Celebrating CWEA’s 90 Years and Counting!

Announcements, History

2018 marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the California Water Environment Association and the CWEA History Committee is counting down to the 2028 CWEA Centennial.  To mark our 90th year, the CWEA History Committee has compiled some CWEA “founding facts.”

AWWA and the Founding of CWEA – 1928

Did you know the American Water Works Association played a role in the founding of the CWEA?

The California Sewage Works Association (CSWA, now CWEA) was officially established on June 11th, 1928, at a meeting of California’s leading wastewater experts. The meeting was held in San Francisco during the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) annual convention and fifty-one “future” CSWA members attended the meeting and enthusiastically voted to form the CSWA after a two-hour discussion.  The CSWA formation meeting was deliberately timed to coincide with the AWWA convention because the convention provided the opportunity for most of California’s water and wastewater utility leaders to gather in one location.

The AWWA convention also allowed utility leaders from other states to attend the CSWA formation meeting and speak about the effectiveness of wastewater associations in their regions.  George Warren Fuller and Abel Wolman (1), both renowned sanitary engineers and leaders of AWWA, both spoke in favor of the formation of the CSWA and provided information on the status of the Federation of Sewage Works Associations (now WEF) and the organization of their respective member associations.

AWWA’s link to the founding of CWEA predates the AWWA’s 1928 San Francisco convention.  Discussions regarding the formation of a California wastewater association started as early as 1923.  The California Bureau of Sanitary Engineering staff arranged for tours of wastewater treatment plants in conjunction with the California Water Works Association’s (now the California-Nevada Section of AWWA) 1923 Fresno convention.  About twenty members attended the tours and the idea of a wastewater division of the California Water Works Association was discussed, but the tours and the wastewater division idea died with the 1923 convention.  The wastewater tours interfered with the water works program and the wastewater idea did not fit with the drinking water orientation of the California Water Works Association’s mission – there was no interest in sewage related programs by the AWWA.

CWEA’s “Birthplace”

The 1928 AWWA annual convention was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  The meeting and the vote that established the CSWA took place in the Fairmont Hotel during the meetings that preceded the formal opening of the AWWA convention.  Thus, the Fairmont Hotel is our Association’s official “birthplace”.

Both the CWEA and WEF share the year 1928 as a founding date and the first editions of the Federation’s Sewage Works Journal and the CSWA’s California Sewage Works Journal were both published in October 1928.  Based on stated founding dates, the CWEA History Committee was recently asked “Which came first, CWEA or WEF?”

The answer is WEF was the first organization “out of the gate”.  The Federation’s establishment was formally endorsed on October 28, 1927 by a Coordinating Committee (The “Committee of One Hundred”) appointed by the American Public Health Association to recommend the process and procedure for establishing the Federation.  The new Federation Organizing Committee met on January 18, 1928 and became the Federation “Implementing Committee” on March 8th, 1928.  By March 28th, the core WEF committees (Finance, Publication, Coordination, and Organization) were up and running, the Federation Board of Control held its first meeting on October 26, 1928, and the first edition of the Federation Journal, which included a report on the formation of the CSWA, was mailed to Federation members at the end of October (1928).

Another reason the CSWA “founding meeting” was scheduled for June 11, 1928 was based the fact that the Federation had been successfully established in March of that year – to quote Chester G. Gillespie, the date was set for the CSWA organizational meeting at the AWWA convention “As soon as the success of the Federation was assured…”  This entitled the new CSWA members to receive their copies of the Federation’s newly published Sewage Works Journal.

Interestingly, the 2017 WEFTEC event was billed as the Federation’s “90th Annual Technical Exhibition & Conference”.  However, according to WEF’s own published history, the initial WPCF conferences consisted of Federation Annual Board of Control meetings starting in 1928 (2).  These were then changed to annual conferences of members in 1940 (October 3-5), except for 1945 when the conference was cancelled due to World War II (the Federation only held a Board of Control meeting in 1945).  So, “technically” speaking, WEFTEC 2018 would be the Federation’s 90th Annual Technical Exhibition & Conference if our math is correct and we count the 1945 Board meeting (but maybe WEF counts the 1927 coordinating committee as the first meeting to get to 90?).

