By Evan Karsberg
Each year in Washington, D.C. there is a week-long conference dedicated to what is possibly our single most important resource: water. This year’s National Water Policy Fly-In, held in April, had a particularly powerful impact because we returned to an in-person gathering for the first time since 2019. Every speaker remarked on how wonderful it was to have a national group of water professionals coming together in person to discuss policy and issues, and also advocate for the industry.
The conference provided us with the opportunity to thank our legislators face to face for their hard work on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure and Investment and Jobs Act), passed back in November 2021. As a result of their efforts, the water industry has not only managed to secure once-in-a-lifetime funding for sorely needed upgrades to our aging water resource recovery facilities, but is now also listed alongside the other headliners of infrastructure. For the first time in history, instead of hearing about the big three of infrastructure, there has been a fourth component added to our national infrastructure lexicon. The ring of “roadways, bridges, railways and water” is progress for the industry and everyone who relies on it.
Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Shelley Capito of West Virginia, sitting chairs of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, emphasized how the hard work of outreach and lobbying over the past 20 years was crucial in helping the legislature understand the critical importance of funding the “water bucket” items in the infrastructure bill. Both senators highlighted the political diversity of their committee, spanning from the staunchly conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma to the outspokenly liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Despite the notoriously disparate viewpoints of the legislative committee, the floor vote was 89-2 in support of $50 billion for water infrastructure.
There was more good news besides just the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Each representative who spoke was hopeful about the WIPPES legislation moving forward, which would require clear ‘do not flush’ labeling in multiple locations on all non-flushable wipe products. Senator Jeanne Shaheen is one of the sponsors on the bill, showing leadership from New Hampshire. The legislature has taken an aggressive stance against the pushback from the woven industry and other global manufactures
Sadly, it cannot all be good news. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a looming issue only growing in severity. Both Congress and the EPA have pledged action to address the problem, and continue to move forward; though so far answers have been difficult to come by and even harder to verify. This is undoubtedly where the next generation of water workers take up the mantle and redouble their efforts to reach out and educate lawmakers, in the hopes of steering them toward a science-based solution instead of reactionary legislation.
A final point about the future of the water industry. It is full of the most amazing and passionate people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. This April, young professionals from all over the country flew in for the conference to learn how to advocate for our nation’s clean water in all its forms. After the policy events, Chesepeake Water Environment Association’s (CWEA) Young Professionals committee held a networking session, where those of us new to the industry joined together and continued the work of planning how to tackle the vast array of challenges the future brings.
Evan Karsberg is an environmental analyst in NEIWPCC’s Wastewater and Onsite Systems Division.