Visionaries, leaders convene in Washington to support water sustainability, resilience

On March 22, World Water Day was observed, and with it came a bustle of announcements and activities demonstrating support for water sustainability and innovation.

On March 22, World Water Day was observed, and with it came a bustle of announcements and activities demonstrating support for water sustainability and innovation. At the center of it, at least here in the U.S., was the White House Water Summit, which brought together water and wastewater champions from both the public and private sectors to discuss our biggest water challenges and how to solve them.

The Water Summit featured panel discussions, interviews, and lightning talks on subjects such as water infrastructure financing and investment, building resilience against the effects of drought and climate change, and managing water resources with a more integrated approach.

One particularly memorable presentation came from Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY 20th District), who recently introduced H.R. 4653, the Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2016 - or AQUA.

The legislation, Tonko said, brings water infrastructure investment to the forefront by reauthorizing the SRF funds - something that hasn’t been done in 20 years. Tonko’s bill would provide $3.1 billion in funding for the first year, increasing by 15 percent every year thereafter for five years - for a total of $5.5 billion. The legislation also includes a $500 million lead contamination replacement fund.

“This is about commerce. This is about people. It’s about children and families,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing…Let’s acknowledge that we have failed miserably over the last decades and let’s get into the order of investing in infrastructure that is hidden in nature. Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind.” Tonko acknowledged that his bill isn’t a “silver bullet,” but stressed that the current SRF is “painfully, woefully underfunded.”

“Water is an essential. It affects every job, every life,” said Tonko. “So we need to get it right.”

Against the backdrop of the White House Water Summit and World Water Day, federal, state, local and private entities seized the opportunity to announce more than 150 commitments to enhance water sustainability and better manage water resources. Among the federal announcements, President Obama issued a memorandum focused on building national capabilities for long-term drought resilience.

It was also announced that nearly $35 million in federal grants will be available this year from various agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to support cutting-edge water science.

And finally, NOAA and its partner agencies are releasing a new National Water Model that dramatically enhances river-forecasting capabilities by expanding forecast locations from 4,000 discrete monitoring points to a mesh-like structure of approximately 2.7 million locations. Dr. Kathy Sullivan, NOAA administrator, explained that that means there will be tens of thousands of forecast points in virtually every state in the country. “That will bring the reliability of information about what the impact is going to be down to neighborhood level,” she said. And it will enable information to be updated much more quickly than it can be today - about 20 times faster. “It’s going to a forecast surface that’s nearly continuous,” she said.

These are just a few of the notable announcements and commitments made on World Water Day. You can find a detailed summary in the Briefing Room at whitehouse.gov.

Angela Godwin

Chief Editor, WaterWorld

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