| AWWA Member Spotlight -- Dr. Rengao Song, Louisville, Ky.
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AWWA Member Spotlight -- Dr. Rengao Song, Louisville, Ky.

The following spotlight is excerpted from an October 2020 Louisville Water Company newsletter.

A January 2005 pipeline rupture sent 262,542 gallons of crude oil into the Kentucky River and subsequently contaminated about 30 miles of the Ohio River – a drinking water source for Louisville Water.


Dr. Rengao SongAt the time, Dr. Rengao Song was a manager in the utility’s water quality and research department. Together with Chief Engineer Greg Heitzman, he helped lead the oil spill response by declaring a company-wide emergency and implementing treatment methods.

“Failure in treatment would have caused a regulatory issue and tremendous customer uproar,” said Song, who recently retired as Louisville Water’s director of water quality with an outstanding legacy of research, water science and problem solving.

Drawn to research, water challenges

Song, a native of China, enrolled in college there at the age of 16 and worked as an assistant professor before moving to the United States in 1991 to pursue a doctorate degree in environmental science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was impressed with the challenges associated with providing “high quality, safe water.”

“It requires strong and comprehensive knowledge in chemistry, biology, fluid dynamics, data mining and other fields,” he said.

Dr. Rengao SongSong was attracted to Louisville Water because of its “rich research tradition” and helped carry it forward by directing the research of two Ph.D. candidates and several master’s degree students, as well as spearheading research and development projects supported by The Water Research Foundation. He published more than 200 peer reviewed papers and conference proceedings, as well as four book chapters.

His extensive list of career awards includes the 2020 Samuel Arnold Greeley Award and an American Society of Civil Engineers’ highest research paper award for a paper he co-authored with one of his Ph.D. candidates. He also received a best paper award from Journal AWWA.

High standards, continuous improvement

Dr. Song’s leadership within the water quality and research department aimed for the highest standards. During his tenure, Louisville Water was twice named recipient of AWWA’s annual award for best tasting water in North America.

Emily Fritz, a scientist who worked with him for nearly 20 years, said he was constantly focused on improving Louisville Water’s water quality and the performance of its staff.

“He established a culture where maintaining a 100 percent compliance for drinking water was the absolute minimum – as it should be – while constantly setting the bar higher,” she said. “He gave every individual opportunity and guidance to learn and advance. He served as a great example in giving of time and treasure to others.”

In turn, Song found his work at Louisville Water rewarding. “I’ve been able to utilize my whole education to do what I love, and I’ve been able to work with great team members and colleagues,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to be able to make a contribution to the Louisville community.”