Is Clean Water Really that Important to Americans?

For the last 35 years I have worked in a business that most people say is a “noble cause”.

By Tom Pokorsky

For the last 35 years I have worked in a business that most people say is a “noble cause”. If I heard that once, I heard it 100 times. However I have also continually heard that raising water rates is not acceptable and “Congress is cutting the funding again this year”.

We are now at a critical crossroads. Our infrastructure in general is in terrible shape and we need over $650 billion just to upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure. In addition we have many areas where water availability is a problem by itself. At the same time all we hear about is the need for more alternative energy research and development but we do not hear the fact that new methods to solve water problems are energy intensive and alternative energy production has extremely high water demands. The situation is critical – yet seemingly forgotten by our citizens and our leaders.

As of this writing, Congress just introduced the details of their proposed $800 billion stimulus package. The need for this and the proposed implementation is a whole separate debate. However on the surface Congress says the package is to “create jobs and jumpstart the economy” by targeting “priority investments” in the infrastructure and other areas.

The water and wastewater portion includes about $8 billion or about $6.5 billion more than the previous “normal” year. With a need for over $650 billion and with tens of billions worth of projects ready to bid, I guess water is not really a “priority investment”.

The plan proposes something like $50 billion in different types of energy “research”, $30 billion for roads and bridges, $3 billion for new parks and $6 billion for broadband coverage.

We are to spend money to allow more cars to travel the highways yet invest in research to stop using gasoline. We are investing so that we can have a beautiful park to walk in and go home and surf the internet. Are these just as important as providing clean safe water?

Where is the research investment for new water treatment techniques or more energy efficient systems? Can you imagine what just $1 billion in investment in new water treatment development could do? Not only is there no investment in water research, it is nearly impossible for someone with a new technology to even be considered by the regulators because of the fear that it may not work. Think how much new technology in water would blossom if there was a billion dollar fund as insurance to correct the plants where a new technology did not work? At least we could test the technologies.

The point of all of this is quite simply that not only do all Americans take clean water for granted; even our leaders do not recognize the critical need we have to invest in this valuable infrastructure.

We have an industry that for the most part has the solutions to our problems and is more than willing to even improve the solutions given the chance and the funding. Perhaps we have done too good of a job in the past. After all, most Americans currently have no problems accessing clean water. What happens when that is no longer the case? You can bet there will be all kinds of protests, editorials, speeches and finger pointing. To find someone to blame will be as simple as just looking in a mirror.

Unfortunately most people simply are not aware of this situation. Both our leaders and our citizens need to be educated before we have a disaster on our hands.

WWEMA members and staff are working tirelessly to inform Congress as they debate the stimulus package. However, that is not good enough. All of us in this industry need to be relentless in informing the public. When people can’t get clean water or become sick swimming in our lakes and streams, it will be too late. WW

About the author:
Tom Pokorsky is president of Aquarius Technologies, a Port Washington, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of advanced wastewater treatment technologies. He served as WWEMA’s Chairman of the Board in 1997

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