Finding solutions to the intractable challenges facing the health of the nation's waters "must be rooted in innovation and technology," said Lisa Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, at the Water Environment Federation's annual conference.

Speaking at the WEFTEC gathering, held from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 in New Orleans, Jackson noted that the U.S. is a global leader in terms of environmental technologies and innovations. Getting countries to share knowledge and helping them access American know-how will address global water challenges, she said. To that end, Jackson and Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, announced a new U.S. environmental technologies export initiative designed to provide foreign buyers with better access to U.S. approaches and technologies.

Driving innovation in water quality is part of the not-for-profit Water Environment Federation's new strategic direction, developed over the past two years.

Other speakers challenged the industry to break down silos and find ways to work together and share information. For example, Jeff Stern, president and CEO of Voorhees, N.J.-based American Water, said his firm has conducted some research on Chromium 6, which also is being studied by the EPA for its health impacts. "Maybe we can share some of [our research] with EPA," Stern said.

Cindy Wallis-Lage, president of Black & Veatch's global water business, told ENR the industry is at a point "where we need to make breakthrough change." Some of that change already has happened, she said. For example, membrane bioreactor technology has become much more efficient. "We can look at the design and do pieces and parts of an MBR so that we can drive down [energy costs] and be much more energy-efficient," she said. While there are some new technologies out there, she added, a key challenge is getting often-cautious municipalities to take advantage of them. "How do you move [those technologies] forward and get them into the industry where there is risk associated [with them]?" she said.