By Scott Kelly
Dear Mr. President:
The next time you make your daily visit to the presidential throne and need reading material, please bring this letter. I want to offer you some new ideas on our nation's biggest concerns - the lack of jobs and public safety. And, Mr. President, the answer to these concerns is closer than you think. It all starts when you pull the lever to flush.
America's water and wastewater systems are in dire straits. We know water and wastewater issues are boring and not as visible to the public as roads and bridges, but Americans use water and wastewater infrastructure more than any other governmental service. Every second, minute and hour of everyday, they flush!
Forty years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, followed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, to provide funding for new treatment plants, upgrades for water and sewer lines and state-of the-art technologies at that time. These investments made America's water and wastewater infrastructure the envy of the world and our water the safest to drink. But 40 years later, the rest of the world is addressing their water and wastewater needs with improved technology, while the United States is falling behind. To make matters worse, a report by Congressional Research Services shows recent allocations by Congress to the state revolving funds declining 40 percent since 1995, and the American Society of Civil Engineers gives our crumbling water systems a D- rating.
Compared to other federal programs, water seems to be America's lowest priority, receiving mere crumbs on the infrastructure funding table. Under the MAP-21 program, the Department of Transportation will invest more than $100 billion in America's highways in 2013 and 2014. The 2008 Farm Bill constituted a $288 billion, five-year investment in agriculture.
Even Americans themselves are turning their backs on public water systems. Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, notes we are choosing to spend $21 billion per year on bottled water rather than invest in safer, cleaner publicly owned water systems.
We are getting the message: you and Congress rank treating wastewater and producing clean, safe drinking water as one of America's lowest priorities.
But that's not true. Think of your own water use. You don't use an airport or highway every day, but you do use water. It's a central part of your life, from brushing your teeth to using the restroom. Water is used to produce the food you eat and those nice suits you wear. Your body is 60 percent D.C. tap water. Providing clean water for America today and into the future is important for you, your children and even your children's children.
Mr. President, will you rescue America's aging water and wastewater systems? Here's my first idea: Elevate water and wastewater treatment to the level it deserves by actually using the words "water and wastewater treatment" in your speeches. The next time you mention "roads and bridges," "water and wastewater treatment" should be mentioned in the same breath.
Only you have the bully pulpit to raise water's profile to a national priority. You can remind local officials that we cannot put off investing in clean water any longer and that it creates great jobs and a healthy economy. A recent survey by GE found 84 percent of Americans believe water should be a top national priority.
Next, want to boost American jobs and put people back to work? According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, investing $188 billion over the next five years will generate $266 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs - many of those are middle class jobs. It offers one of the biggest returns for our infrastructure dollars.
Investing in and building projects that make efficient and safe use of rivers, stormwater, green infrastructure, gray infrastructure, nutrients and reuse water are good for the environment and good for Americans.
Finally, Mr. President, the easiest way to jumpstart investment in water projects is to pass the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act. This would lift the cap on Private Activity Bonds (PABs) for water and wastewater projects and unleash a flood of private financing for urgently needed water projects. First proposed in 2011, the Act garnered 100 supporters in the House of Representatives but has since languished. Please show your support and Congress will likely pass it.
As you set the nation's priorities, consider that airports, highways, bridges and green technologies are all clearly important in the minds of Americans but water is never mentioned. Most people think tap water is piped in by Mother Nature and their toilets magically make things disappear. We see what Americans flush into our water systems every day, and it isn't pretty and is becoming increasingly difficult to treat.
Water is worth investing in today and for future generations. It's worth taking your time to talk about water before it's too late. Mr. President, water is worth it.
About the Author: Scott Kelly is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for JWC Environmental, a Costa Mesa, CA-based manufacturer of grinders and fine screens for water, wastewater and stormwater, known for its famous Muffin Monster brand sewage grinder. Kelly serves on the WWEMA Board of Directors.
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