Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association

Comprising the operators of water and sewer systems statewide and their affiliates, the Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association has met annually in all but one year since 1931 with the goal of improving water quality through high standards and professionalism in the field.

With the lead of the American Water Works Association, and in harmony with efforts under way in other states, the first meeting of what was then called the Arkansas Water Works Conference took place at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1931 and drew forty-seven registered members. There, a slate of officers was elected, and the group resolved to form a permanent organization that would meet annually in cooperation with the state Board of Health and the university’s Extension Department and College of Engineering. Warren R. Spencer, a professor of civil engineering at the university who was elected to the association’s executive committee in 1931, wrote in a bulletin after the first meeting that the “control and proper utilization” of water was vital to the state’s economic development. He noted that the conference “has been established to serve as a meeting place for Water Works men of the state to exchange their ideas and experiences and to hear experts discuss their specialties.”

The organization changed its name in 1935 to the Arkansas Water and Sewage Conference during a joint meeting with the Oklahoma Water and Sewage Conference. A year later, it met in conference at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) with the Southwest Section of the American Water Works Association. Members attending the 1939 conference in Fayetteville approved a plan to create water and sewer districts statewide and appointed a licensing committee to usher in a voluntary licensing program for water operators. During the next year, participants held eight district meetings around the state. The 1941 conference hosted the first licensing exams, and the 1942 conference charged registration fees for the first time to defray costs. Sessions on water purification, meters, and distribution systems highlighted the 1949 conference. Meeting in Hot Springs (Garland County) for the first time, the 1951 conference renamed itself the Arkansas Water and Sewer Conference and Short Course. The conference had grown to 354 registrants during the 1967 meeting at Little Rock (Pulaski County) and topped 700 by the 1974 conference in Hot Springs. The next year, the conference was back in Little Rock under a new name, the Arkansas Water Works and Pollution Control Conference and Short School.

In 2006, the seventy-fifth annual conference at Hot Springs drew more than 2,700 members and featured about 100 sessions on various technical issues and studies that afforded opportunities for continuing education and discussion, as well as training and licensing. Each year’s conference includes national affiliates, the Southwest Section of the American Water Works Association, the Water Environment Federation, and a network of state organizations, public agencies, and industry representatives. One of the highlights of every conference is the recognition of achievement at an awards ceremony. A number of college scholarships are offered through member groups of the association.

A board of seventeen members and an executive secretary coordinate the Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association’s activities. On the board are representatives of each of the state’s nine autonomous water engineering districts and one each from manufacturers, the Arkansas Water Environment Association, and the Southwest Section of the American Water Works Association. Five board officers come from the ranks of water and sewer system operators in the state. In pushing for water quality, the board of Arkansas Water Works Association and Water Environment Association has historically backed fees to support water-testing procedures and licensing requirements for both water system and wastewater treatment operators.

For water supply systems, a seven-person Drinking Water Advisory and Operator Licensing Committee administers the Water Operator Certification Program under the auspices of the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services. The committee includes a Health Department engineer, a consulting engineer who designs water systems, an engineer who teaches at a state university, and four certified operators. Vacancies are filled by the Board of Health, based on nominations from the constituent groups.

The water division of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality manages the licensing program for sewer system operators through an eight-member Wastewater Licensing Committee. Members include three licensed wastewater treatment plant operators, one industry representative, one chief administrator or city engineer of a municipal wastewater treatment plant, one faculty representative of an accredited university or professional school, and one employee of the state Department of Environmental Quality, either the director or designee who serves as executive secretary.

For additional information:
Arkansas Water Works and Water Environment Association. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Cary Bradburn
North Little Rock History Commission


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