As large companies continue acquiring smaller companies in the water treatment industry, smaller companies emerge and continue to grow this industry and provide dealers with options
“You can’t keep playing by yesterday’s rules,” says Dr. Robert Kriegel, author of How to Succeed in Business Without Working So Damn Hard, at the Opening General Session at the Water Quality Association’s 30th Annual Convention and Exhibition held in Baltimore in March. “It’s a new game. A faster game.” Kreigel’s message was that of change, which was most suiting for this year’s show. His energetic presentation was about change and innovation and how the “big guys coming in and taking over” is not the end of all things.
As large companies continue acquiring smaller companies in the water treatment industry, smaller companies emerge and continue to grow this industry and provide dealers with options.
The passed year brought many changes among members of the industry, companies, regulations and even within the WQA itself.
Acquisitions Strengthen the Big Guys; Direct New Face of Industry Most attendees were not surprised by the many bright red shirts of GE Water and Process Technologies, based in Milwaukee, Wis., or the large booth of Pentair Water Treatment, based in Brookfield, Wis., and its easily identifiable truck. These two companies really were leading the way last year and into 2004 with growth. GE’s purchase of Osmonics, although big news, was not a surprise—it seemed a good fit into GE’s plans to broaden its marketshare. ITT Industries, Inc., in White Plains, N.Y., purchased Wedeco AG Water Technology, in Germany, which became part of the Sanitaire division. Watts Water Technologies, Inc., North Andover, Mass., purchased Flomatic Systems, in Dunnellon, Fla. ResinTech, based in Berlin, N.J., purchased Aries Filterworks (formerly American Filterworks), in Los Angeles. On the coolers side, Oasis, based in Columbus, Ohio, bought Sunroc, in Dover, Del. Lastly, Pentair’s acquisitions of Pentek (formerly USFilter, Plymouth Products), Everpure, WICOR Industries, K&M Plastics and, most recently, Sta-Rite, also were not surprising. In fact, they were strategic maneuvers on all sides that would help grow each of these businesses into one-stop shops and help them provide better products and services to their customers.
What stands apart from these large companies is the emerging ones that have spun out from them and show promise to grow the water treatment industry even more in upcoming years. As experts look for new opportunities in the market, the industry will continue seeing entrepreneurs setting themselves apart from the companies they came out from and continue striving with what the industry was built on—innovation.
Resting on the shoulders of WQA were concerns from the industry regarding lead and the buzz coming from Washington, D.C. The story reported in the April issue of Water Quality Products and online at www.wqpmag.com on the elevated levels of lead that affected the District area drinking water. At the convention, it was reported that approximately 3,700 children have elevated blood-lead levels in the District. Joe Harrison, technical director at WQA, said that the lead in the District actually is a symptom of what will be a much bigger problem. “Water is not regulated after it leaves the plant and goes into the pipes,” Harrison explains. “The contamination occurs in the distribution system. Turbidity is the problem in that it sticks to biofilms and then breaks off and is suspended in the water.”
Harrison went on to explain that in 2000 the District switched from chlorine to chloramines because it could not meet the Disinfection Byproducts Rule (DBP) without making the switch. This resulted in lead levels rising. Chloramines, Harrison explains, reduce lead IV in scale deposits, which converts to lead II and then leaches into the pipes.
In 2002, the District exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for lead, which is currently set at 15 parts per billion.
By 2003, two-thirds of the homes had exceeded the MCL. The WQA reported that it will continue to monitor the situation in the District, and that we can expect to see more scenes like this one in the future nationwide.
Salinity issues continue to be a hot topic of the convention. Dealers across the country are following these activities, which may end up reaching other parts of the country. With the population growth, the semi-arid climate and wastewater recycling, which is expected to quadruple by 2030, California seems to be the leading force behind bans affecting the industry, although other states including Michigan and Montana are also seeing activity on this front.
The most recent change was the passing of AB334, which meant that a system no longer has to be in violation of waste discharge permits to pass a ban, it just has to show that it is moving towards being out of compliance. AB334 also states that eliminating softeners “must be a necessary means of achieving compliance.” Previously, SB1006 required that the banning of water softeners “must be the only means of achieving compliance.” Programs being set up in California to encourage consumers to not use water softeners include bans, incentives, penalties, education and public relations events.
At the time this article was written, the city of Fillmore, Calif., was considering several options upon completion of a chloride study, which is required under AB334. All sources of chlorides will have to be examined as well as the various options to control them. Some of the options the WQA reported included consumers being able to have water softeners though they could be charged as much as $180 per month on sewer bills for using the self-regenerating water softeners within city limits. Local residents have started an effort to rally against this initiative. (See story on page 35 or go to www.saveoursofteners.com.) The WQA reported that communities such as this one are telling consumers that they can have a water softener, but their sewage bills will be increased for as long as they have it.
Not to worry, though, the WQA and other organizations have spent countless hours representing the water treatment industry and educating government officials on softener concerns. For example, at the WQA convention, Legislative Taskforce co-chairperson for the Pacific Water Quality Association (PWQA) Tracy Strahl reported that the PWQA saw great success with its road shows that began in 2004. “The dealers and manufacturers have really responded to our message,” he reports. “They all realize that they need to learn more about the latest water softener issues and how the PWQA and WQA are working to ensure that the rights of consumers are not taken away without due process.” These roadshows have so far proven to be an excellent educational tool to promote awareness of what is happening with softeners in California. Dealers should contact their regional association or the WQA when they hear of any such legislation efforts trying to ban water softeners.
WQA Adapts With Change
The WQA continually seeks out new opportunities for the water treatment industry. In the past, it has sought niche shows to help educate consumers and sell products. This year, the WQA made a big announcement that it has formed an alliance with RAI to form a show in March 2005 in Las Vegas, similar to Aquatech in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, which occurs every two years. The association intends to bring various industries together to expand the water treatment industry and open new doors for dealers, manufacturers and retailers. “It is anticipated that high purity, industrial, wastewater and other water-related specialties will become involved with the show over time,” the WQA explains. Final details are expected this summer.
In addition, the WQA has broadened its educational opportunities. The convention offered education, both new and proven including seminars, the new e-Learning program, certification exams and “Meet the Expert” sessions at the WQA booth, which were just about standing room only at each presentation. Whether it was learning about meters or mineral scale, the WQA’s e-Learning program or cyst reduction, the experts had plenty to say and attendees had enough questions to attract others who were just passing by.
The new format of the Annual Convention was well received again this year with two days of exhibitions that did not have to compete with committee meetings and other events. WQA’s professionalism was well developed and provided an opportunity for friends, peers and business partners to join together and work towards the future. The annual convention proved that change is good for everyone.
As Kreigler put it, “You are in an industry with great innovative opportunity. Combine things that have never been combined before. And do not be afraid of something different.”