Water Initiatives Surge from Obama Administration

The Obama Administration is stirring its water policies to blend in new approaches that might enhance the nation's sustainable and secure water future.

By Patrick Crow

The Obama Administration is stirring its water policies to blend in new approaches that might enhance the nation’s sustainable and secure water future.

It will host a White House Water Summit on March 22, which is also United Nations World Water Day. The administration has invited agencies and private-sector organizations to discuss solutions to problems including drought, flooding, water availability or quality, efficient usage, water security, ecological concerns and more.

The precursor to the meeting was a Dec. 15, 2015, White House Roundtable Discussion on water innovation, cosponsored by the Department of Interior (DOI) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Topics included innovations in water technology and markets, plus current and future water supply challenges.

At the roundtable the administration announced a public-private approach to solving water resource challenges, particularly those related to drought.

The strategy calls for additional investments to promote the widespread adoption of cost-effective technologies. Specifically mentioned were desalination, conservation and water reuse options that could help communities in drought.

The administration’s policy calls for federal agencies to study how climate change will affect the use and supply of water resources while the private sector would improve water efficiency R&D.

The White House said increasing the use of water-efficient and reuse technologies has the potential to reduce water consumption by 33 percent, bringing the U.S. more in line with other industrialized nations and cutting carbon dioxide emissions 1.5 percent a year.

It said R&D could reduce the costs of converting non-traditional water sources such as seawater or brackish water into fresh water. It said in the next decade those water sources could achieve “pipe parity,” or costs equal to those from current processes for delivering fresh water.

DOI also opened a Center for Natural Resources Investment to promote increased private outlays in water infrastructure and to facilitate water exchange agreements in the western U.S.

And DOI is offering more than $20 million through the WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grant Program. Eligible projects must conserve water, use more renewable energy, use less energy, benefit endangered/threatened species, facilitate water markets, address climate-related issues, or prevent water-related crises or conflicts.

Adding impetus to the policy discussions, the Environmental Protection Agency reported in January that the nation needs to spend $271 billion over the next five years to maintain and improve its wastewater infrastructure (see inset). That included pipelines to treatment plants, treatment technologies, and managing stormwater runoff.

“Our nation has made tremendous progress in modernizing our treatment plants and pipes in recent decades, but this survey tells us that a great deal of work remains,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Joel Beauvais.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.

Summary of EPA’s Needs Survey

  • $52.4 billion for secondary treatment, which uses biological processes to meet the minimum level of treatment required by law
  • $49.6 billion for advanced treatment, which also might remove non-conventional or toxic pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia or metals
  • $51.2 billion to rehabilitate and repair conveyance systems
  • $44.5 billion to install new sewer collection systems, interceptor sewers and pumping stations
  • $48 billion to prevent periodic discharges of mixed stormwater and untreated wastewater during wet-weather events (combined sewer overflows)
  • $19.2 billion for structural and nonstructural measures to control polluted runoff from storm events
  • $6.1 billion for conveyance and further treatment of wastewater for reuse (recycled water distribution)

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