Editor’s note: The first following response to the February Viewpoint came to WE&T through internal WEF committee communications rather than being submitted directly as a Letter to the Editor. However, once received this piece received the same treatment as the other Letters to the Editor that follow it in this section.
WEF continues to adapt and grow
During my many years as an active volunteer within the Water Environment Federation (WEF), I have always been impressed by WEF’s ability to reach deep into its membership of 33,000 water professionals to present experts before Congress and on federal agency policy workgroups. I personally have testified before Congress on multiple occasions, and know that the WEF staff maintains a constructive and professional relationship with leaders in Congress and federal agencies, and utilizes the expertise of the WEF membership to increase the knowledge and understanding by policymakers about the priorities for the water sector.
I warmly welcome Joe Lagnese’s input regarding WEF’s focus and priorities [in the Viewpoint column, “The changing role of the Water Environment Federation” in the February 2017 issue of WE&T], but would like to offer some additional thoughts based on my personal recent experience at WEF.
I must respectfully differ with Lagnese’s argument that WEF is “timid and absent” in regards to some of the nation’s most pressing policy concerns. From including in the last Highway Bill new criteria for highway projects that require better stormwater management during the design phase to receive federal funding to special events like the Congressional Water Expo, which is a mini-version of the WEFTEC Expo, that is willing and able to tackle complicated challenges. Another former WEF President, Paul Freedman, currently serves as co-chair of the Water Resources Adaptation to Climate Change Workgroup of the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI), which is a council of 35 federal, state/regional, industry, and professional organizations. ACWI advises federal agencies on where to focus federal resources. I am also a member of ACWI.
Another good example of WEF’s stature in driving policy and priorities at the federal government level is the 2016 report on the economic, job creation, and tax revenue generating benefits of increased federal funding of the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan (SRF) funds. The U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee was about to make a strong push in 2016 to reauthorize and significantly increase funding for the SRF programs, and the committee called upon WEF to produce a report that provided defensible data on the benefits of the SRF programs to be included in the legislation. WEF was an early — and ceaseless — champion of the Clean Water SRF, backing the creation of it in the mid-1980s as an innovative approach to providing low-cost financing for water infrastructure investments.
WEF and the 2016 report were specifically cited in the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act of 2016. The report also ultimately led to language in the enacted Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 that included a Sense of Congress to robustly fund the SRF programs; and it will help drive increased SRF funding over the coming years.
As a founding member and former Chairman of the Confluence Water Technology Innovation Cluster in the greater Cincinnati region, the water sector’s need to innovate is of great interest to me. Mr. Lagnese expressed concern about WEF’s stated goal to “decrease barriers to innovation in the U.S./Canadian regulatory framework” as part of WEF’s Critical Objective to promote innovative technologies and approaches in the water sector. There is a strong imperative to innovate in the water sector to maintain our infrastructure as well as to upgrade and adjust to dynamic population shifts, a changing climate, regulatory compliance, and aging infrastructure — all of this in an environment where closing the financial gap is an increasing challenge for our water managers. WEF recognizes that this innovation must occur in a highly-regulated sector and strives to help innovate within these important regulatory frameworks. Regulations often are cited as barriers to innovation, and rather than advocate to lessen regulations to drive innovation, WEF is working with our partners to find ways to innovate within the Clean Water Act, implementing regulations and technical support information currently in effect in the U.S. and Canada.
To drive innovation in the water sector, WEF is working closely with the Water Environment and Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) on the Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology (LIFT) and is leading LIFT efforts related to “people and policy,” a crucial element of any successful innovation program. WEF calls this “creating the space” — that is, creating the space to innovate by enabling utilities to work with government regulators within the existing regulatory framework.
WEF is working with a broad stakeholder group to identify the major influences, positive or negative, to innovation in the water sector. WEF also is seeking to identify and implement measures to manage or share risk. WEF also is exploring challenges in some states with permitting new technologies. These challenges lead to limited adoption of innovative technologies and approaches. The technology areas of focus are digestion enhancement, energy from wastewater, biosolids to energy, water capture and reuse, and nutrients optimization.
Lagnese follows his comments on innovation with a desire that WEF provide national leadership on legislative direction and financial support. WEF does provide this leadership. In addition to its work with the Clean Water SRFs I mentioned above, WEF was a leading proponent in 2014 for the creation of an innovative new infrastructure financing program named the Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (WIFIA). This program has the potential to be a huge source of low-interest loans to supplement the overburdened SRF programs.
Our nation has a water infrastructure needs gap of $1 trillion over the next 20 years, and all efforts are necessary to identify and develop new funding resources. Innovative technology and water management plays a critical part in this infrastructure needs challenge. The SRFs, WIFIA, and other federal programs have been modernized to encourage the adoption of new technologies as part of infrastructure investments.
Federal financial assistance for stormwater infrastructure also is appropriately cited by Lagnese in his letter. The financial burden for stormwater managers is acute and one of the key focus areas for WEF’s stormwater program. In 2015, WEF launched the Stormwater Institute, a center for excellence and innovation focused on best-in-class solutions to urban runoff and wet weather issues.
The institute’s launch coincided with the release of Rainfall to Results: The Future of Stormwater. This report details the challenges and opportunities of sustainable stormwater management and includes six objectives for the sector, including “closing the funding gap.”
There is no silver bullet for stormwater financing and the report details several approaches to help stormwater managers. However, Action 6.2 calls for the identification of funding sources and articulation of how stormwater needs can work with available sources. This includes federal and state programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Transportation, and Interior, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, EPA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Additionally, stormwater managers are encouraged to leverage SRF funds for stormwater or green infrastructure investments.