“Our Founder”

Who might be considered the “founder” of the CWEA?

The founders of CWEA were the fifty-one leaders who gathered in San Francisco on June 11, 1928 and unanimously voted for the creation of our Association.  However, it would be safe to say that Chester Gordon Gillespie was the person who spearheaded the effort and through his actions was able to provide the impetus to accomplish the creation of an association dedicated to the advancement of education and training for California’s wastewater professionals.

Chester Gordon Gillespie

Chester G. Gillespie served as the Chief of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering for the California State Department of Public Health from 1915 to 1947.  His responsibilities included oversight of all wastewater treatment and water treatment facilities in California, which was no small task considering the Bureau’s total staff consisted of four engineers and two clerks.

Because of his position, Gillespie understood the serious issues and challenges confronting the wastewater field in the 1920’s and he authored articles and reports that demonstrated the need for training and the sharing of operational and design knowledge to successfully address the situation.  Through his position, Gillespie met with the leaders in our field and discussed the challenges and the need for an organization to enhance training and networking for wastewater collection and treatment personnel.  He initiated the tours of wastewater treatment plants during the 1923 California Water Works Association convention and continued the discussions about establishing a California sewage works association based on his meetings with leaders of sewage works associations in other states during public health and sanitary engineering conventions.

When it was clear that the Federation was successfully organized, along with other member associations, most notably in New Jersey and Texas, Gillespie send a letter as State Chief of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering to all California municipalities with wastewater systems inviting their personnel to the June 11, 2018 organizational meeting.  Gillespie chaired the meeting and led the discussion, and introduced speakers from other state sewage works associations.  At the end of the discussions, Gillespie introduced the following resolution:

Resolved that there be formed in the State of California an organization to be known as the California Sewage Works Association whose objects shall be the advancement of the knowledge design, construction, operation and management of sewage works and the friendly exchange of information and experience therein.”

Gillespie’s resolution was approved by a unanimous vote and the group moved to appoint an organization committee and adopted an annual membership fee of $2.00.   And the rest, as they say, is history.

The “First Member” of CWEA

Did you know that the CWEA has an official “First Member”?

The CWEA History Committee found that our Association, by a motion of the CSWA Board of Directors, officially recognized and designated George Warren Fuller as the “first member” of the CSWA.  This recognition was bestowed on Mr. Fuller on October 10, 1928 at the first annual CSWA convention and his name is listed first on the original membership roster of the CSWA.

In 1928, New York’s George Warren Fuller was recognized as the “Ranking Dean” of U.S. sanitary engineering and he played a key role in the founding of both WEF and CWEA. The Federation was developed based on Fuller’s organizational concept, and his presentation to California’s utility leaders at the June 11, 1928 meeting helped to set the stage for organizing the CSWA, thus he was honored as our Association’s first member.

Mr. Fuller’s dedication to the advancement of sanitary engineering through participation in associations is captured in this quote from the AWWA:

“Notwithstanding a busy life in active practice, Fuller gave freely of his time and energy to the advancement of his chosen profession through participation in the activities of technical societies, through contributions to the engineering press, and through educational activities. His record in this respect is outstanding. He was a member of the American Water Works Association (President); the American Public Health Association (President); the Engineering Foundation (Chair); the American Society of Civil Engineers (Vice-President); the American Institute of Consulting Engineers; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain; the American Chemical Society; the American Society of Bacteriologists; the Engineering Institute of Canada; the Vereines Duetscher Ingenieure; the Association Generale des Hygienistes et Techniciens Municipaux of France; and the Franklin Institute.”(3)

CWEA’s First Elected Leader

Did you know that CWEA’s first elected leader was not the Association President?

The CSWA Organizing Committee was formed on June 11, 1928 and Albert Kendall Warren, General Manager of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, was elected by the meeting participants to serve as Chairman. He was immediately tasked with forming several subcommittees (Nominations and Bylaws, Membership and Program) and appointing two representatives to serve on the Federation Board of Control.  The date for the first annual CSWA convention was set for October 1928 to coincide with the League of California Municipalities (now the League of California Cities) annual convention.

