Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that…
May 19, 2014

Water Funding: Finding Our Leverage

Congress currently is considering two initiatives that could result in billions of dollars in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, including the proposed Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act of 2014 and the potential creation of a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority.

WWEMA and many other groups and individuals continue to beat the drum for increased funding to improve and expand our nation’s much-needed water infrastructure, and no doubt many of you are doing the same at your state and local levels. But is our drumbeat being heard?

One of the secrets to success in advocacy work is to identify and exploit your leverage. At WWEMA’s Finance & Contract Administration Council earlier this month, attorney Alan Fishel of Arent Fox in Washington, D.C., talked about successful negotiations and the concept of leverage. Too often, he said, negotiating parties don’t realize what their leverage is, or how much they have.

“I hear it all the time,” Fishel said. “Clients will call and say, ‘I need to get this deal done, but I don’t have any leverage. Just do the best you can.’ Well, maybe, maybe not.”

Fishel said the best way to understand the leverage you have is to listen to the other party. Listen to what they say, and listen to the tone they use when they say it.

You may be thinking: How much more leverage can we possibly have? We are talking about WATER! People die without it!

Well, that’s true. But that argument doesn’t always work. If we listen to what the public says and what politicians say, we find that they all too often take water for granted. They view it as a given, and sometimes even as a right. It is not as compelling as iPads in schools, or a bigger fire station, or a new dog park. And it is certainly not as popular as tax cuts.

To advocate for water infrastructure, we need to listen and appeal to a topic that we find is close to every politician’s heart: jobs.

On May 9, the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program released a 32-page report titled, Beyond Shovel-Ready: The Extent and Impact of U.S. Infrastructure on Jobs, which found that in 2012, 14.2 million U.S. workers were employed in infrastructure jobs, accounting for 11% of the nation’s employment.

What’s more, Brookings reports that those jobs paid over 30% more to workers at the lower ends of the income scale. At the tenth percentile of wages, infrastructure workers earned $24,750, compared with $18,090 for all U.S. workers. And 88% of workers in infrastructure occupations did not hold a four-year degree or higher. In other words, these are jobs that help build our country’s middle class with a relatively low barrier to entry.

Aging, failing, outdated, and inefficient infrastructure poses a dire problem for our nation. We do need to communicate that message at all levels of government. But to quote the late, great Johnny Mercer, let’s make sure we also “accentuate the positive.” Infrastructure means jobs. And that’s a beat we can all dance to.

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].