The History of CWEA’s Name Changes: What’s in a Name? 

Nicholas Pinhey, CWEA History Committee, Announcements, History

The CWEA History Committee was recently asked for the dates of the various name changes that our Association has adopted over the years. The initial question generated two more “naming” questions: what were the Association’s prior names and why were the changes made? 

Answering the prior names question was easy – CWEA started out as the California Sewage Works Association (CSWA), transitioned to the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association (CSIWA), then changed to the California Water Pollution Control Association (CWPCA), and finally to the California Water Environment Association (CWEA)It was also easy enough to document the years for the first and last name changes: CSWA was founded in 1928 and the change to CWEA took place in 1995Nailing down the exact year for one of  the intervening changes wasn’t quite as easy due to conflicting dates reported in Association newsletter articles over the years. Also, the reasons for the Association name changes in the 1950’s and 1960’s required some research to figure out 

Before addressing the “when and why” of the name changes, a short discussion of branding and what to consider when changing an association’s name will help the reader appreciate what goes into the whole association name change process. 

What’s in a Name? 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) 

What’s in an associations name? Wella bit more than one might guess!  

Today, when we think of naming, or renaming, an association or company, we may automatically think of “branding” and “re-branding. The term “branding” for associations refers to ensuring your target audience recognizes who and what you are as an association. Branding expresses what your association’s purposes, methods, and values are.   

It should be pointed out that branding is more than just how you name an association, it also includes the organization’s logo, its communication channelsits marketing, its services, and the very “persona” of the associationThe association’s name is just one element of branding, but it is a primary element as the “name” most often the “first point of contact” or “search term” for many prospective members, current members, and people interested in the association’s services. Therefore, an association’s name should clearly link to the association’s mission, strategy, and purpose.   

To Change or not to Change… 

Changing the name of a professional association is not a simple task. The association’s board and membership must carefully consider the drivers for a name change and the steps that are necessary to make the change. The primary drivers for an association are whether or not its existing name fits its current role and if a new name might help it to advance its purpose and “reposition the association”i to stay relevant to its members.   

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) recommends reviewing the following drivers and requirements when considering association name changes: 

  • Mission and purpose (driver) – as industries and professions evolve, the association’s mission and purpose need to evolve to stay relevant. Association boards should examine whether the association name fits with updates to its mission and purpose. 
  • Strategic intent and direction (driver) – a clear mission and purpose makes it easier to develop a strategic plan for an association. For example, if the strategic direction includes expanding into new services and areas, the board should determine if the association name is relevant to the new strategic direction. 
  • Costs (requirement) – per ASAE the association should perform an analysis of the costs involved with a name change, paying attention to both hard and soft costs. “Hard costs include items like attorney’s fees, legal filings, and expenses for hiring other professionals such as a public relations or marketing firm to assist with the rollout. Think also about costs for updating the website and materials, public relations, marketing and advertising buys, and other printing costs.”  Soft costs involve the staff time devoted to the name change and opportunity costs (what doesn’t get done during the name change process).ii  
  • Legal issues (requirement) – associations have a legal identity. It’s best to seek legal counsel to determine the steps that need to be taken to make the association name change, protect trademarks, intellectual property, and contracts.
  • Consequences, both intended and unintended (potential driver) – are there impacts that the proposed name change could create beyond the obvious or desired outcomes? 

Additionally, the association leadership needs to consider input from the membership and the development of a communication plan for the proposed change. 

Early Sewage Works Associations – Setting the Naming Pattern 

In 1917 and 1924 the American Public Health Association and the Sanitary Engineering Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers published lists of terms used for sewage collection, treatment and disposal with the intent of standardizing the terminology used for the evolving field of sewage treatment and disposal. Per the lists, the terms “Sewage Works” and “Sewerage System” were the commonly accepted terms used to describe the infrastructure for the collection, transportation, pumping, treatment, and disposal of sewage. Thus, it’s not surprising to find the term “Sewage Works” or Sewage Disposal Works” being incorporated into association names. 

From a 1902 AMSDW Meeting Notice

The world’s first professional association for sewage treatment plant managers and operators, the Association of Managers of Sewage Disposal Works (AMSDW) was formed in 1901.1 Per the founders of AMSDW, the name of the association “had not been selected without careful consideration on the part of the Council (Board).”2 The word “Managers” was selected to clearly establish the association as representing hands-on personnel (as opposed to design engineers and scientists). The “Managers of Sewage Disposal Works” clearly and unambiguously announced who “our members are, and what they do.” The purpose of AMSDW was viewed by plant managers and operators as providing the necessary knowledge required to operate the new “bacterial method” treatment systems, keep up with the rapidly changing treatment technologies, and also increase the pay and respect for the profession. The AMSDW name aligned nicely with the association’s purpose and direction and it set the pattern for naming future wastewater associations. 

