4 takeaways from the U.S. employment plan’s water utility

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Water utility managers and their community partners discussed the US employment plan with Michael Regan, director of the EPA, at a panel discussion

US EPA Director Michael Regan hosted a roundtable with utilities and their community partners across the country to discuss the water and wastewater elements of the U.S. Jobs Plan on 5 April.

This American Jobs Plan is a $ 2 trillion proposal by President Joe Biden, which includes $ 111 billion in funding for water and sanitation programs in the United States. unanimous support from industry associations such as the Water Environment Federation, the American Water Works Association, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.

In his remarks to the roundtable, Regan said funding for water and sewer systems is long overdue and the federal partnership is vital.

“Local leaders across the country are grappling with the challenge of doing more with less while maintaining vital water services. They are tirelessly working on new solutions to meet the water needs of their communities, ”said Regan. “Today’s discussion highlighted that local leaders need a stronger federal partner in water infrastructure. The U.S. Jobs Plan would do just that while providing the resources communities desperately need to provide essential water service for all.

The roundtable included input from 13 municipal and utility leaders from across the country and six community partners. The water and wastewater professionals each had a moment to share their thoughts and also passed on their time to their community partners to share their thoughts and vision for the proposed funding. Below are four takeaways from the roundtable.

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1. Fair and affordable practices

The second and third most common terms used by utility leaders during the roundtable were fairness and affordability. Water equity and water affordability have been terms of great importance to the one water movement championed by the US Water Alliance, whose former CEO is now Acting Deputy Administrator of EPA Radhika Fox. It was clear from the roundtable that his influence had an impact on the language and messages discussed by public service managers and their partners.

Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said communicating with low-income communities and communities of color is an important aspect of his current mission. This allows Denver Water to gain confidence by making and keeping its promises.

“We cannot be successful without the community,” he said.

Co-executive director of Milwaukee Water Commons Brenda Coley said sources of funding in the U.S. jobs plan should require elements of diversity.

“Investments in water infrastructure should compel beneficiaries to monitor and report diversity,” she said, adding that such requirements would ensure equity in the workforce in addition to equitable outcomes for workers. finished projects.

On a related note, Tony Parrott, executive director of the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District, also stressed that funding for infrastructure in the water sector must be designed with equity in mind.

“As we roll out the president’s plan, we really have to do it with equity in mind,” Parrot said. “We need to make sure it supports the inclusion of minority women-owned businesses.”

Community partner Sadiqa Reynolds, President and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, shared the sentiment of those on the call. She said that while it is important to ensure equitable results, equity must also be a priority when hiring, contracting, tendering and executing the project.

2. Hiring and job creation

One of the most critical challenges facing the industry as a whole is the shortage of skilled workers. Commercial work in all industries has been difficult to find as American society charges its young people to attend college and attend higher education institutions. But for water and sewer systems, there are many opportunities for those who would prefer not to take this route. Comments from panelists highlighted how the U.S. Jobs Plan could be a way to accelerate the recruitment of the next generation of workers.

Mami Hara, chief executive and CEO of Seattle Public Utilities, said 34% of her job pool is expected to retire in the next few years. Money like that proposed in the infrastructure bill, she said, is “essential and essential” for public awareness and education programs to fill these inevitable vacancies.

Lochhead shared a similar experience. In 2020, Denver Water’s main service line replacement program replaced 5,200 lines. Due to the volume of work, he noted that this had also resulted in 300 job opportunities.

Corey Braxton, small community superintendent for the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, said the US Jobs Plan money would be crucial for hiring and education programs. He noted that HRSDC has an apprenticeship program and that the funding allocated in the infrastructure plan would ensure the longevity of this program while meeting fair hiring goals.

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3. Sustainable and long-term financing

One of the priorities of the comments raised by utility leaders and their partners was that funding must be sustainable over the long term. While an injection like the one in the US Jobs Plan is important for water and wastewater workers, it is also vital to ensure that programs are funded well into the future.

Cathy Bailey is the Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Water Works. She noted that infrastructure funding required creative solutions for her and her city. One of those options, she said, was to apply cell tower revenues to community infrastructure improvements.

“This funding would be a game changer, certainly for Cincinnati,” Bailey said.

Ted Henifin, general manager of Hampton Roads Sanitation District, also played on this point. He said the industry must move away from reliance on grants and loans, as long-term, sustainable investments will produce the best results for all. Subsidies have their place and should be part of the plan, but he noted that excessive reliance on them creates a framework for competition rather than solidarity.

4. Resilience and climate change

“Climate change is real, and so are the challenges of providing a population with resilient infrastructure,” said Yvonne Forrest, director of Houston Public Works.

Forrest described the hardships Houston has faced due to extreme weather events over the past five years. Hurricane Harvey was the wettest cyclone on record for the continental United States and communities are still recovering from the effects more than three years later. And just earlier this year, Houston also suffered havoc at the hands of Winter storm Uri, which has stressed the power grid beyond its breaking point and led millions of Texas to go without water for weeks.

Kristen Schlemmer, Legal Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, represented the Environmental, Equity and Resilience Coalition (CEER) Houston on call. She said storms like the ones Houston has experienced affect low-income communities and families of color the most. This poses enormous obstacles to their personal, financial and family recovery from the storms, including access to clean water and functioning sewage systems.

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Final remarks

After nearly 50 minutes of conversation with leaders in the water industry, Regan made some closing remarks before answering questions.

“You’ve been in this business for a long time,” Regan said. “It was your voices and your advocacy that led to this vision of the US Jobs Plan.”

He also noted that with Fox at the helm, he has high expectations that he is sure she will meet. She is, he said, “the perfect person for this job right now.”

Responding to questions from the media, Politico’s Annie Snider asked how the infrastructure plan will work with regulatory initiatives, including that of the Revision of the lead and copper rule. Regan said the regulatory framework on the table worked hand in hand with the funding targets of the US Jobs Plan. With increased regulation expected of the LCRR, increased funding is vital. In this way, he said that the two pieces complement each other.

Hannah Northey, Politico E&E reporter, asked about the impact of grants versus loans in the plan. Fox said feedback is the guiding force behind leads.

“We are really looking forward to hearing from water utilities and community leaders talk about the challenges and if they are not able enough to access our grant and loan programs,” she said.

WWD Editor-in-Chief Bob Crossen asked about Waste, storm water and clean water, as much of the plan’s attention is focused on removing lead and replacing lead service lines.

“There is $ 56 billion on offer under the water component of the US Jobs Plan and a good chunk of that would go to Clean Water SRF,” Fox said.

The final words of EPA director Regan provided further encouragement on the future of water and wastewater infrastructure in the United States.

“It’s been too long since you’ve had your day in the sun,” Regan said.



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