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

International Water Services Association (1976 to 1999)

By Paul Reiter and Andy Richardson

Post-1975 — A New Generation of Leaders

As stated at the conclusion of Part One, a second generation of leaders emerged with the Presidency of Conelis van der Veen in 1976.[1]   In his time, van der Veen paved the way for an invigorated Association and energetic and memorable set of leaders.  Among these leaders are the Distinguished Pioneers Ishibashi (JP), Dejouany (FR), Schalekamp (CH), Dirickx (BE), Richardson (US), Tessendorf (DE), and Giacasso(CH).

These leaders brought with them key members of their professional staff which expanded the membership ranks and capabilities of IWSA.  They would play key roles in the successor organization to both IWSA and IAWQ following the merger in 1999.

Technical Issues and Trends

As stated in Part One of the IWSA introduction, IWSA was focused on four “pillars” of utility and water system organization.  The work of these committees and their associated working groups formed the backbone of content and deliberations at IWSA Biennial Congresses.

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.  Specifically, disinfection biproducts and the emergence of trace chemicals and their appropriate treatment became a focus of research and the implementation of new treatment technologies – notably carbon and ozonation.

Responding to these challenges, a joint research program between USA and Europe was launched in the 1975 to 1980 period with results presented in two conferences, one in Europe (Karlsruhe, 1977) and one in USA (Washington, 1979).  Dave Preston, AWWA Executive Director, is said to have played a key role in this effort being launched.

Leading researchers and professionals from this period included Helmut Sontheimer (Germany), Werner Stumm (Switzerland), Ken Ives (UK)) and Charles O’Melia, Mel Suffet and Gary Amy (USA).  Of these individuals, Ives and O’Meila (both now deceased), were designated as IWA Distinguished Pioneers.

A follow-up to this effort in the early 1990’s, inspired by Bill Richardson then President of IWSA, and strongly supported by Jack Manion at AWWA was called the “Atlantic Workshops”.  It represented a concerted effort by AWWA and IWSA to forge a stronger technical partnership between the associations.  The first of the Atlantic Workshops was held in Toronto Canada June 1990.  The second workshop was held in San Diego California in November 1990 at AWWA’s Water Quality Technical Conference.

In parallel to the growing interest in water treatment science and technology, advances in membrane technology gave rise to both the feasibility of large-scale desalination, and both potable and non-potable reuse of wastewater.  It should be noted that at this point, the lines between IWSA’s mission and the of its close cousin, IAWQ, were increasingly one of shared common interests.

A Reinvigorated Focus on Water in Developing Countries

One of the hallmarks of this era was a shared belief within the IWSA members that the Association should be doing much more to aid in the development of water supplies in Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Latin America.  This no doubt was a reflection of the growing gap between improving circumstances of water supply and treatment in the developing counties, which made up most of IWSA members, and the deteriorating conditions in developing countries, particularly in large urban areas.

This sentiment was beginning to be seen and heard at a global level at the United Nations.  In response, beginning in the later 1970’s, the UN began a high visibility campaign to raise awareness and create an action plan to address the global water challenges ahead in the developing countries, where post-WWI population was exploding and urbanization ramping up.

This campaign, still in motion, included two seminal events:

  • The 1977 UN Water conference held in Mara del Plato, Argentina, where a goal was established to bring clean water and sanitation to all people in the world by 1990.
  • The follow-up UN event held In Dublin, Ireland in 1992, resulted in the declaration four principles and ten action items related to the achievement of WASH goals.

The Mara del Plato and Dublin declarations together began to frame a global set of WASH objective and urgency that had not existed before this period and began what was clearly a new and more confusing era in water.

As the leading international association of drinking water professionals, IWSA clearly felt the need to establish a view on these developments and its own action agenda.

Many of the IWSA Presidents in this era, including van der Veen, Ishibashi (East Asia in particular), Dejouany, Schalekamp, Dirickx and Richardson (Latin America in particular) were to play key roles in IWSA’s collective effort to address these challenges, in a manner appropriate to the Associations capabilities.

To begin the process of IWSA’s formal engagement with the UN and the new global goals, former IWSA President van der Veen led the creation of the IWSA Committee on Cooperation in Development (Cocodev) which was the vehicle used by IWSA to participate in the overall scheme for realizing the WASH goals.  WHO served as the lead agency in what was called the Global Promotion and Cooperation for Water Supply and Sanitation (GWS) and from the beginning, the World Bank represented a chief partner to WHO in its responsibilities.[2]  Van der Veen was a key participant in the opening 1983 meetings, led by WHO, on strategies for addressing the original Un 1990 goals.  Past-President Dirickx followed up in the early 190’s with an initiative to establish a formal, World Bank supported initiative unique to IWSA potential contributions, which ultimately did not succeed.

In hindsight, the UN approach to reaching five decades of overlapping goals, beginning in 1977 through the 2015 Millennium Development Goals relied on action by multi-lateral organizations (UN agencies, World Bank, Regional Banks, etc.) and national governments.  IWSA in contrast was a bottom-up association of members (local or sometime national utilities, companies and individuals) with no authority in the UN/national government context.  Anything that the IWSA could do to support the 1977 global goals relied on its own very limited internal resources or external funding, with the former case prevailing.

