March 26, 2021
March 26, 2021
Welcome to Thoughts from Our Fellows, a collection of recent activity regarding the Academy's Grand Challenge of each Month. In March, the Academy focused on Creating Modern Water Systems for Safe and Sustainable Use. Below you will find:
In November of 2020, the Academy published Enhancing Water Delivery and Waste Water Systems in the United States as a part of its Election 2020 Project. The paper's Working Group recommended the following actions:
In addition to our Election 2020 papers, which focused on recommended actions for the first year of a new administration, the Academy also asked its Fellows for advice for the first four years of the Biden Administration.
Doug Criscitello: A clear need exists to increase investment in the nation’s water infrastructure and to identify new ways to pay for such investments to ensure safe and sustainable water systems. With traditional sources of public sector funding strained (e.g., growing municipal debt loads, already-committed general revenues), the U.S. government is in a position to help state and local governments meet their current and future capital needs by turning to the use of innovative finance tools including credit programs, infrastructure banks, public-private partnerships (P3s), and tax credits.
Government credit programs have been used increasingly in recent years to stretch public investment dollars. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan program, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds great promise for helping the nation modernize its water systems. In addition, other financing innovations beyond government credit programs should also be explored. Infrastructure banks exist in a number of states, with revenues used to capitalize such banks coming from a variety of sources including appropriations, borrowing, and dedicated revenue streams. P3s continue to take hold in the U.S. as a way to leverage both public and private resources to meet infrastructure needs. Tax credits issued to investors are another way to stimulate private investment in public infrastructure.
The new Administration should take steps to advance an understanding of innovations in an increasingly sophisticated financial marketplace, increase funding for such purposes, and ensure effective management and delivery of such financing.
Felicia Marcus: The Biden Administration has a golden opportunity to transform the nation's water systems, including natural systems, to address current unmet needs and to prepare to face the increasing challenges that climate change will bring. To pick just a few opportunities:
Stan Meiburg: "Challenges" is the right word because we face many of them. Water is necessary for all life. As humans we rely on water for so many functions: we drink it, grow our food with it, and use it for sanitation and health, manufacturing, power generation, and transportation. Our greatest need is to recognize that water is a system, one which is struggling under the weight of our demands on it.
Specific initiatives could include:
Barry Rabe: It will be important for the Biden Administration to study carefully recent failures in water policy, notably the ongoing Flint water crisis and also related local cases in the nation which tend to cluster in either industrialized urban or remote rural areas. At the same time, there is growing evidence that a number of American communities have devised creative strategies to develop long-term plans for funding and implementing essential upgrades of drinking water to address lead and related contaminant concerns. These are not very well known or intensively studied and yet may offer models and insights that could lead to a more robust federal, state and local partnership in water governance moving forward. Examples of such cases include Lansing, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin.
Randy Lyon: The scale of water supply issues makes them a national public administration challenge. However, they are not primarily a federal issue, and it is therefore worthwhile to identify the federal role in a strategic manner. The following are areas where federal action can lead and promote constructive actions by states, localities, water districts, and private parties.
WaterWorld: Report Card Reveals Infrastructure Picture for Water, Wastewater
In its latest quadrennial assessment, the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives infrastructure across the U.S. an overall ‘C-’ grade. Celine Hyer, P.E., member of ASCE's Committee on America’s Infrastructure and the Senior Vice President and Water Conveyance Leader for Arcadis discusses the grades for water (C-), wastewater (D+) and stormwater (D) infrastructure.
Washington Post: It's World Water Day. Here's Why Democracies Do Better at Delivering Water Equally to All, by Sijeong Lim and Aseem Prakash
March 22 is World Water Day — an annual call to action to help the millions of people who lack access to safe water sources. Water availability is an important global policy objective, listed as U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 6: “ensure access to water and sanitation for all” by 2030.
Pew: New Plan Recommends Nature-Based Solutions to Manage Stormwater Flooding in North Carolina, by Yaron Miller and Kristiane Huber
North Carolina, like many states, has seen an increase in heavy rainfall events. In fact, 2020 was the state’s second-wettest year on record, with more intense and frequent rainstorms that inundated neighborhoods, damaged infrastructure, and disrupted local economies across the Tar Heel State. Now the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) has released a blueprint for how state and community leaders can better manage stormwater flooding using nature-based solutions. “The Action Plan for Nature-Based Stormwater Strategies,” developed with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, outlines the policy change, educational resources, community technical assistance, and continued research needed for state and local leaders to maximize the benefits of nature-based solutions.
Wall Street Journal: Record Drought Strains the Southwest, by Jim Carlton
For the first time ever, rancher Jimmie Hughes saw all 15 of the ponds he keeps for his cattle dry up at the same time this year. Now, he and his co-workers are forced to haul tanks of water two hours over dusty, mountain roads to water their 300 cows. “It’s just a daily grind, we’re not making any money,” the 50-year-old Mr. Hughes said one day late last month, amid another day of unwavering sun in a winter that has seen very little rain here in Southern Utah.
WaterWorld: Investing in a Better Tomorrow, by David Choate
As the water industry takes on new challenges associated with emerging contaminants, climate variability, water scarcity and changing customer needs (just to name a few), more pressure is being applied to our nation’s rapidly aging and underfunded water and wastewater infrastructure. A century ago, with no modern regulatory standards in place, the United States’ water infrastructure system was built primarily to serve city centers and rapidly growing industrial customer demands.