Toward a Sustainable Future

Historically the water market has been broken down into various sectors ? drinking water vs. wastewater, local vs. federal, public vs. private, gray infrastructure vs. green infrastructure, finance vs. operations. Recently, however, there has been a growing realization that cooperation among the sectors and a blending of techniques and technologies are necessary to achieve our water quality goals and assure clean, safe water for future generations.

It is with this in mind that the Clean Water America Alliance was created in 2008. The Alliance was created to create a dialogue between all the parties involved in clean water and chart a pathway forward. The Alliance brought in Ben Grumbles, a veteran of the water industry with a diverse background, to lead the effort as its President.

Grumbles was most recently Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and a member of the CWAA Board of Directors. Prior to that he worked as the Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ? the longest-serving person to hold that title.

Prior to EPA, Grumbles worked as a committee staffer for the U.S. House of Representatives and taught environmental law at George Washington University. He has a BA degree in English from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, a JD degree from Emory Law School in Georgia, and an LLM (Masters) degree in environmental law from George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C.

UIM recently spoke with Grumbles about the mission and activities of the Alliance, and how it hopes to shape policy that will ensure a sustainable future for water.

UIM: Can you describe the background and mission of the Clean Water America Alliance (CWAA)?

Grumbles:? The mission of the CWAA is to unite people and policies for water sustainability. Over time we hope to help change the paradigm for water management, and that means collaboration to bring together different perspectives and tackle emerging and ongoing challenges.

It started because different water utilities, particularly wastewater utilities within the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), were serious about advancing a watershed approach ? shifting the paradigm and bringing in not just wastewater but drinking water and storm water and resource agencies to focus in on a more effective and economic approach to water. And so NACWA thought it would be good to develop an independent organization separate from NACWA that would help advance that mission of shifting the paradigm in water management.

One of my goals is to continue to grow the Alliance and make it diverse and independent so that it is positioned to facilitate the needed discussions and development of action plans to tackle water challenges of the 21st century.

UIM: What makes CWAA different from existing non-profits organizations operating in the sector?

Grumbles: CWAA is unique because of the broad diversity of organizations involved, and it has a lot of horsepower to shape policy because it involves water and wastewater utilities, it has conservation and environmental organizations, it has private- and public-sector members. It is also different in that it has a large board of directors ? 34 members who have been and continue to be very influential in national water policy, including former elected and appointed officials from all levels of government. And, we feel the Alliance is uniquely positioned to bring new players and new voices into the discussion so that it is not the same old conversations. We can?t afford to have that. We need dynamic and innovative participants coming up with ideas to deal with some of the energy-water nexus issues and growing challenges on the water quality/water quantity area.

UIM: How does your professional background mesh with CWAA?

Grumbles: I have been fortunate to have a wonderful array of jobs over the years that have given me the opportunity to see the regulatory, financial, enforcement and the scientific component of the water market. I have seen that you cannot rely solely on technology; it also takes stewardship, collaboration and the ethic of conservation and pollution prevention. All of these components need to go hand-in-hand. The regulatory function is also an essential component, and we also need financial and incentive-based efforts to ensure that we go beyond merely what the regulations or the law requires.

UIM: What impact does the change in political leadership have on the water market?

Grumbles:? I see similarities between the new Congress and the one that served in 1995. Sixteen years ago, there was a lot of controversy regarding the cost of various mandates under environmental law, particularly upon the business community and other regulated entities. There was also concern coming from local government about unfunded federal mandates and states wanting a stronger and more cooperative role in federalism. I find much of that today, and I think the key is to have a broad array of voices within the environmental and business communities and also in government. And that?s what the Alliance is striving for. We want to be able to relay to new members of Congress and the various committees that they need to tackle these environmental and economic issues in ways that keep making progress toward the goals of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and related wetlands and water resources laws. We all need to be smarter and look for more effective and efficient ways to accomplish these goals, such as using green infrastructure and green energy.

UIM: How big of a role do you see green infrastructure playing in achieving water quality goals?

Grumbles: Green infrastructure is one of the areas in which I would really like to see the Alliance grow. Gray infrastructure is critically important ? it is the foundation ? but there are growing opportunities to look at the additional tool of green infrastructure to deal with wet weather flows as well as the urban heat island effect. Green projects have the ability sometimes to create a public interface which can also help build public support for both green and gray. There are multiple examples of how green infrastructure helps meet the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic benefits.

