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

International Association on Water Pollution Research and Control (1980 to 1989)

By Gustaf Olsson

IAWPR had a remarkable development in the 1980s and became a truly significant international actor in water systems. Recognising the “control” aspect, IAWPR advanced into IAWPRC in 1982. The widening responsibility and competence of the Association motivated still another rename to IAWQ in 1992.

The impressive expansion of IAWPR had a lot to do with strong and visionary leadership. In 1980 Bertil Hawerman handed over the presidency to Dick Engelbrecht. Dick had a profound impact on the continued development during his six years IAWPR/IAWPRC presidency.  Poul Harremoes was elected president at the Rio biennial conference in 1986 and had an exceptional impact on the further growth and development during his four president years. Stepping down in 1990 he had served over 12 years as vice president and president. In 1981 Tony Milburn became the first full-time Executive Director. For more than two decades he was a key player in the expansion of IAWPR/IAWPRC/IAWQ and through the merger of IAWQ and IWSA in 1999 to the creation of IWA. Tony retired in 2002 to be succeeded by Paul Reiter. The three leaders not only had true visionary influences but also managed to create the important feeling of companionship within the Association.

As new president Poul Harremoes shared his vision of the next IAWPR decades. He saw the need for both grassroot initiatives and leadership. He recognised how IAWPR had an important role to play to preserve the environment and how a sustainable society had to be a focal point. So far, the activities had been dominated by handling domestic and industrial water pollution. However, the concept of water environment was more than treating polluted water or understanding eutrophication. Groundwater pollution had to be included among the concerns. The responsibility for the environment is not only a matter of corrective measures but also a matter of preventive measures. This will require fundamental changes to many of our values; socially, individually, and collectively.

Harremoes reminded that new organic chemicals, the greenhouse effect, the ozone layer degradation, deforestation, and the desertification are all related to water. He warned that our greatest risk is complacency based on successes in the past and noted the difficulties to understand which changes were required with respect to water pollution for the next century. The future in relation to the environment will require such drastic measures that it will make changes to society significant, and that “these demands will be considered irrational by the profession.  We have to get out of our way to give young engineers and scientists room to analyse the situation, assess their values and evaluate their options.” Today, as we experience the climate crisis, Harremoes’ vision was prophetic.

During the 1980s there were five biennial conferences, establishing IAWPR/IAWPRC on five continents, in Toronto 1980, Cape Town 1982, Amsterdam 1984, Rio de Janeiro 1986, Brighton 1988 and Kyoto 1990. In particular, the Rio conference was a true landmark of the international expansion. Early it was recognised to balance research and practice. The biennial conference programs have included a combination of specialist seminars, general sessions, posters, and equipment exhibitions.

The bottom-up approach having been established in the 1970s was a truly ingenious idea. Later it became a role model of other associations. Visionary professionals had already created specialised meetings, and this was now manifested as formal Speciality groups during Dick Engelbrecht’s presidency. Poul Harremoes had presented a scientific development plan in 1980, recognising the IAWPR members’ need for more specialisation. The idea of specialised interest groups was discussed at an informal lunchbreak meeting between Dick Engelbrecht, Sam Jenkins (retired Executive Director), Tony Milburn, and Willie Grabow at the Toronto Biennial in 1980. Grabow had established the Water Virology Specialist Group three years earlier.  The experiences from the successful Large Wastewater Treatment Process (LWWTP) workshops in 1971, 1976 and 1980, organized by Willi von der Emde, were also decisive. Von der Emde had not been present at the Toronto meeting, but as a treasurer he had close contact with Engelbrecht.  The leaders agreed to try out the idea of speciality groups, however not without trepidation. They were not sure what they might be letting loose. It turned out to be one of the best decisions they ever made. This showed the key factor of a successful Association: confidence on the part of the leadership in the skills and good intentions of the grassroot initiators to provide opportunity. In the early 1980s there were already more than a dozen specialist meetings per year.

The link between drinking water and wastewater research, technology and management was recognized by Poul Harremoes. Attention to water protection, supply, and distribution strongly supported the link which was one of the driving forces for the future merger of IAWQ and IWSA.

In the mid-1980s the number of specialist groups had grown to 21. Details of activities were refined in due consultation with IAWPRC head office in London. Communication and collaboration with the head office took place in a pleasant and constructive spirit serving the best interests of all concerned.

All of this has been accomplished by a body of volunteers, giving of their most precious and valuable resources – their scarce time, their energy and their professional skills, working largely in what spare time they can afford from heavy work commitments. Maybe the combination of ideals and entrepreneurial culture together with the conviction that all members are our friends and equals, whatever their nationality creed or culture.

Publications provide a crucial contact between IWA and its members. Already in 1967 Water Research was established as a journal with Dr Sam Jenkins as its Executive Director and Wesley Eckenfelder as its Editor. It had developed from the Journal of Air and Water Pollution, a Pergamon Press journal. Sam Jenkins was known having reviewed every single paper submission to WR. Now Water Research is a world leader in its field. The series Progress in Water Technology had published the proceedings of the specialised conferences. In 1981 the publication was transformed into Water Science and Technology, at that time publishing all the IAWPRC conferences. It has developed into a flagship journal of IWA, together with 14 other peer-reviewed journals.

Tony Milburn introduced the Water Quality International magazine to improve communications with members. Having been just a typewritten newsletter from 1977 it was developing into a typeset and printed version in 1981. This now was growing into what became the WQI in 1987, a lively, widely read, and respected magazine. Another important communication was established in 1987, the Scientific and Technical Reports.

Distinguished Pioneers – Presidents

President: 1980-1986 (IAWPR/IAWPRC)
Richard S. ‘Dick’ Engelbrecht ‘

President: 1980s  (IAWPR)
Poul Harremoes

Distinguished Pioneers

Ernst Kuntze

Gerrit v R. Marais