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Bringing “Water for People” for Generations to Come

Aug 21, 2023
Water in hands

Over the course of my professional career, one of my long-standing guiding principles is that “water is life” because it impacts our communities directly and provides solutions for future generations.

This understanding has fueled my passion for leading dynamic multidisciplinary teams that have delivered such transformative projects as the Vista Ridge Regional Supply Project in Central Texas, as well as several other water distribution and transmission, water and wastewater pump stations, and water and wastewater treatment facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. And it has also inspired my passion to serve organizations like Water for People.

Since being founded in 1991, Water for People, an international nonprofit that is based in Denver, CO, has worked to bring high-quality clean drinking water and sanitation services to communities around the world. With deep roots tied to the American Water Works Association (AWWA) – for which I currently serve as the vice-chair of the AWWA Texas Chapter’s executive board – Water for People leverages the expertise and ingenuity of water industry professionals so that it can deliver long-lasting sustainable solutions that will benefit users well into the future.

That connection to the industry is what really sets Water for People apart as a nonprofit. Rather than focus on an individual project for a community like a new pump station or a water distribution system, Water for People partners with community leaders to create a long-range financial and technical plan, that not only accounts for design, construction and startup but also maintenance and future development, before getting input from the business community. This approach demonstrates an understanding that the mission to develop generational clean water and safe sanitation solutions is not reached with the delivery of a single project, but rather how it is maintained and managed going forward. To do that requires an immersive, 360-degree strategy that incorporates feedback and demands investment and buy-in from all relevant stakeholders and end users.

I have personally been an active supporter of Water for People for nearly 15 years and am a past recipient of one of the organization’s most prestigious honors – the Kenneth J. Miller Founders’ Award, which is named for one of the organization’s late founders, Ken Miller, and is given to someone who exemplifies the value of volunteer service. To that end, this Friday, August 25, I am serving as fundraising chair, and STV is a Platinum Sponsor of the 15TH Annual Water for People Hill Country Classic at the Canyon Springs Golf Club in San Antonio. This is a signature event for TAWWA and has collectively raised more than $500,000 that directly benefits Water for People.

As we remind people when we send out our fundraising letters, it only takes a small amount of commitment to completely transform a community for a generation. This event is the perfect way for water professionals to come together and rally around an international cause. There is also something very satisfying about being able to build an event alongside the local community and watch it grow and thrive year after year. Demonstrating the alignment of our local water industry, Texas is routinely one of the most generous states in terms of fundraising for Water for People. So, in addition to serving a great cause, our commitment to this organization also gives our community here in Texas some bragging rights!

But beyond the “friendly competition,” my stewardship for Water for People and more broadly, the Texas Section of AWWA, also serves as a reminder of one the key lessons I learned from my mentor, Walter Chiang, earlier in my career: that it’s important to look outside of our bubbles and see the bigger picture. We are ultimately very blessed here in the United States when it comes to our water and wastewater infrastructure, and our involvement with Water for People not only facilitates connections to what it’s like elsewhere, it also allows us to be better, more astute stewards at the local level.

Marisa Vergara

Marisa Vergara, P.E., is a senior vice president and has more than 28 years of engineering experience specializing in water, reuse and wastewater treatment and municipal projects. She is a Texas AWWA / Water Environment Association of Texas Distinguished Member recipient, a Texas AWWA Maverick Award Winner, and a recipient of the Kenneth Miller Water For People Founder’s Award.