We are also seeing a trend of green infrastructure being increasingly incorporated as a component of consent decrees and control plans resulting from those. I am confident that that trend is going to continue to grow, and that is one area where the Alliance can add value in that we can bring all the parties together to look with a fresh eye at innovative approaches.

UIM: What developments are you seeing in terms of a watershed-based management approach? How can we foster collaboration across various political entities?

Grumbles: I came to the Alliance having focused a lot of effort in my EPA role on regional collaborations of national significance, such as in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. In Arizona I focused on the Colorado River and also on the Arizona-Mexico border. One way we see to foster more regional collaboration is to increase the line of communication so that all the key stakeholders and players are involved and have the opportunity to collaborate through a convener who is uniquely positioned as an honest broker. There is no doubt in my mind that the federal government can play a key role, a constructive role, when there are inter-jurisdictional disputes or regional collaborations that involve multiple states or sovereigns such as the Indian tribes or other nations.

One of our goals in the Alliance is to increase the science and technology and the monitoring of water and water quality. I?ve been involved in a lot of collaborations from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, and one of the keys is not just involving all the right people and having a convener who can gain their respect of the parties involved, but it is being able to lay out the facts and identify the policy choices.? When you are armed with information, people aren?t just trading rhetoric or talking over one another. Once you get all the stakeholders together you can find common ground and seek solutions. The Alliance is going to strive to get a wide range of different parties in water-related subjects into the same room to identify not just principles of sustainability, but specific solutions. Sometimes those will be concrete solutions, sometimes they will be green infrastructure solutions.

UIM: What are some examples of collaboration that may serve as a model?

Grumbles: The collaboration on the lower Colorado River ? while historically more an issue of water quantity than water quality ? has been successful in reducing some of the conflict. The Colorado River has been heavily litigated and not all the issues have been solved, but collaboration has helped make management of that key river system more workable. The Council of Great Lakes Governors? development of a Great Lakes water compact that was successful in the states and the Canadian provinces to encourage water efficiency within the Great Lakes was also a positive development for regional collaboration.

UIM: How can we encourage increased water conservation?

Grumbles: There are a lot of ways of encouraging conservation, and that is one of the goals of the Alliance. We want to bring together people who often don?t have the same perspectives or views on conservation such as local government, manufacturers and utilities. Sometimes, there is a concern about loss of revenue to a water utility if folks do a really good job of reducing their water consumption, so the key is using a range of incentives for conservation and identifying the costs of inefficiency. Incentives can include rebates for buying water efficient fixtures and appliances. One hugely important part of water policy is communicating the value of water. It is important to increase the public awareness of the value of water and the need for sustainability, particularly in justifying rate increases in difficult economic times. Water conservation is an excellent tool to reduce infrastructure costs down the road and avoid the financial, political and legal difficulties of trying to find new sources of water. Trying to get new dams and reservoirs permitted to meet a municipal water supply need is extremely difficult and it makes good environmental and economic sense to rely on water conservation. It is a trend we are seeing throughout the country.

Part of water conservation is knowing what you?ve got. With automated meter reading, you are able to measure how much water is in the system and also what you are losing from the system. Water accounting is a key component of getting smarter and more sustainable, and it is also a key component of asset management. Over the last few years, large and small utilities have been recognizing asset management and the need to maintain and sustain infrastructure, not just building new structures.

There are other benefits to water conservation including reduced energy costs, reduced use of chemicals for treatment and reduced costs at the wastewater treatment plant because less water is being used. One of the goals of the Alliance is to bring together utilities, conservationists, economists and political leaders on water sustainability and communicate the benefits of conservation that offset the loss of revenue. Conservation has multiple benefits and is good government. It is also self-preservation in some areas of the country that are on the verge of losing access to clean and safe water.

UIM: Finance and funding for water and wastewater projects has always been a key point, especially now given the current economy. What is the Alliance doing related to financing and funding?

Grumbles: Part of the Alliance?s mission is to bring people and organizations together to focus on what really matters, and financing is such a critical component. I suspect the new Congress is going to be looking for ways to reduce the costs ? the capital costs and the compliance costs of water and wastewater systems. With that in mind, efficient operation of infrastructure is critical. One of the recurring themes is asset management, which involves doing an inventory of your assets and having a plan for systematic review of an asset?s condition, when it needs to be replaced and staying ahead of that as much as possible.

