Their telltale denim vests are hard to miss. So are their motorcycles. Without a doubt, the Water Buffalos — also known as Ride With Purpose — know how to make an impression when they pull up in front of a convention center.
This 71-member motorcycle team unites water operators, technicians, water company representatives and, well, anyone with a passion for clean water and the deep rumble of a road bike. But these motorcycle-lovin’ water professionals don’t just ride for fun; they’re raising money for Water for People, an organization that brings clean water and sanitation to remote regions.
Alex Hood, Water Buffalo president as well as the operations and production manager at M.E. Simpson Company, has been with the group since 2011. With his trusty Victory Cross Country, he’s participated in four rides that have brought much-needed money to the international organization.
“We’ve raised about $650,000 over the past nine years,” says Hood. “Water for People is an excellent organization that’s really taken off in the past seven to 10 years. In fact, most American Water Works Association sections have Water For People committees that work with the national group on fundraising and other activities.”
A former U.S. Marine, Hood’s interest in motorcycles began when he returned from Iraq in 2008. A year later, he bought a small cruiser. Hood’s father had heard about Ride With Purpose and said, “Hey, there’s this motorcycle-riding club that’d be perfect for you.” Coincidentally, fellow Hoosier Jim Williams, who’d been a Water Buffalo for many years, was recruiting members and asked Hood to join, which made him the 40th member.
Since then, Hood has participated in four rides: Washington, D.C. in 2011, Dallas in 2012, Denver in 2013, and ACE14 in Boston this year.
The Water Buffalos began in Arizona in 2005. One of the founders wanted a catchy water-related name for a charity-ride group, and he chose Water Buffalos because the animals are strong and travel in herds. At the same time in Washington State, two bikers had a similar idea, and they launched Ride With Purpose. Ultimately, the groups found out about each other and merged into a 501(c) (3) organization riding Victory bikes, Harley-Davidsons, BMWs and Hondas.
The group members, who are easy to spot at conventions, fundraise by seeking sponsorship patches from industry companies.
“Whenever we go to a new sponsor we always throw in a Water-for-People pitch and explain just what they do in terms of water projects,” says Hood. “Selling patches is our main source of funding — it’s like a race-car driver who has sponsor patches all over his uniform and car. Our sponsors are mainly companies that are in the water industry, such as Badger Meter, Itron, Neptune, Sensus, Brown and Caldwell and M.E. Simpson. This year we also held an indoor Poker Run at ACE14 in June. Sponsorships for our big ride coming up can be had for $500 by going to our website. We’ve even raffled off a couple of motorcycles in the past, and may be doing that again.”
Related: Learn how to improve operations management through integration at ACE13 technical session
This year’s leadership team includes Hood; Sandy Smith, vice president; and Tina Roncalli, secretary. A motorcycle enthusiast since 2001, Roncalli, who rides a 2008 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, participated in her first Water Buffalos ride in 2008 to Atlanta, where she was hooked. Like others, she heard about the organization from an acquaintance, Paul Fecht, also known as her “Godfather to the Buffalos,” who praised the group’s fundraising efforts.
“For a relatively small group, Ride With Purpose has raised a lot of money for Water For People,” says Roncalli, who is also the northeast region sales director for Aclara, a company that provides device networking, data-value management and customer communications to water, gas and electric utilities. “Our goal is to grow the Water Buffalos and be over the $1 million mark in the next couple of years. We want to make the group bigger and better and we’re determined to make it happen.”
Next up for Hood and his Water Buffalo biker buddies? A ride to WEFTEC, the Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference in New Orleans Sept. 27 to Oct. 1.
If you don't want to bring your iPad into the bathroom, we can send you a magazine subscription for free!
“I’m really excited about the ride down to WEFTEC,” says Hood. “It’s great to join fellow motorcycle enthusiasts and to meet water and wastewater professionals from around the country. Also, to support an organization like Water for People is to be part of something very special. It’s making a contribution and making a difference.”
About Water for People
Founded in 1991 as a nonprofit organization, Water for People creates reliable access to safe drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and hygiene education programs in Africa, Asia, Central America and South America. Through its business-oriented development approach, the group empowers local communities to plan, build, finance, maintain and operate their own safe water and sanitation services.
Water for People puts long-lasting solutions at the forefront of its strategy, fostering entrepreneurism and innovations that are adaptable worldwide to water and sanitation problems. The organization monitors projects for at least 10 years post-implementation to guarantee the impact of the work. More importantly, Water for People provides technology that the communities understand, so residents know how to maintain systems and secure parts for it in their own countries.