Star-Struck

This week I participated in the inaugural Alabama Stormwater Symposium in Auburn, Alabama (I don’t think it’s proper to say first annual, but I do want to be sure to convey that this event should happen every year from now on). Congratulations to Dr. Eve Brantley, Dr. Thorsten Knappenberge, and to their team of partners and workers for hosting such a fantastic event.

In ancient times, the word symposium referred to a “drinking party.” That would have been fun also, but this was a stormwater party and a bit more scientific in nature. The presentations highlighted the state-of-practice in green infrastructure, low impact development, construction stormwater research, and surface water management and overall water quality protection. The group discussions focused on the future of stormwater in Alabama and forced the crowd to collectively forecast what our common home might look like 25-50 years down the road. It was interesting, informative, and inspiring.

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Dr. Bill Hunt, Deborah Nagle, Barry Fagan, Cory Rayburn

I was one third of a three part keynote panel featuring Dr. Bill Hunt, Cory Rayburn, and myself. I enjoyed seeing just how well our messages complimented and fed on one another. My theme was a reminder that whether we are talking gray infrastructure or green infrastructure, the topic is still infrastructure. There are green solutions to gray problems and gray solutions to green problems. Successful planners and cities do a great job with both colors.

Atlanta is one of the fastest growing and most livable cities in the U.S. It’s not because of green or because of gray. It’s because they manage both well. Cory has been instrumental in creating and promoting and ensuring the success of Atlanta’s green infrastructure program. Cory shows us that it can be done and lays out the process for getting it done (hint – effective communication and intense collaboration are critical elements of the implementation of Atlanta’s plans.

If you haven’t met or at least heard Dr. Bill Hunt speak on the topic of green infrastructure (or any other topic for that matter), you have missed a treat. According to Dr. Henry Cloud, successful people usually share three traits: they are technically competent; they have the ability to build alliances; and they have the character to not screw it up. Bill, by all accounts, possesses all three and has been leading stormwater people forward for at least the 15 years I have been paying attention. He’s also really funny and loud – two traits that are needed for effectively presenting technical topics.

Dr. Robert Pitt

Dr. Robert Pitt

A who’s who of stormwater kept adding value to the symposium. It was all I could do to resist taking selfies with these folks and getting their autographs. EPA’s Deborah Nagle followed the keynote talks. Dr. Bob Pitt, Dr. Greg Jennings, Dr. Wesley Zech – experts whose work and names we see featured across the globe, were all a part of bringing excellent content to the technical program. Other highly competent and engaging speakers rounded out the cast and the audience.

In addition to the awesome stormwater content, there were also many important less-technical lessons to be gained from the meeting. The biggest of which for me is that people make the profession. In those settings, and now in my memories, the names of firms or universities, or employers, or groups really aren’t what sticks out. The individuals made it happen there and make it happen out in the real world.

Eve Brantley is a character. Bill Hunt is a character. Wesley Donald, Wade Burcham, Earl Norton, Garry Banks… they are all characters. And they all happened to have come together at one time in one place to make up an all-star cast for a very memorable first annual Alabama Stormwater Symposium.

Great job Eve and Thorsten.

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