Another aspect is reducing the demand on the infrastructure system to help make it last longer, which is a compelling justification for water efficiency and conservation even in areas of the country that may have an abundant supply of water. By using incentives for conservation and efficiency, you can lengthen the life of those water and wastewater infrastructure systems.

One of the Alliance?s specific principles of sustainability is innovative ?? through science, technology and financing. There is no better time than now to be looking at innovative approaches. I have learned over the years at the federal and state levels that the private sector has a very important role to play. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are going to continue to grow. The debate needs to get more and more specific on the types of PPPs so it is not simply a shouting match between those who are opposed to any type of privatization and those who want to take some sort of alternate approach. We need to get into the specifics of how PPPs could work, can work and do work. From the Alliance?s perspective we are not an advocate of any one particular view; we think the key is to focus on whether there are regulatory, political or financial barriers to more efficient and sustainable management of water systems. We know there are a lot of success stories and there is a lot of promise in PPPs, and we would like to encourage a debate on specific aspects, including the role of the private sector and private activity bonds. But it comes down to the fact that it is a local, community-based decision. We need to have discussion and make sure the local communities can choose how to best meet their water needs and save money.

UIM: What are the next steps for the Alliance?

Grumbles: We will continue to listen to stakeholders and improve upon the draft framework for a national water policy, but our work isn?t just about developing principles of sustainability at the national level ? it is helping to develop local solutions to national problems. As I mentioned before, the Alliance is uniquely positioned to expand the audiences and stretch the conversation beyond traditional ?one size fits all? solutions. The last national dialogue on ?Managing One Water? will move to the regional level where it will become a workshop of sorts, actually bringing the players together for open and honest discussion about how best to improve the health of their watershed and the sustainability of their water.

The Alliance?s Urban Water Sustainability Council will continue to lead the paradigm shift toward making green infrastructure a centerpiece of urban water sustainability. We?re currently conducting a national survey that identifies the barriers and makes recommendations for implementing green infrastructure.? From the results, a report will be issued later this summer.? We plan to distribute it throughout the water sector and beyond.? Particular attention will be paid to sharing it with policy makers and especially U.S. EPA? to inform the Stormwater Rule.? In addition, building on the success of last year?s Philadelphia meeting, the Alliance will organize another Leadership Conference for the late Fall under the leadership of Council?s new Chair, Kevin Shafer (also, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.) We?re also committed to advancing other aspects of water sustainability such as resource recovery, whether at the utilities themselves or within their larger watersheds.

Clean Water America Alliance Announces 2011 U.S. Water Prize Winners

The Clean Water America Alliance has announced winners of the 2011 U.S. Water Prize for watershed-based approaches toward water sustainability.? ?These five water champions reflect the diversity of America and set a shining example for innovating, integrating and collaborating from coast to coast to sustain America?s most precious liquid asset,? explained Alliance President Ben Grumbles. U.S. Water Prize winners by alphabetical order are the City of Los Angeles, Milwaukee Water Council, National Great Rivers Research & Education Center, New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Pacific Institute.

The City of Los Angeles (particularly, the Bureau of Sanitation) and New York City Department of Environmental Protection are planning, integrating and incorporating innovative green infrastructure approaches and increasing resource recovery through water reuse and other cutting-edge technologies. Both cities are maximizing their resources through community partnerships and involvement.? The Milwaukee (Wis.) Water Council is establishing public-private collaborations that advance water technology and promote economic development.? As a result, the Milwaukee area is becoming known as a ?World Water Hub.?? A state-of-the-art facility, the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center (Alton, Ill.) is mobilizing volunteer communities around the confluence of two rivers and creating a national and international center for science, education and public outreach.? The Pacific Institute is consistently in the vanguard of water issues from water use efficiency to climate change, informing political debate and elevating public awareness. ?

U.S. Water Prize winners will be honored in a special ceremony on May 9, 2011, at 5:30 p.m., in the Hotel Monaco of Washington, D.C.? National water and environmental leaders will attend the celebration. Each recipient will receive a handcrafted ceramic art work commissioned from internationally acclaimed potter Miranda Thomas. ?

The Clean Water America Alliance created and administers the U.S. Water Prize to recognize achievement and inspire action for water sustainability.

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