Burke-Wells named president of water protection association

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Janine Burke-Wells knows how to get a room filled with wastewater treatment operators and officials to cheer. All it took was five words.

Burke-Wells, the executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority, assumed the presidency of the New England Water Environment Association at the association’s annual convention Wednesday at the Marriott at Copley Place in Boston. Burke-Wells received an enthusiastic introduction from outgoing president James Barsanti of Framingham, Mass.

“It is my privilege to pass the presidential gavel to a true original, a clever and dedicated utility manager, an operator’s operator, a friend and colleague who is genuine, honest and kind, and who we look forward to leading us with fortitude, imagination, conviction and a singular style and wit that is uniquely her own,” Barsanti said.

From the get-go, Burke-Wells put her singular style to work.

She thanked Mayor Scott Avedisian for his support of her involvement with NEWEA, getting a laugh when she disclosed how the mayor has named her “Sister Sludge.” Then she touched on her agenda as president.

“There is so much we want to accomplish, so many exciting initiatives going on, and we could use your help. In my term, I will be looking to increase the number of people actively volunteering to work on NEWEA programs,” she said.

She talked of the importance of more people making even small contributions and how that can quickly add up. And while she called for volunteers, Burke-Wells added, “If you don’t raise your hand, you may get a tap on the shoulder if I think you can help NEWEA this year.” She is looking to involve the younger members of the association in a community service project as part of the organization’s spring conference in Newport.

Not disclosing specifics, she said the Young Professionals Committee would design and build a water-related project that will benefit the community and remain in Newport following the conference.

With more than 2,000 members, NEWEA works to protect the quality of the water environment through education, collaboration while advancing knowledge, innovation and sound public policy.

It is a volunteer organization where, according to its website, members contribute to the friendly exchange of information and experience, “to protect and manage one of our most precious resources here in New England.”

A highlight of the conference was the awards luncheon where the work of wastewater treatment operators and those helping the cause for clean water were recognized. Rhode Island professionals in the field won a series of awards.

“I think what we do is amazing and I assume you do, too,” Burke-Wells said as she stood at the podium fingering the gravel Barsanti had handed her.

Then she got to the five words that had her audience cheering.

“We make water great again!”

Burke-Wells wasn’t going to leave it there.

“And we need to speak more loudly, more often and in greater numbers about how water’s worth it. Let’s go all in.”

There’s no doubt she’s in, and she will lead the rally for many to join her.

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