Announcement of the 1915 Formation of the NJSWA

In keeping with the naming pattern, the New Jersey Sewage Works Association (NJSWA) was founded in 1915, making it the first wastewater association in the U.S.3 The stated purpose of the NJSW was the “advancement of the knowledge of designing, construction, operation, and management of sewage works,” thus the name was an excellent fit with the association’s mission and purpose. Unlike the AMSDW, the NJSWA was established to include all sectors involved in sewage collection and treatment “including managers, operators, engineers, chemists, bacteriologists, public officials, and manufacturers.” As such, the NJSWA became the model for subsequent sewage works associations in the U.S.    

The California Sewage Works Association – the Natural Choice for a Name 

CWEA’s Original Name
(from the 1928 California Sewage Works Association Journal)

The period from 1910-1920 was a time of significant advances in sewage treatment technologies as well as major growth in the miles of sewers and numbers of sewage treatment plants in California. By 1923, the need for a California association was recognized by the leaders in the industry. After initial attempts to form an organizational division under the California section of AWWA failed, the California Sewage Works Association (CSWA) was founded in 1928 as a stand-alone organization 

The “Sewage Works Association” name was the natural choice for California’s association based on the precedent set by earlier associations in other states and regionsSeveral states had formed sewage works associations ahead of California, so by 1928 the “Sewage Works Association” title was the de facto standard name for the new organizations. Additionally, the CSWA name clearly aligned with the mission and purpose of the new association which was “the advancement of the fundamental and practical knowledge concerning the nature, collection, treatment, and disposal of sewage and industrial wastes, and the design, construction, operation and management of sewage works in California through the interchange, between members of the Association and with others, of information, experience, and opinion relating thereto (Article III, Constitution, C.S.W.A.).”  

It should be noted that efforts to coordinate the new sewage works associations in the U.S. led to the formation of the Federation of Sewage Works Associations (now WEF) in 1928. The founding of the CSWA in 1928 was timed to take advantage of the 1928 formation of the Federation and allowed CSWA to affiliate with the Federation immediately upon start-up.  

1952 – Our First Name Change 

The 1952 Name and Logo

Initially, the CWEA History Committee assumed the CSWA name was changed in 1950 to the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association (CSIWA). This assumption was based on articles in the old CWPCA Newsletters and CWPCA Bulletin. These articles stated that the name change took place in 1950, following the Federation’s name change to the Federation of Sewage and Industrial Wastes Associations (FSIWA). The Federation approved its name change in October 1949 with the actual change taking place in 1950, which probably led to the belief that the CSWA changed its name to CSIWA shortly after the Federation’s change.   

However, the Association newsletters for 1950-51 are all “CSWA Newsletters” and the 1952 Annual Conference was advertised as the CSWA Annual Conference. Obviously, the 1950 date was incorrect, but there is a gap in the History Committee archives of CSWA Newsletters, so it wasn’t possible to track down the date without checking the Member Association Proceedings in the old Federation JournalsThe January 1953 Federation Journal reported that the CSWA officially changed its name to the CSIWA on April 25, 1952 at the CSWA Annual Conference’s business meeting. This was a major change as CSWA served as our Association’s name for nearly twenty-four years! 

Why Change to CSIWA? 

The CSIWA name appears to be a little awkward and not as directly linked to the Association’s mission and purpose when compared to the CSWA name. So why did was the CSIWA name adopted? The simple answer is that our Association changed its name to be consistent with the Federation. By 1951, most of the Federation’s member associations had adopted the “Sewage and Industrial Wastes” name, so California followed suit. However, the new name was not really very popular (more about this later), which probably explains why California was one of the last member associations to adopt the new Federation inspired name.  

So, what were the drivers for the Federation name change? Obviously, the Federation’s rationale for change would be the key to California’s adoption of the new name.   

The primary driver for change was industry – there was tremendous economic and industrial growth in the U.S. immediately following World War II. Industrial growth raised the need to address increased industrial pollution and the Federation found itself publishing more industrial waste papers in the Federation Journal. The Federation also noted that there was a significant increase in industrial waste technical programs at the Federation conferences and Member Association conferencesit was also noted that industrial personnel were being given increased representation on Federation Committees, and that several Federation Committees were expanding their functions to cover industrial waste issues.   

