Sweet Spot

Jan. 27, 2015

Four years ago I landed back in Washington, D.C. (from a great stay in Arizona) and into the warm embrace of the U.S. Water Alliance (USWA), the watershed-loving, diversity-infused nonprofit formerly known as Clean Water America Alliance. Since then, I’ve had the wonderful, continuously flowing opportunity to serve, learn, partner and create with staff, members and friends of the Alliance. And now, after four fruitful years, it’s time to move on, at least just a bit, and let others share more fully in the noble mission and work of the U.S. Water Alliance. On Jan. 21, I started as Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan’s nominee to be Secretary of the Environment.

Most of you who read my monthly Pipeline columns already know about the work and passion of the U.S. Water Alliance: uniting people and policy for One Water sustainability.

The Alliance’s founding fathers and mothers chose not to form a think tank or a trade association as much as a broad and varied network of leaders to connect differing strands within and outside of the water sector to weave together a common strategy that would change the way America views, values and manages her most precious liquid asset.

Along the way, the Alliance has engaged with and learned from some of the most inspiring and influential public and private sector leaders in the world. We’ve held dialogues across the country on the need for an integrated and comprehensive national water policy, on answering the question, ”What’s water worth?” and on defining and implementing One Water management. We’ve celebrated and hosted winners of the annual U.S. Water Prize, convened the annual One Water Leadership Summit in bright green and blue cities around the country boosting urban and rural water sustainability, and helped to support, promote and manage the Value of Water coalition.

Some of my favorite Alliance reports and publications along the way include: the Barriers and Gateways to Green Infrastructure Report (2011); the One Water Management Network discussions (2012-13); the Urban Water Sustainability Council’s (UWSC) Green Infrastructure and Resource Recovery Principles (2012-13); the Mississippi River Nutrient Dialogues (2014); and with the Value of Water Coalition, From Invisible to Invaluable: Changing the Public’s Perception of Water Infrastructure (2014).

Some of my favorite gatherings include: the Business Advisory Council’s (BAC) and Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers’ Roundtable on Water Innovations (2013); the Luncheon Keynote and Discussion on the History of Drinking Water and the 39th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (2013); BAC Roundtables on Mitigation and Conservation Banking in Appalachia (2013); Stormwater Innovations in D.C. (2014); and Agricultural Watershed Restoration (2014).

“Sweet spot” certainly describes the place I’ve been over the last four years but also the “place” the Alliance strives to help others find in choosing the right mix of water regulation, science, technology, policy and law. For regulations, it’s often a delicate balance of not too much, not too little, just the right amount to move the water ball forward in positive and lasting ways that spurs innovation. For the Alliance, this has meant deeper dives on green infrastructure, water reuse, resource recovery, climate preparedness and resilience, the energy/water nexus, public-private partnerships, innovative financing, water quality trading, pricing and other market signals, corporate stewardship, and holistic watershed permitting. The work of the Alliance hasn’t focused solely on the “wet spots” either. The UWSC and the BAC, two of the Alliance’s strongest tributaries (aka councils), have instigated partnerships and integrated policies on energy, climate, agriculture, housing and transportation with water to boost sustainability.

In the end, though, and actually from the beginning as well, it’s always more about the people of an organization than its programs, products, and policies. That certainly rings true here at the Alliance. I’ve been honored to work with and for an immensely talented and intensely diverse board of directors. They are the leaders of One Water and the future of the U.S. Water Alliance, and they’ve taken good care of the organization and its staff through thick and thin, hot and cold. Chairman Dick Champion, in particular, has been and continues to be a champion of chairmen. He is a tireless supporter, servant leader, mentor and friend. Officers, executive committee members, and committee and council chairs all give their all to advance the mission and meet the needs of the home team.

Staff members, like our blessed water itself, are dedicated, resourceful and underpaid (except for its president) but that just seems to go with the territory of public service. Nonetheless, they make things happen and they do it with little direction and a lot of heart. Insert a mental picture of Lorraine, Hope and Keith here. I’ve enjoyed serving them and the staff before them over the years, trying as best as possible to stay out of the way as they explore and create.

All in all, I see a bright blue future for the Alliance. I know I’ll keep an oar in One Water and continue to row in the direction of sustainability through collaboration and innovation. From USWA to MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment): from one great spot to another.

What could be sweeter than that?

Ben Grumbles is president of the U.S. Water Alliance, a not-for-profit educational organization based in Washington, D.C., committed to uniting people and policies for water sustainability throughout the country. Grumbles has a long career in water and environmental policy, serving the public and teaching law students and environmental professionals, over the past 25 years. He can be reached at [email protected].