Finally, Lagnese properly notes the role of “good science” and that WEF “should lead the way.” WEF, through its committees of municipal engineers, operators, technical experts, scientists, and academics, have again and again led the way and provided invaluable input to federal agencies.
Not only have volunteers and staff participated in federal advisory efforts as mentioned above, but they also have provided comments on important regulatory and policy efforts. From the Clean Water Rule, where WEF member associations and committees provided specific clarification, to the Water Quality Standards Regulatory Clarifications Rule and the Methods Update Rule, where WEF committees provided specific regulatory and technical recommendations to federal agencies, WEF has led and cooperated with other organizations to continue to provide “good science” and technical input, without consideration of partisan politics.
Indeed, WEF has evolved and will continue to evolve, and as I have said above, I welcome Lagnese’s thoughts. Personally, as a young professional in the early 1980s I looked up to Lagnese as a member of the cadre of environmental engineer icons. I also have lived through the age of the implementation of the Clean Water Act, the movement to watershed protection, integrated water management, emergence of stormwater as a focus, the global water crisis, rise of algae/hypoxia, and now “big data,” utility of the future, and the next generation of water innovation.
Indeed, times have changed — in the water world hugely. Issues are much different. Water quality problems are second and third order (e.g., moving from capturing/treating wastewater to combined sewer overflow/sanitary sewer overflow abatement and nutrients). Politics are different (polarization, deficits, etc.). The globe is different, technologies are different. Accordingly, WEF has changed, as well as it should. It has periodically examined itself and reinvented — a good thing, and I hope it will continue to do so!
Alan H. Vicory Jr., PE, BCEE,
Principal, Stantec Inc. (Cincinnati)
Sharing another perspective on WEF’s mission and future
Like former WEF president Joe Lagnese [who authored the Viewpoint column, “The changing role of the Water Environment Federation” in the February 2017 issue of WE&T], I too find WEF frustratingly cautious and timid. And, welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of the organization. Here’s hoping that membership engages in a spirited debate.
As a Life Member, I believe the organization has diminished itself by losing its focus: the design, operation, maintenance, permitting, and funding of sewage collection, treatment and disposal facilities. I believe that this loss of focus is the reason that TPO, not WE&T, has become the magazine of interest to wastewater operators.
I do not believe it to be WEF’s role to advocate for Global Warming, Endangered Species, or Energy Net Neutrality. (This, from someone who, at the time of Joe Lagnese’s WEF presidency, had an Ecology flag painted on the trunk of his car.) I would prefer to see our organization defer to others on these environmental causes and return to our roots.
I find WEF — likely because of the generous participation of so many consulting engineers throughout the years — to be skewed toward design and construction at the expense of operation and maintenance; with an unhealthy emphasis on funding.
I wish that there was greater participation by utility members and a far greater focus on training and education for operators, administrators, and regulators.
I wonder. Is it just Mr. Lagnese and me? Or are other WEF’s members dissatisfied with their organization? Do members see room for improvement? Should WEF develop a broader or narrower mission? Interesting questions. I look forward to learning the answers.
Thank you for publishing the thoughtful Viewpoint article.
Grant Weaver, PE and wastewater operator
President, The Water Planet Company (New London, Conn.)
If you don’t like it, do something about it
I am one of millions watching these “First hundred days of office” and have decided that if I don’t like the direction of things, then I will do something about it. The Women’s Marches on Jan. 21, 2017, and the upcoming March for Science on April 22, 2017, are examples of what some are doing.
We each need to decide what we are motivated to do and then do it. In the February 2017 issue of WE&T, Joe Lagnese authored a Viewpoint column that was essentially a “Call to Action,” where he urged WEF to act more prominently and unequivocally for the protection of the water environment. I applaud Mr. Lagnese for his convictions and for speaking out. We need more people speaking out and doing something about it.
I would, however, like to redirect his challenge and focus it toward all of us: the 33,000 members of WEF.
WEF effectuates change through its members. We are WEF, and we are who will make a difference. WEF provides education in order to “further a shared goal of improving water quality around the world.” WEF will not improve water quality; WEF will provide us the tools and resources so that we can improve water quality.
WEF empowers us and helps make things easier for us to get involved. This extends from things like the Washington Fly-In and letter templates to mail our representatives to educational opportunities such as the Water Leadership Institute and to a host of other opportunities to take an active role. It even includes motivational campaigns like “Water’s Worth It.”
WEF works with partner organizations such as the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (Alexandria, Va.), which invests millions of dollars a year in research to better the water environment; the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), which provides legislative, regulatory, and legal advocacy; and others to improve its reach.
We, however, are “the boots on the ground.” We are the collective chorus that the legislators will hear. We are the ones that will decide to do something in the first place or to go that step beyond and do more.
We cannot wait for Washington to implement new legislation/regulations or provide additional money. The construction grants program is gone and will not come back. Hopefully, Washington will realize that it is good business to invest in research and to protect the environment. Washington has the ability to create large-scale change, which is often necessary because air and water bodies span city, state, and country boundaries. Washington can learn from us — when we make positive steps forward and improve the economy by doing so.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Rosa Parks’ simple decision not to move from her seat galvanized the civil rights movement.
We are reaching a tipping point. It is imperative for each of us to assure that it tips in the right direction.
Todd Danielson, P.E., BCEE
Chief Utilities Executive, Avon Lake Regional Water (Avon Lake, Ohio)