Where Did the Water Go?

Aug. 1, 2012
The word "teaming" is an approach to tackling tough and challenging problems or broad spectrum obstacles.
Teaming, Leadership Needed to Advance Water Resources By Chuck Powers

The word "teaming" is an approach to tackling tough and challenging problems or broad spectrum obstacles. In today's global water resources market, the challenges we face are no longer limited to one region, one country, one company or one person; the environment belongs to everyone and teaming in each of these aspects above requires leadership and planning.

Events and challenges today are mostly what we created. We continue to ignore history, the fundamentals of our teachings at home or education. To blame our previous leadership is easy, to blame our current leadership is easier, but our voice at election time and our voice in the industry is tougher and what counts.

The water resource industry is not a service; it's a producer (company that produces jobs, knowhow and goods). Wal-Mart, hospitals, fuel stations would not be on the corner if people did not live there. People would not live there if a producer wasn't nearby that builds products and starts the process. Locate a factory anywhere and the services will follow. Remove the producer (factory) and the unemployment, housing, municipal budgets and empty shopping centers start down the wrong path.

The current Washington Administration has considerable challenges on many fronts, but the common concern is who is listening anymore? Do other governments trust Washington? Do our corporations trust Washington anymore? Where did the Leadership go? Where is the water so to speak? The current Washington Administration, the House and the Senate have lost themselves. It is like watching the cases at Night Court. Where did their leadership and collaboration for the people go? This is an election year. The current Administration has considerable obstacles, lack of progressive movement, some successes and failures, but will the next Administration when elected be capable of leading effectively and passionately about water resources?

Observations from the news, forums, trade journals, business meetings and global customers:

- We have huge gaps on teaming on the Buy American policy which leads us to isolation, limited free trade and very limited sustainability. The Water Industry is not about concrete or structural steel. Did ARRA have the impact we were led to believe?
- We have huge gaps on municipal solvency. Who would have thought some of the cities we know today are bankrupt? What about municipalities using their bonds now to pay their workforce but not for the equipment sitting on a new / upgraded wastewater site?
- We have huge gaps in the rates for municipal water. We find examples time and again where families struggle with tax hikes, yet when the precious tap water rates go up, they do two things better than the job that Washington does: they are more careful about how much tap water they use and they understand they are paying a rate for a critical resource they need every day. Can our existing Administration in Washington manage their water intake?

In locations globally where water rates have gone up, you don't need to ration the water or have restrictions since no one wants to waste the precious fluid they are paying for. Most other industries from the gas pump to the power companies have had appropriate price adjustments.

- We have huge gaps on how to solve the financial woes. European financial challenges will cripple everyone; it's not "just across the Pond." That small ripple will become a tidal wave on our shores, as we have already witnessed on Wall Street. The reduction of funding in America for water resources has already occurred and will be limited in the future.
- We have huge gaps on the environment. Natural gas (shale) has become a potential growth opportunity for American businesses, but more important, jobs. The challenge is on two fronts: the impact of fracturing on the groundwater and the amount of precious water required in the process. Are there options to get this right or are we going to stretch our already limited fresh water supply? Drought in many regions is stretching water supplies further.
- We have huge gaps in the methods or processes address the chemical, bacteria and medical waste in our water supply after years of neglect. Lack of treatment options that remove the harmful substances presents more challenges.
- We have huge gaps in environmental policy from EPA on hazardous substances which must be addressed, but are they realistic with today's technology and financial challenges?
- We have huge gaps with aging water resources infrastructure. This problem rests with the municipalities, but there are many arguments that indicate considerable aspects of local, state, and EPA regulations are not in sync.
- We have huge gaps in technology. New challenges create an opportunity for new technology, but how do we resolve the years it takes to obtain acceptance of new technologies and the updating or removal of older technologies? The entire "go green" process rests with technology.

Leaders in government and business alike who step up to the task and come up with fair, practical solutions, working with the support of our capable colleges and universities, and placing themselves ahead of self preservation or survivorship are those who will make the difference and will naturally have countries, corporations and the people's support.

Again, most of our gaps or challenges were created by ourselves and, as in most historical events, teaming with the right empowered group of knowledgeable, practical business professionals and government, we have the ability to improve, solve and reverse the negative impact or challenges. The basic question for the next Washington Administration rests with their ability to listen.

About the Author: Chuck Powers is Vice Chairman and member of the WWEMA Board of Directors and has held various positions in marketing and customer service in the water resource market for over 30 years.

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