Nov 10, 2014

Value & Power

Industry experts collaborate through events, campaigns & research

Coalitions and events focusing on the value of water infrastructure and investment in its future have been coming together since September, from Washington to San Francisco, and Kansas City to New Orleans, with renewed vigor, power and unity of purpose.

The numbers and messages are impressive. Of course, my assessment is biased: The U.S. Water Alliance, my home team organization and employer, is a founding member of and project manager for the Value of Water Coalition (www.thevalueofwater.org), which has been instrumental in launching the campaign, with big boosts from public and private sector leaders.

The Water Works! campaign (www.waterworkscampaign.org) teamed up with water general managers from around the country and other leaders for a series of events held Sept. 9 and 10 in Washington, D.C. Key messages included: Water connects us, grows jobs and opportunity, keeps us safe and healthy, and sustains
our environment. 

Making Big Splashes

The campaign also was used as a springboard for action, supported by the Sept. 9 presentation of the Water Research Foundation and the Water Environment Research Foundation’s report, “The Economic and Labor Impact of the Water Sector.” The report found 30 large water and wastewater agencies alone will be investing $254 billion into the economy in the next decade. This will result in $52 billion in annual economic output and support 289,000 jobs annually, considering direct, indirect and induced impacts. The campaign emphasized the connections between water and jobs and between utilities and community benefits in a session titled “Water Works: Investing Together for a Stronger America.”

The coalition also urged Congress and the Obama Administration to increase access to water infrastructure funding (such as loans and grants), leverage public-private partnerships and support workforce development programs.

The One Water Leadership Summit in Kansas City, Mo., hosted a repeat performance of sorts with additional utility leaders and private water CEOs on Sept. 15 in the nation’s heartland. One strong voice, Julius Ciaccia of Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, described the need for infrastructure leaders to be bold, even if mayors and other local officials were less  so inclined. 

A new book, “The Value of Water,” also splashed onto the scene, nationally and globally, in September. Donna Vincent Roa, in collaboration with the Value of Water Coalition, has collected and connected 39 essays from CEOs, general managers and executive directors to cover the waterfront on how our nation should view, value and manage water (http://donnavincentroa.com/value-of-water-book-project/). To me, it is a timely reminder that water is a fundamental human right; that price, cost and value all are different; and that public and private sector leaders must form innovative partnerships to deliver on the promise of access, dignity and justice for all. It also displays the growing depth and scope of water expertise across all sectors involved in drinking water, wastewater and storm water. 

Changing Public Perception

My own essay chapter in the book, “The Power of One,” sums up the potential of valuing and uniting behind water: “One water, one voice” is the recipe for blending together the many views and visions described in the Water Works! campaign. It is also the strategy for changing the public’s perception of water from invisible to invaluable and moving our nation toward a more integrated and sustainable approach to our underappreciated and underfunded water infrastructure system. 

The Water Environment Federation provided an even larger national stage, hosting a press conference with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and leading general managers on the economic and labor impact report and the Water Works! campaign on Sept. 29, opening day of WEFTEC in New Orleans. 

This coordinated national effort officially includes utilities, businesses and associations, but it does not exclude or deny the importance of citizen and environmental advocacy groups. The target audience for the Water Works! campaign is local ratepayers and citizens of watersheds across America. The coalition knows citizen engagement and public awareness will determine the success or failure of the infrastructure campaign, locally and nationally. Environmental values also are integrated into the priority messages of the Value of Water Coalition, including the importance of sustaining watersheds and infusing communities with green infrastructure, a longstanding message of Green for All (www.greenforall.org). 

Together, “One Water” and the Water Works! campaign of the Value of Water Coalition, along with other leaders, can create a confluence of new opportunities, locally and nationally, to sustain water and invest in its future. That is powerful.

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