In 1949, responding to the growing interest in industrial wastes, the Federation authorized the “Industrial Wastes Medal of the Federation” to recognize meritorious technical contributions relating to industrial waste control. Additionally, $120,000 was put into analytical methods research related to industrial waste control in 1949 by the Federation’s Standard Methods Committee.  

Per the Federation, the name change came about because there was concern that the name “Federation of Sewage Works Associations” implied an exclusive focus on waterborne wastes in municipal sewer systems while the interests of the membership, the content of the Federation Journal, and its conference programs also encompassed waterborne industrial wastes. The new name was intended to convey an interest in all waste control problems – municipal and industrial. iii    

These reasons for the Federation name change made sense from “branding” and strategic viewpoint – the industrial waste segment represented an ongoing growth area for the Federation in terms of membership, funds, and stakeholders. However, the name change wasn’t an easy one and there were “vigorous discussions” regarding the name and alternative names by the Board of Control prior to adoption of the FSIWA. It was noted that the Federation’s Executive Secretary supported changing the name to the Water Pollution Control Federation (the future 1960 name) during the 1949 discussion, but that this proposal was rejected because it sounded too much like a name for federal regulatory agency (and might be confused with the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act)! 

1955-56 – There Must be a Better Name! 

From the 1955 Questionnaire

Apparently the CSIWA name wasn’t very popular with our Association’s members. In early 1955, only three years after the CSIWA name was adopted, the Association published a questionnaire titled “Is there a Better Name for the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association?” The questionnaire starts out with the following: “An increasing number of members of the California Sewage and Industrial Wastes Association have felt for some time that the name of the Association should be changed.” The questionnaire also states that the women involved in the Association were putting more timeeffort and energy into the Association and its activitiesThe questionnaire goes on to say, It is felt that the word “sewage” could be removed from the name and an equally descriptive word or name substituted.”iv  “Sewage” was not something one talked about in polite society! 

The 1955 questionnaire asked one question: are you in favor of changing the name (yes or no)? It also requested that those in favor of a name change submit suggested new names for the Association. A $10.00 cash prize was offered for the best name to encourage suggestions.   

At the end of 1955, the CSIWA Secretary reported that 45 members had responded to the questionnaire. The report states that 20 responding members were in favor of a change, 7 members would consider a change (depending on the name), and 18 of the responding members were against a change. Additionally, it was reported that four names had been submitted for consideration:  

  • The California Sanitation Association 
  • The California Liquid Wastes Association 
  • The California Municipal and Industrial Wastes Association 
  • The California Domestic and Industrial Wastes Association 

Based on the results of the survey, the CSIWA Secretary notified the Association membership that an amendment to the Constitution and Bylaws to change the Association’s name would be presented to the membership for their approval at the April 1956 Annual Conference in Santa Rosa. Unfortunately, the proposed (preferred) new name is not stated in the notice and there is no discussion about a winner of the cash prizeTo further cloud the issue, the subsequent Annual Conference reports make no mention of any action on the proposed amendment to the Association Constitution and Bylaws. One can only assume that the proposal died for lack of interest or lack of agreement on a new name. Obviously, the Association’s analyses and communication plans for name changes were lacking in 1955-56.  

1961 – Our Second Name Change 

The 1961 Logo (the first CWPCA logo)

The CSIWA name lasted only nine years and was replaced by the California Water Pollution Control Association (CWPCA) in 1961. Similar to the CSIWA change, much of the impetus for the change was in response to the Federation’s “Water Pollution Control Federation” (WPCF) name change in 1960.   

The driver for Federations new “Water Pollution Control” name was, more than anything, the desire to improve its public image and also address the public’s growing awareness and concerns about pollution of the environment. The name was also designed to be inclusive – covering all sectors concerned with water pollution. Additionally, the new name eliminated the word “sewage” and its negative connotations. 

Regarding the “S” word, Federation history states that a name change committee was appointed in 1958 and a recommendation to remove the word sewage” was brought forward to the Federation Board at their meeting in Dallas in 1959. However, many members of the Board felt there was no need to change the name and no action was taken at the first meeting. A second meeting was held in 1959 and there was still no impetus for a name change until the Federation President (Mark Hollis) related his experience at a Dallas television station. The word “sewage” had been banned by the television station interviewing President Hollis, making it impossible for him to say the name of his own organization on the air! This story tipped the balance and the name change moved forward. 

