Keeping abreast of water engineering: a review of the Water Values podcast

Anthony Haynes writes: Our business, Frontinus, is named after Sextus Julius Frontinus (40-103 AD). Frontinus was author of De Aquaeductu, an extensive report on the aqueducts of Rome. Naturally, therefore, we take an interest in water engineering and, in particular, the way this topic is communicated.

Hence my interest in The Water Values Podcast, hosted by Dave McGimpsey. The podcast, which is long established, is focused primarily on the water industry in America, though many of its themes are pertinent to the industry elsewhere. Each episode presents an interview with an expert from some part of the water industry.

What could be more different? On the one hand, a report getting on for two-thousand years old, written in a dead language; on the other, up to date interviews from America designed for listening online.

In fact, though, they’re in some ways comparable. In parts of De Aquaeductu, Frontinus delves into technical aspects, in considerable detail. (Health warning: these passages do not make for an exciting read.) But elsewhere, his focus is much wider.

According to Frontinus, we can’t fully appreciate the aqueducts unless we contextualise them. Thus his texts introduces discussion of such topics as history, usage and abusage, and governance. We could almost think of De Aquaeductu as an exercise in stakeholder management.

The same applies to The Water Values Podcast. It frequently focuses on technical matters. For example: David Putnam discussed sewer overflows; David Dolphin discusses technological access and resilience in the field; and Ben Sparrow discusses wastewater treatment.

But often the focus is broader. For example: Jay Famiglietti discusses depletion and conflict — a topic that Frontinus, in his role as supervisor of the aqueducts, was much exercised with; Peter L. Nelson discusses libertarian perspectives on water policy; and Ken Wright discusses the management of water in ancient cultures (including Rome).

Overall, much of the coverage focuses on economics, governance, sustainability, and industrial matters.

On a personal note, the episodes I’ve most welcomed are those on digital technology — for example: a series of interviews with Reece Tisdale; Doug Hatler on AI and machine learning; and Geoff Engelstein on the internet of things — and (naturally) on communication — most notably, John Fleck on water journalism.

This is a serious-minded, professional, podcast. Not unlike De Aquaeductu, it prioritises the business of informing and educating receivers (that is, readers or listeners) over entertaining them.

Production values are proficient rather than slick. But anyone who listens at all regularly — or even just dips in and out (the website provides abstracts of each episode so that you can decide which to access) — stands to learn a good deal.

I feel a sense of gratitude to McGimpsey, whose sustained contribution might be said to position him as a candidate for the the title of the modern Frontinus.

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