Honouring IWA’s Distinguished Pioneers and
Their Legacies in the IWA history

International Assocation on Water Pollution Research (1962-65 to 1979)

By Helmut Kroiss and Gustaf Olsson

The formation and development of IAWPR during its early years is a history of devoted individuals recognizing the need for international cooperation in order to deal with the massive water quality problems that had increased until the 1960s, to find solutions for water protection and to start fast development.

The rapid recovery of the economy after WWII resulted in an increased wastewater production and discharge to receiving waters. This visibly deteriorated surface waters as treatment was inefficient and in many cases inexistent. There were no international standards for basic items such as pollution parameters, treatment process understanding and design principles, operational requirements, control and automation, equipment development, laboratory requirements, solids handling and disposal.

For all these challenges an international exchange of knowledge and experience was recognised as necessary to enhance water pollution abatement on a global scale. International cooperation on the scientific level started in the UK, the country where historically wastewater treatment had a long tradition, and where many mechanical-biological treatment plants were already operating. Devoted water professionals took initiatives to meetings and conferences during the early 1960s, which led to the formation of IAWPR.  In 1962 the first international conference on Water Pollution Research took place in London followed by the biennial Tokyo conference in 1964, where a steering committee was established with contacts to institutions and colleagues active in water research worldwide.

The founding members of the International Association on Water Pollution Research (IAWPR) came from USA (J. Andrews, W. Eckenfelder, B. Berger, E. Pearson), Germany (G. Mueller Neuhaus), France (L. Coin), Israel (H. Shuval), Japan (S. Iwai), Austria (W. von der Emde), UK (S. Jenkins), Hungary (P. Benedek), and Czechoslovakia (V. Madera). At that time, it was very important that two countries from Eastern Europe “behind the Iron Curtain” were represented in IAWPR. The founding ceremony took place in Harrogate (UK) on June 26, 1965.

Erman Pearson (US) was elected as the first president. An important step forward for this new organisation was the launch of the journal Water Research in 1967, strongly supported by Sam Jenkins. On top of his presidency Pearson had a great influence on the younger generation and inspired many of his students to become leaders within IAWPR.

In 1969 the first IAWPR biennial conference in Prague took place, postponed by one year due to the invasion of Soviet Troops in 1968. At this conference Gerrie Stander (South Africa) was elected president. During his presidency the journal and publication series Progress in Water Technology was launched, linking scientific research with technology development and practice. Gerrie Stander also connected South African water research with the international community, creating openings for outstanding South African professionals. In 1976 Bertil Hawerman (Sweden) was elected president at a time when water pollution abatement had already become an important political issue, which was reflected in growing membership and international recognition of IAWPR. In particular, he acted to include the Scandinavian countries into the international water community. He also worked to establish more contacts with African countries.

In the early 1970s important political decisions took place around the globe. The following examples indicate their relevance for the progress leading to an exponential growth of water protection activities: creation of the US EPA in 1971, transformation of a water research laboratory to the Water Research Centre in Stevenage in UK, start of the Water Research Commission in South Africa, and the Clean Water Act in US (1972).

Mechanical-biological treatment processes for the removal of carbonaceous pollution (BOD5) from industrial and urban wastewater was considered a priority remedial action. In the late 1970s a new problem attracted great recognition for the near future:  the nutrient removal requirements at WWTPs for eutrophication abatement (South African Rivers and Lakes, Alpine Lakes in Europe, Great Lakes in North America). On the contrary, sludge and solids treatment and disposal remained a topic of discussion until today also being a matter of water and waste management at the same time.  IAWPR was able to attract many of the personalities driving or acting behind these developments, including most of “water” professors and their staff at universities worldwide.

From the beginning IAWPR selected an organisational concept with strong bottom-up activities with interdisciplinary cooperation and a flat structure of the association. Already at the first conferences it was recognised that research results had to be linked with the implementation of research results, technology development and operation to enhance pollution reduction by meeting rapidly changing legal requirements.

Already in 1971, the first international Workshop on “Design and Operation of Large Wastewater Treatment Plants” was initiated by Willi von der Emde (Austria) and John Andrews (US) (Kroiss et al. 2021)[1] with a focus on full scale knowledge and experience. The Vienna workshop on Large Wastewater Treatment Plants (LWWTP) became a role model for other specialised conferences, that also encouraged managers of large treatment plants and even public administration to join the Association.

 There were lively discussions at the Vienna workshop about connections between design and operation, and the actions that followed also illustrate the “bottom-up” initiatives that have been crucial for the development of the Association. It was decided to arrange a specialized workshop on instrumentation, control and automation (ICA). People like Willi von der Emde and John Andrews acted like crusaders to develop the international cooperation.

The first conference on ICA under the sponsorship of IAWPR was held in London in 1973. Participants of the Vienna LWWTP workshop, Carmen Guarino (City of Philadelphia, USA), Tony Drake (Greater London Council, UK), John F. Andrews (Clemson Univ., USA) and Ron Briggs (Water Pollution Research Laboratory, UK) not only organized the 1973 conference, but also acted strongly on the international level to establish ICA. The strong leaders, representing both the utility industry and academia laid the foundation for the LWWTP and ICA conferences that would be organized every four years.

Another pioneer was Willie Grabow (Pretoria, South Africa), who together with others established the Water Virology Specialist Group within IAWPR and organized its first conference. These three bottom-up initiatives built the basis to formally establish Specialist Groups during the presidency of Dick Engelbrecht (1980 – 1986) as self-sustaining sub-organisations, where IAWPRC was responsible for quality control and organisational support but took no economic obligation. These groups had an interdisciplinary membership of experts from research, design, operation, utilities, authorities, equipment suppliers and others. They tackled complex problems and acted as breeding grounds for new specialist groups. This concept turned out to be very successful in adapting the development of the Association to emerging new topics of relevance and interdisciplinary co-operation by bottom-up activities.

[1] Kroiss H., Matsché N., Krampe J. (2021). 50 years of design and operation of large wastewater treatment plant conferences. A history of innovation and development. Water Science & Technology, 84, 2, 263-273.

Distinguished Pioneers – Presidents

President: 1965-1969
Erman Pearson

President: 1976-1980
Bertil Hawerman

President: 1969-1976
Gerrie J Stander

Distinguished Pioneers – Founders

Bernard Berger

Shigehisa Iwai

Cecil David (Guy) Parker

Wilhelm von der Emde

Wes Eckenfelder

Gunther Mueller-Neuhaus

Hillel I. Shuval

Distinguished Pioneers

John Andrews

Korokuro Hirose