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

International Water Supply Association
(1947 to 1975)

By Paul Reiter

Origins and Mission of IWSA

The International Water Supply Association (IWSA) was created in two steps starting with an organizational meeting in the UK in 1947 and completed in 1949 in Amsterdam in conjunction with IWSA’s first world conference.  The founders were a coalition of individuals from the Netherlands (Krul and Biemond), the UK (Millis and Winters), France (Brunotte) and Belgium (Pollet).  All of the founders are included in the IWA Distinguished Pioneers (DPs) short bios presented below.

Simply put, one of the major motivations of the founders, in the context of the post-WWII period, was to “build back better” to borrow a political phrase from current times, and in doing so, to benefit from international knowledge sharing and collaboration.

IWSA was different from its close cousin, IAWPR in that by the 1950’s, water supply treatment and distribution technology had largely matured over the previous 50 years. Thus, IWSA was focused on the betterment and extension of water supply, while IAWPR was more about scientifically characterizing the pollution challenge facing the world and inventing remedial actions and technology as wastewater treatment.   Not surprisingly then, IWSA members came out of established water supply companies, national agencies related to water supply and consultants to the water supply enterprise.  In contrast, most but not all of IAWPR’s members came from academia.  These differences in the two associations, both in their core mission and the professional background of their members, would prove to be a major challenge when IAWQ and IWSA merged in 1999 to form IWA.

Sources of Leaders and Members

In line with the discussion above, the majority but not the totality of senior IWSA leaders came from large urban publicly owned and operated water supply authorities.  For example, Cornelis Biemond, IWSA’s first President was the managing director of the city of Amsterdam’s water supply authority.  People like Biemond, Pollet (Brussels), and later van der Veen (Amsterdam), Schalekamp (Zurich), Dirickx (Antwerp) and Tessendorf (Berlin), were all major figures in the cities that their utilities served.

The complexities of running a publicly owned company that was expected to operate flawlessly “24×7”, protect lives, conserve public expenditures by keeping rates low, manage 50-250 year old assets, find new water resources from far away while keeping local elected officials satisfied, is a skillset that few individuals possess. Not surprisingly, these great utility leaders made for great leaders of their adopted international association, IWSA.

The notable exception to the general case of IWSA leaders and their origins described above was in Japan and France.  In Japan, there is a unique three-way linkage in drinking water utility management in which the national ministries, the cities, and academic specialists are all actively involved in the utility enterprise.  In the case of Japan, while IWSA leaders came from academia, true to the model outlined above, IWSA President Ishibashi (1978-80) had a strong background beyond academia in local utility service and in the Japanese Ministry of Health.  Other examples of multi-faceted academic leaders in IWSA include Professors Magara and Goto, and most prominently, Professor Tambo from the late 1970’s in IWSA and then later as President of IWA after the merger (2001-2003).

French IWSA leaders in turn, with exception of IWSA founder Brunotte, tended to come from one of the two large French water companies, then known as Lyonnaise des Eaux (later Suez) and Company General des Eaux (later Veolia).  For example, Guy Dejouany served as IWSA President (1980-82) during his tenure as Managing Director of Company General des Eaux during 1976-96.

Organization of Member Engagement and Activities

IWSA was organized into four major committees that mimicked the major departments that one would find in almost any drinking water utility.   These committees included:

Distribution;  Operations and Maintenance;  Water Quality;  Management and Finance.

Each of these “headline” committees had sub-committees, offering a more specific point of engagement to members.  If one permutes the IWSA committees/sub-committee structure, there were about 20 working groups in IWSA. These groups were conceptually comparable to what emerged in IAWPRC as Specialist Groups, but in IWSA they were not similarly empowered as in IAWPRC/IAWQ in the post-1980 period.

The model of collaboration and communication within these committees and sub-committees revolved around “national reports” from member countries, specific to each of the committees, that were assembled for each biennial congress.  These national reports were presented and debated by the members at the congresses or in specialty conferences[1].

IWSA’s heavy reliance on the biennial congresses and the national report framework was labor intensive for participating countries and utilities.  In hindsight, this probably weakened IWSA’s reach to more water supply companies and grow its membership.

This fact was particularly true with respect to members from developing countries that possessed the resources to contribute to the IWSA biennial congresses.  To mitigate this reality in the developing world and building the initiative of great individual IWSA presidents/leaders (e.g., van der Veen, Dirickx, Richardson), IWSA set up regional conferences and alliances with regional associations in South Asia, East Asia, and Africa.  In their time, they made a difference bringing IWSA close to a global organization.  Sadly, few survived at the time of the IWSA and IAWQ merger in 1999 with the exception of ASPAC in East Asia, which was originally established by President Ishibashi of Japan.

Technical Issues and Trends

IWSA was focused on the aforementioned four “pillars” of utility and water system organization.  This persisted throughout its lifespan.  In the early years of IWSA, more emphasis can be seen from the journals on network infrastructure and maintenance (pipes, storage, etc.).

In the early 1970’s, owing to advances in instrumentation and detection that could determine organic compounds in the nanogram range, concerns about treatment and disinfection of water supplies began to rise closer to the top of the agenda.

This led to a boost in the research on contamination prevention and the formation of water treatment and specifically, on disinfection biproducts  and alternatives techniques for disinfection (ozonation, UV-irradiation etc.) instead of relying entirely on chlorination.  (See more on this in Part Two of the IWSA introduction).

The End of the Era

The end of this era (1947-1975) marked a turning point in the leadership of IWSA.  A significant element of the formal leadership of IWSA in the first 25 years of IWSA was expressed through the founders.  In 1974, the IWSA President in this era was Leonard Willis 1974-76, long time Secretary General of IWSA. A second generation of leaders emerged with the Presidency of Cornelis van der Veen in 1976.

This second generations of leadership paved the way for an invigorated Association and energetic and memorable set of leaders, a number of which were designated as Distinguished Pioneers.

[1]   In contrast, IAWQ’s biennial congresses relied almost entirely on individual contributions, presented as a paper or poster.  Later in its life, IAWQ added Specialist Groups with their own set of conferences to the mix.

Distinguished Pioneers – Presidents

President: 1940s (IWSA) Cornelis Biemond

President: 1972-1974 (IWSA)
Fred Merryfield

President: 1952-1955 (IWSA) Rene Bruotte

President: 1974-1976 (IWSA) Leonard Millis

Distinguished Pioneers (Founders) 

Wilhelmus Krul