For years, we in the water and wastewater industry have been beating the drum regarding our nation’s critical need for infrastructure investment. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a crisis to capture the public’s attention, and the recent events in Flint, Mich., seem to have become a turning point for this issue.
We hear a great deal about “innovation,” and there are incubation programs across the country to foster and fund research and development (R&D) for innovative technologies. As the association representing water and wastewater equipment providers, WWEMA applauds these efforts. We should continually work to improve and find new efficiencies. But that is just one piece of the solution. The fact is, the technology to solve many of our nation’s water-related problems already exists. What has not existed to date seems to be the will to do so.
The good news is that we are seeing some movement at the federal level. A number of bills have been introduced to address the Flint crisis specifically, as well as to increase the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds for projects nationally. It is expected that funding also will be allocated to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority, which would assist some of the large systems that are so badly in need of attention.
However, these efforts must be augmented by local funding, innovative mechanisms to tap other funding sources, public-private partnerships, water efficiency initiatives and affordability programs to enhance the “toolbox” of options available to water and wastewater systems.
As an example, the White House held a water summit on March 22, 2016—World Water Day—to raise awareness of the national importance of water and to highlight commitments from the government and water sector to build a sustainable water future. Several WWEMA members, including the following, made published commitments as part of that event:
- Evoqua will donate 10 SKY Hydrant water filtration units to underserved, emergency and disaster relief efforts in the United States; will invest an additional $50 million in R&D to further expand water reuse and reclamation efforts across municipal and industrial applications; and will double its capacity to treat water for reuse and reclamation by 2021.
- Pentair will establish two centers over the next three years to help accelerate innovation in industrial water reuse in manufacturing as well as water stewardship in food and beverage processing.
- XPV Water Partners will invest an additional $250 million to help emerging water companies bring new solutions to the marketplace.
- Xylem will invest at least $300 million in water-focused R&D activities through 2018 and has set a goal of logging 100,000 hours of employee volunteer time over the next three years at local schools and community centers as well as other activities to raise awareness of water issues, among other initiatives.
WWEMA applauds these members and all who made commitments for their efforts. Clean, safe water is our nation’s greatest resource, and it is time for our policy makers and legislators at the federal, state and local levels to recognize this, as well as for those of us in the industry to move forward and think innovatively about how these problems can be solved. We all must continue to work and beat the drum to make sure that message is heard.
Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at [email protected].