As 2016 comes to a close, now is the perfect time to reflect on NACWA’s successes this year and set our sights on the work that must still be done in the New Year. Despite a tumultuous political season, NACWA members won hard-fought battles to promote sensible, affordable and innovative approaches to water quality protection and to set the Association up for successes in the coming year.
The tragedy in Flint, MI cast a long shadow over the water sector this year and shed light on the realities of our country’s infrastructure needs. NACWA led the effort to develop a joint water sector response to the Flint crisis, and the Association is committed to continuing its focus on the importance of affordable and sustainable access to clean and safe water services. NACWA is likewise committed to its crucial objective of empowering experienced water professionals to more effectively voice their unique concerns to the political powers that be.
Flint also put the spotlight on the growing need for infrastructure funding. This helped secure tangible political gains, with water issues taking an unprecedented central role in the presidential campaigns and in the halls of Congress. As an example, the recently-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), while not including some proposed common sense Clean Water Act reforms, did provide much-needed funding for the city of Flint, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and water reuse and recycling. It is also of great significance that WRDA gets taken up every two years, offering a valuable and regular opportunity to make important progress on clean water priorities, and its passage underscores the bipartisan nature of water infrastructure issues. The effort also sets a positive precedent for continued advocacy on affordability and integrated planning, with the bipartisan Senate action on these issues bringing us closer than at any other time to seeing significant changes to the Clean Water Act.
In terms of setting precedents, NACWA’s legal and regulatory initiatives also won key victories across the country this year. In California, NACWA members defended the land application of biosolids, which will set a strong legal precedent for this important wastewater management practice. On the regulatory side, NACWA and its members secured a favorable outcome with the final Municipal Stormwater General Permit Remand Rule, by including a hybrid permitting process which allows for more flexibility for regulators and permittees alike. NACWA also obtained a far less burdensome dental amalgam removal rule than would have been the case in the absence of our advocacy.
As we move into the new year and a new administration in Washington, DC, these themes of infrastructure resilience and sensible regulatory reform will be the prevailing forces behind NACWA’s advocacy agenda. The incoming Trump presidency offers both challenges and opportunities. On one hand, President-elect Trump has called for scaling back the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and reworking numerous environmental laws. On the other, he has proposed a massive investment in infrastructure, including a tripling of the State Revolving Funds.
While it is difficult to predict what will happen after Inauguration Day, NACWA is already preparing to advance key clean water priorities. As part of the reinvestment in infrastructure, it is critical to protect the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds and to ensure strategies that will lead to more money on the table. In line with this, NACWA will continue to focus on the affordability challenge and advocate for federal low income assistance programs to address this issue.
At the same time, with tax reform being discussed and a pro-business and jobs posture gaining primacy, the continued promotion of the Utility of the Future concept is more important than ever and requires even greater support of the entire clean water sector.
Along these lines, all NACWA members are encouraged to make plans now to travel to Washington, DC in March and participate in Water Week 2017, headlined by the National Water Policy Fly-In & Expo (on March 21-22), and the Rally for Clean Water (on March 22) on the Capitol grounds. With a new Administration and a new Congress taking the reins of power, it is more important than ever that policy-makers hear directly from you about the challenges facing your utility and your community. More information will be available about this event early in 2017, but mark your calendars now and plan to attend. (Full event listings here).
One thing is certain, no one has a crystal ball into what will happen in 2017 and beyond. Uncertainty will demand that we be nimble, and act thoughtfully but quickly. We must also focus on raising our voices together to elevate clean water as a national priority! NACWA thanks its members for a great 2016 and we look forward to working together with you to shape the clean water landscape.
Happy Holidays from the NACWA staff!