Each time I attend national water conferences and events I hear inspiring words from water leaders such as “water is life” and “clean water isn’t just a health priority, it’s an economic necessity” – Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, WEFTEC 2014. This week as I joined thousands of water professionals from across the country in New Orleans, it was a more sobering sentiment that caught my attention: “New Orleans has a fundamentally antagonistic relationship with water,” Mark Davis, Tulane University School of Law.
New Orleans serves as a poignant case study of the intricate and intimate balance that we must maintain with water. For what better place than the Big Easy to remind us of the power of water – not only to sustain life but also to devastate and inundate. However, New Orleans is not alone in its complex relationship to this essential component of life.
The water challenges facing this country are daunting and expansive from quality issues like the recent Toledo algae crisis, to quantity issues such as severe droughts and flooding/extreme precipitation events; from aging infrastructure and ever increasing regulatory requirements, to funding shortfalls and affordability/environmental justice concerns. And that is just to name a few.
What gives me hope is that while our relationship with water is at many times antagonistic, clean water agencies’ relationships with our regulators is becoming less so. This was clearly evident at WEFTEC. EPA came out in force to share their perspectives on the path forward. During the Utility Leaders Morning hosted by NACWA and WEF, EPA Office of Water officials expressed their continued commitment to integrated planning as well as partnering on innovation to help facilitate Utility of the Future concepts. They stated that the Toledo incident was a wake-up call and it has sparked an important national dialogue on the undeniable value of water and the critical need to effectively address remaining and evolving challenges to our nation’s water quality.
Events like WEFTEC provide a necessary forum for innovative collaboration, which is critical to finding sustainable solutions. Water is indeed life and we face far too many challenges to work to achieve our common goals as adversaries.
For more information and highlights on WEFTEC and NACWA’s participation at the event, see this week’s Clean Water Current.