Going Beyond Legislation & Regulation … to Collaboration

Dec. 17, 2014

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), a law that has had far-reaching effects on the water and wastewater industry and indeed on the welfare of our nation and all who live here.

As effective as the SDWA has been, and as much as it has done to improve our well-being, however, we all know that legislation and regulation are not the final answer. To achieve true progress in protecting our nation’s waters, we need to educate individuals and communities, heighten awareness regarding water problems and challenges, and foster a widespread sense of commitment toward the goal of water protection.

The Source Water Collaborative (SWC), made up of more than two dozen water, environment and health groups, as well as federal agencies, is working to “combine the strengths and tools of a diverse set of member organizations to act now, and protect drinking water sources for generations to come.”

While the SWC does support and promote the SDWA and other existing legislation and regulation, it goes beyond that to promote a holistic approach to preserving and conserving water—linking the SDWA to the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972 to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters by preventing point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands. It offers educational resources for the agricultural community, land use planners and local officials. It addresses not only environmental stewardship but also deeper systemic issues such as the need for responsible water and septic utility rates, anticipating capital improvements, the role of public-private partnerships in storm water management and many others.

The SWC sponsors a number of local collaboratives in such diverse areas as the Delaware Basin; New England’s Salmon Falls Watershed; Sheridan, Wyo.; and targeted watersheds in Wisconsin. Local and regional agencies and advocacy groups in these areas are working together and pooling their resources to solve specific water challenges.

The SWC also offers a “Collaboration Toolkit” for anyone interested in establishing a local collaborative on their own, providing information on how to form, grow and maintain a collaborative, complete with sample materials from existing efforts. It also offers a tool that allows users to create customized guides for their local officials on the topics of development patterns, water budgeting and stewardship.

In a collaborative effort, the whole becomes much, much stronger than the sum of its parts. The Wikipedia entry on “collaboration” distinguishes it from “cooperation” in this way: “[It] is more than the intersection of common goals seen in cooperative ventures, but a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective … by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.”

We in the water and wastewater industry must not only cooperate, but we must collaborate with a “deep, collective determination” if we are to bring water challenges to the forefront of the public consciousness. I applaud the efforts of the national SWC and its local collaboratives and encourage all of us to find ways to collaborate. Together we can take our communities beyond legislation and regulation to ensure an even broader and deeper commitment to clean, safe water.

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].