Keys to Water Advancement

April 2, 2018
The EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, Benjamin H. Grumbles stresses importance of water and wastewater infrastructure to WWD

This past December, Benjamin H. Grumbles was named acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. EPA replacing the resigned G. Tracy Mehan III.

Not long after being appointed, Grumbles answered a few questions tendered by WWD in order to get his thoughts on water and wastewater-related matters.

WWD: In your new role, what type of emphasis will you place on the water/wastewater areas of the EPA?

Benjamin H. Grumbles: Water and wastewater infrastructure will be high priorities. Infrastructure is one of the unsung heroes in keeping America’s water clean, safe, and secure. Making “infrastructure” part of the public’s everyday vocabulary is a challenge but it is an important effort that we’ll continue vigorously.

Key to all of it will be advancing the “Four Pillars of Sustainable Infrastructure”:

• Water Conservation and Efficiency: Together with our partners in the public and private sectors, we will strive to build a national voluntary market-based program for promoting water efficient products;

• Management: Water infrastructure is crucial to the health and growth of the nation’s economy. U.S. utilities face unprecedented challenges to keep pace with demands, ensure security, and control costs. Utility management is key to obtaining needed improvement in both performance and efficiency. We will work with utility industry to promote a wide variety of improved techniques for managing for sustainable results, including environmental management systems, asset management, infrastructure security, privatization, and restructuring;

• Full Cost Pricing: Customers must receive an accurate price signal reflecting the full cost of the service. In areas with drought/water shortages and in areas facing depletion of source waters or expansion needs for water systems, pricing to promote conservation is a key consideration; and

• Watershed-based Approaches Combined with Watershed-based Planning and Permitting: Assessment of needs in a watershed, combined with watershed-based planning, will help to identify efficiencies and opportunities that may be less costly and equally effective.

WWD: What concerns you most about the water/wastewater-related issues facing the EPA today?

Grumbles: The Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis shows a significant gap in needs versus expenditures for capital and O&M between 2000 and 2019. Our systems are aging and in many cases facing growing pains such as expanding populations and decreased budgets.

Expanding federal funding is neither realistic nor sustainable, which is why the Office of Water has highlighted the “Four Pillars.”

WWD: Where do you envision the water/wastewater arm of the EPA in the future in regards to tighter or different regulations?

Grumbles: The Safe Drinking Water Act turns 30 in December this year and the Clean Water Act turns 32 in October. We’ll continue to implement these landmark statutes with emphasis on national standards and local solutions.

Pathogens in drinking water and management of wet weather flows will continue to have much of our attention. Success will depend on the extent we can integrate programs, increase the role of science, combine flexibility with accountability, and encourage innovative, market-based approaches such as water quality trading and watershed-based permitting.

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