AWRA Water Blog

AWRA at 50: The Future of Water Resources in the United States

Mark DunningC. Mark Dunning, AWRA President

For my first “President’s Message” I want to focus on two questions that bear on the theme of this month’s magazine “AWRA at 50: The Future of Water Resources in the United States:” (1) What does it take for an association to last for 50 years? and (2) What can help set the stage for prospering into the future?


For businesses surviving for 50 years in a competitive marketplace is an achievement to be proud of. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that about half of new businesses survive five years or less, and only about one-third survive 10 or more years. While no such data appear to be available about the longevity of professional associations it is likely that many of the same dynamics that challenge the survival of businesses also apply to associations, and that many of the professional associations present in 1964 when AWRA was founded are no longer in existence. So, it is very likely that AWRA belongs to a select group of organizations that have continued to remain relevant and offer the kinds of services that provide value to water resources professionals.

What accounts for AWRA’s longevity? I am convinced that a major part of the explanation rests with AWRA’s unique culture that promotes AWRA’s core values of
Community, Conversation, and Connections by supporting and nurturing a friendly, problem-solving oriented atmosphere, focusing on developing practical and relevant information about water resources management issues, and by providing multiple opportunities for networking among water resources professionals, and mentoring students and young professionals.

A recent note AWRA received from a young professional who attended our recent 2013 annual conference in Portland, Oregon, encapsulates these positive aspects of AWRA’s culture that I believe is fundamental to our success over the past 50 years:

“… AWRA [provided] a great meeting of professionals young and old to come together and share their research in water. As a student presenter, I was viewed as a young professional and was approached by many people in the field of water research offering me advice and guidance on my career path. The organization has a mindset to help others. When one of the Co-Chairs states at the beginning of the meeting to 500+ people to recognize all the students here and to be open to talk with them, you know that you are in a friendly and relaxed environment. Networking at this national meeting is second to none. There were several networking breaks and sessions as well as a student career networking night dedicated to students starting their careers. The most exciting thing for me at this conference was meeting all the new people and learning where they have been and how they got to where they were. … there was a great variety of topics … from water quality to water resource management to economics to climate change. The variety of research in water was an eye opening experience for me. I had no idea some of the research that is going on focused around water. … All in all, an absolute excellent conference to attend if you have any interest in water research.”


As part of its strategic planning process conducted in 2013 the AWRA Board of Directors had the pleasure of being assisted by Harrison Coerver, author of the book, Race for Relevance: Five Radical Changes for Associations. Mr. Coerver’s perspective on creating successful associations in the future, based on his extensive research and consulting experience, rests on a few simple concepts:

  • Associations become (and remain) successful by helping their members become successful.
  • To help their members become successful associations must understand who their members are, what services they desire, and provide these services in ways that members find convenient and accessible.

For AWRA applying these general concepts means that we must continually assess what our members value, as well as scan ahead to be aware of the key water resources challenges and opportunities that are likely to confront our members, and we must work to package and deliver valued services in ways that fit our members’ preferences and circumstances.

In this issue of IMPACT I’ve provided more specifics about how the current board has assimilated Mr. Coerver’s key points to set direction for AWRA in the near term (see pgs. 6 and 7). However, these actions are only a beginning. I would like to hear from you on some or all of the following topics:

  • What AWRA programs and services are most relevant to you?
  • What water resources management topics, challenges, and issues are likely to be increasingly important to you in the coming years?
  • What could AWRA do to enhance its value to you as a water resources professional? What additional benefits and services would you like to see AWRA provide?
  • Going forward, what are the best ways for AWRA to deliver valued member services (e.g., annual conference, specialty conferences, webinars, JAWRA, IMPACT, newsletters, website, other)?
  • What other “keys to future success” should AWRA concentrate on addressing?

Please send me your thoughts to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *