, but they learn from a dozen people in the first two years of their career. If you ask one of our young engineers “who do you work for?” it’s often multiple project managers, working on a wide array of projects. And so, this generation of rising star water professionals are quite a bit different from what I experienced earlier in my career. They’re learning a diverse range of skills at an incredibly rapid rate.

These folks are not just brilliant and technically competent; they have a true passion and care for society and communities. They’re looking for projects that inspire them, and seeking out the chance to collaborate with utilities to find new and better solutions. And this is true for all of CDM Smith: we enjoy our work most when we are doing something that helps communities improve their quality of life.

In a world where the focus tends to fall more on consumption than conservation, we shouldn't forget how important water really is. It’s the lifeblood of our planetary existence—vital to every aspect of human life. The best service we can provide our clients is to partner with them to protect those precious water resources to build a stronger future for everyone.

Hampik Dekermenjian, PE leads CDM Smith’s Water Services Group. A senior vice president, he is based in Los Angeles. Mr. Dekermenjian has over two decades of professional experience in the fields of water resources, engineering, information technology management and operations system planning.

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