Our Association also had problems with CSIWA name and the word “sewage” as evidenced by the 1955-56 attempt to change the Association name. The change to CWPCA took place in April 1961 at the 33rd Annual Conference in Santa Monica. You can almost hear a “sigh of relief” in the report on the 1961 name change – like the Federation, our Association’s leadership recognized that the new CWPCA name would improve the Association’s public image and the Association’s future. The new name was overwhelmingly voted in at the 1961 Annual Conference business luncheon and the CWPCA era began. 

Paul Beerman, Clean Water Director for City of Tucson Arizona while being interviewed about public acceptance of reclaimed water had this to say: 

“You know, back when the California Water Pollution Control Association was called the California Sewage Works Association, we used to have a devil of a time finding a place to have our conventions. None of the better hotels wanted anything to do with us.”

1991 – WPCF to WEF, CWPCA to? 

On October 6, 1991, the Water Pollution Control Federation’s Board approved changing the Federation’s name to the “Water Environment Federation” (WEF)WEF President Roger Dolan (CWPCA President, 1977), described the drivers for the name change:  

“The purpose of the name change is to solve the problem that our previous name had,” said Roger Dolan, WPCF president. “To the outside world, our people came to be seen as ‘pollution people.’ It was an image issue. Also, in today’s world -even if you accurately interpret the old name -the word ‘control’ just isn’t good enough. We don’t control pollution anymore, we eliminate it. That’s why we changed.” 

In addition to solving the “pollution people” problem, the name change was also presented as way to demonstrate the Federation’s expanded focus to both point and non-point sources of pollution. 

With the new WEF name in place, it became the responsibility of all WEF Member Associations to review their names for appropriateness and consistency with the WEF name and each Member Association’s mission and purpose. With this in mind, the CWPCA embarked on its name review in early 199with the appointment of an ad hoc name committee. The names that the committee considered were: 

  • California Water Pollution Control Association (no change option) 
  • California Water Environment Association (CWEA) 
  • California Water Association 
  • California Environment Association 

The ad hoc committee recommended that the CWPCA name be changed to CWEA and the preparations began for a business luncheon vote on the change at the 1993 CWPCA Annual Conference in San Diego. 

1993 – The First Attempt  

During the 1993 CWPCA Annual Conference the proponents and opponents of the name change were given an opportunity to make their respective cases to the assembled members during the business luncheon. The opposition to the name change was presented by “Super Shoveler” Bob Barletta, who made an impassioned speech to the 290 members assembled for the business luncheon. Bob cited the loss of name recognition (we should keep the name we’ve had for 30 years), that the “water pollution control” name is an active description of what the membership does, and warning that the public would be confused by the new name thinking we were just another group of environmentalists. Finally, Bob pointed out that wastewater collection and treatment wasn’t remotely reflected by the proposed California Water Environment Association” name and he said that we should be proud of our old “sewage works” label as it stated more accurately what our Association is about.   

The name change required a two-thirds majority positive vote to pass. Bob Barletta’s presentation had an impact as the 1993 attempt failed by seven votes. As a result, the California Water Pollution Control Association name remained in place for another two years. 

1995 – The Second Attempt and Success 

CWEA’s Past President Don Roberson (1995) recalls the 1995 name change effort as follows:  

In 1994 and 1995 the CWPCA board came back to the membership and proposed another name change vote prior to the annual conference gathering in Palm Springs. The executive-personnel committee led this effort to ensure that every member would have a chance to vote on the name change and also be apprised the new association offices in Oakland. 

On October 1, 1994 CWPCA Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to allow the 3,900 Association members an opportunity to decide if the Association should change its name from the California Water Pollution Control Association to the California Water Environment Association. The Board undertook an outreach program through the Local Sections and Committees to encourage the Association membership to vote and to ensure the membership was presented with the arguments for and against the proposed name changeConsequently, the name change was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of the Association membership.  

Past President Don Roberson attributes the success of the 1995 name change to allowing a full vote of the membership coupled with the Board’s communication program. Per Don, “CWEA’s fair and equitable move and name change communication resulted in stable office operations and no further need for naming discussions to-date.” The California Water Environment Association name served us well for the last twenty-five yearsThe Water Environment” name represents our mission and continues to be relevant to our Association’s purpose in the 21st century.