In this context, through the 1980’s and 1990’s IWSA was able to support the larger global goals through largely self-funded regional outreach to Africa, East Asia, Latin America in the form of regional cooperation partnerships (with no funding), the establishment of regional conference series, and through the dissemination of information.  Partnerships were attempted in various regions in sub-regions of Africa, South Asia, East Asia and in Latin America.

IWSA’s challenge was not aided by the appearance in the 1990’s of a number of new organizations which were conceived in furtherance of UN goals on water and sanitation.  The most notable of these was the World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership, both in 1996, and both with major sponsor/donor funding.  The advent of more voices in the development space served to complicate rather than simplify IWSA’s potential role during this time.

Sadly, after 15 years of these heartfelt efforts and the hard work that many of the aforementioned Distinguished Pioneers and IWSA invested in regional development and conference series, only two survived at the time of the merger in 2000:  ESAR, the Eastern and Southern Africa regional group of IWSA, initiated by President Bath and based at Rand Water in South Africa; and the East Asia Group and regional conference series ASPAC, initiated by President Ishibashi from Japan.  Both were still functioning at the end of this era and the time of the merger[3].

Utility Efficiency and Effectiveness – Restructuring, Consolidation and Privatization

Another significant event during this period was the UK’s 1974 decision to massively consolidate its water related utilities geographically which included combining water and wastewater operations in not all but a handful of utilities.  This decision was followed in 1989 by the wholesale privatization of utilities in England and Wales.

In parallel, the maturation of wastewater treatment and associated utility formation throughout the 1980’s, at least in larger cities in the industrialized countries, led to entirely new bills to residences and industries for dramatically improved water quality.  At the same time, the long-standing bill from the drinking water authorities was creeping up or in some cases dramatically expanding due to system renewal and/or expanded treatment linked to rising standards of drinking water quality.  The bottom line was a rapidly growing price tag to residences and industries for environmental infrastructure related to water management.

In hindsight, these decadal changes in the price paid for water and wastewater treatment, appeared to have unleashed a worldwide debate in the 1990’s, inspired in part by UK policies, about the virtues of “privatization” in both developed and developing countries.  In the end, it sparked widespread geographic consolidation in many of the countries that made up IWSA members.

The emergent emphasis on utility efficiency and effective also spurred great interest and widespread adoption of utility-wide performance measures.  Accordingly, IWSA added performance measures to its biennial program in the later 1990’s. It was not after the IWSA-IAWQ merger into IWA, that the formal discussion of utility performance measures, utility restructuring, and privatization were incorporated into the programs of the biennial congresses.

The Merger

The technical trends and utility restructuring discussion above foreshadows the blurring lines between purely drinking water utilities and wastewater utilities.  In fact, by the late 1990’s, it was commonplace to see merged drinking and wastewater utilities in some countries.

On the scientific side, a major foreshadowing event occurred in Jonkoping Sweden in April 1990 where IWSA and IAWPRC held a joint specialized conference on coagulation, flocculation, filtration, sedimentation, flotation and disinfection with regard to both water and wastewater treatment.  In spite of the long-time existence of the Particle Separation Group, which straddled to the two associations, – the Jonkoping conference represented a milestone of change and integration.  In a nutshell, the municipal and industrial water industry had matured and was now better aligned, and for some, fully aligned.

Following a nearly a 50-year run for IWSA and a 35-year run for IAWQ, and a lengthy negotiation between IWSA and IAWQ, a formal merger in August of 1999 was achieved.  The result of their merger led to the creation of an almost entirely new organization, the International Water Association (IWA) in 2000.

[1] van der Veen  was the successor to IWSA’s first President Cornelis Biemond, as the Managing Director of the Amsterdam Water Authority

[2]  This situation reinforced WHO’s long-standing partnerships with IWSA, IAWPR and ultimately to IWA.  It also led to a closer, yet episodic relationship, between IWSA and the World Bank, principally supported by John Briscoe (IWA DP), Jan Janssens and Piers Cross (IWA DP).

[3]   Following the merger, President Tambo successfully merged ASPAC(IWSA) and Asia Waster Quality (IAWQ) into ASPIRE, which had it debut conference in 1995.  ASPIRE has proven to be a venerable standing group and will have its 9th Congress in Chinese Taiwan in 2023.

Distinguished Pioneers – Presidents

President: 1976-1978 (IWSA) Cornelis (Cor) van der Veen

President: 1982-1984 (IWSA) Maarten Schalekamp

President: 1988-1991  (IWSA) William H. Richardson


President: 1978-80 (IWSA) Tamon Ishibashi

President: 1986-88 (IWSA) Jan Dirickx

President: 1991-1993  (IWSA) Heinz Tessendorf

Distinguished Pioneers

Leonard (Len) Bays

John Briscoe

Keiji Goto

Heinz Bernhardt

Francois Fiessinger

Charles (Charlie) O’Melia