Warren’s program of work as CSWA Chair was considerable, considering that the newly formed CSWA had only four months to develop a convention (conference) program, publish a journal of proceedings, draft a constitution and bylaws, plus nominate a slate of new officers.   Fortunately, Warren’s Organizing Committee and Subcommittees were staffed by a core group of recognized leaders who had the wherewithal to assist in successfully delivering the programs and policies needed to establish the new association.

Albert Kendall Warren opened and chaired the first annual CSWA Convention in 1928.  His efforts as Organizing Committee Chairman immediately established the credibility of CSWA and gained positive notice for the fledgling organization, thus ensuring the successful start-up for the CSWA.

CWEA’s First Conference –  The 1928 CSWA Convention

Did you know that our first conference was held in San Bernardino?

Many of the new CSWA members were also members of the League of California Municipalities and the quickest and most efficient way to set up the first CSWA convention was to hold it as a joint meeting with the League of California Municipalities at the League’s annual convention in San Bernardino (October 9-12, 1928).  This enabled the CSWA use the League’s meeting places and hotels (already reserved for the League Convention) and freed the CSWA Program Committee to focus on developing the technical program.  The CSWA held individual sessions at the San Bernardino American Legion Building and a joint meeting with the League’s Department of Engineers, Councilmen, and Street Superintendents at the San Bernardino Municipal Auditorium. The CSWA also participated jointly in the League’s convention events and the League Banquet.

The 1928 CSWA Convention’s technical program included presentations on financing sewer maintenance, standardizing sewer pipe, water-tight pipe joints, methods of sewer cleaning, industrial wastes, anaerobic digestion, odor control by chlorination, a laboratory short school, start-up and operations issues at an activated sludge plant, and tours of nearby wastewater treatment plants.

Almost all of the facilities used at the 1928 convention are gone, with the notable exception of the Arrowhead Springs Hotel, which provided conference housing and hosted some conference events (luncheons and tea).

“Stronger Together” in 1928

The 1929 CSWA San Bernardino Convention also included a speech by William J. Locke, Executive Secretary of the League of California Municipalities.  In his speech, Mr. Locke recognized the challenges, issues, and needs specific to the wastewater field that brought about the founding of the CSWA.  He also spoke to fact that organizations are stronger when they work together and cited Aesop’s fable of the bundle of sticks by stating:

“We must realize, of course, that numbers give strength.  We can always resort to the fable by Aesop, where the bundle of sticks was taken as an illustration of the strength of a united organism.” (4)

Locke went on state that the League considered itself a parent organization of the CSWA and would help and support the CSWA. He recommended that the two organizations establish close ties, particularly when it came to sewer related legislation.

“…because the greater we are in numbers, the greater we are in influence before the state body…”

The relationship between the CSWA and the League was strong – a CSWA committee was appointed to work with the League’s Legislative Committee on sewer financing legislation and the League published reports on CSWA meetings, convention notices, and CSWA activities in its Pacific Municipalities journal as a service to the CSWA through the 1930’s.

Countdown to 2028

There are just ten short years left to the CWEA Centennial.  And what should our Centennial Program be? Obviously AC2028 will need a CWEA history presentation.  In addition to AC2028, how about a Centennial Banquet at the Fairmont Hotel on June 11, 2028 with a special invitation to the President of the Cal/Nevada AWWA Section and the President of the League of California Cities?  And how about a meeting and banquet at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel on October 9, 2028?  It’s time to form a CWEA Centennial Committee and start planning!

(1) It should be noted that AWWA established both the George Warren Fuller Award and the Able Wolman Award of Excellence to honor leaders in the water field and to acknowledge the leadership of Fuller and Wolman and their vision, creativity, and distinguished service to the water field.

(2) History of the Water Pollution Control Federation 1928-1977, WPCF 1977, pg. 117

(3) https://www.awwa.org/membership/get-involved/awards/award-details/articleid/91/george-warren-fuller-award.aspx

(4) An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered them to bring in a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.”  The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none succeeded. “Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he told them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken.