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Election 2020: Create Modern Water Systems for Safe and Sustainable Use

September 29, 2020

September 29, 2020

By the Election 2020 Academy Working Group including fellows, Scott Fosler, Gerry Galloway, Anthony Griffin, Felicia Marcus, and Mark Pisano.

Enhancing Water Delivery Systems and Waste Water Systems in the United States: An Agenda for 2021

In November 2019, the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) announced 12 Grand Challenges in Public Administration. One of these Grand Challenges is Create Modern Water Systems for Safe and Sustainable Use. Across the nation, America needs collaboration from all levels of government to address the pressing issues of climate change and create new water plans to ensure safe drinking water and efficient distribution of water to industry, agriculture, and the general public. While each aspect of the country’s water systems needs attention, the Administration in 2021 can make an immediate impact on the quality of life of its citizens and foster social equity through improving the public’s access to clean drinking water and sanitation systems. Clean water across every community is essential to improving Americans’ health, for achieving social equity, and for developing the economy. While state and local governments enact the majority of policy concerning water systems, the federal government establishes a minimum policy and regulatory framework that the states are free to exceed. Leadership from the federal level is necessary to ensure the standards for clean water systems are equally and uniformly applied. Leadership from the federal level can also accelerate the adoption of new technologies and tools that can achieve greater public health and environmental protection at less cost.

As America plans its economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has the opportunity to address stubborn challenges that have continued to harm U.S. economic growth including an outdated workforce system, deteriorating infrastructure, and climate change. These issues are multi-faceted and cut across several sectors of the economy. A focused strategy to improve the infrastructure supporting America’s water systems and especially the water supply and treatment systems could lay the foundation for success in each of these areas.

Before going to work or school, each American must first be assured that the water for themselves and for their household is safe to drink. Teachers, staff, and children going back to school amidst a pandemic must have safe water to drink and wash their hands. We assume that in America, a first-world country, everyone has access to safe and clean water. Unfortunately, deteriorating water supply and treatment infrastructure and a lack of safe and sustainable water is not an outdated issue. While the Flint water fiasco brought home to Americans how at risk their water system can be, it is not an isolated instance. Its latest mark came in August 2020 as schools around the country reopened only to find bacteria causing Legionnaire’s disease in their water. Leading into the pandemic, the U.S. Water Alliance and the DigDeep Water organization found in 2019 that at least 2,000,000 Americans do not have access to safe sanitation and clean drinking water. If we hope to ensure recovery from this pandemic, it is imperative that every resident has access to clean drinking and sanitation water, and yet that is still not the case. At the international level, the United Nations has made Clean Water and Sanitation one of its primary Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDG 6 is a topic of international focus, and the United States is not in any way the head of the pack in terms of meeting the goals.

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