Editor’s Comments: The Burden of Privilege

Sept. 1, 2010

By Elizabeth Cutright

In a recent blog—”Secret Handshake,”—I pondered the meaning of “membership” and the responsibilities that come with being part of a select group—in this case, the water efficiency profession. Members of “team water efficiency” know that when it comes to total water resource management, the key word is “connection.” Not just the connection between source and delivery, or the ongoing battle against connection leaks, but the interconnectedness of our water resources and the responsibilities we shoulder when it comes to finding ways to meet demand without adversely affecting supply.

The role of water purveyor comes in many different guises: public utility manager, water district employee, private conservation professional, engineer, consultant, environmentalist…. The list is long and varied, but we all share a similar goal: finding the best way to manage and protect resources while delivering the best water possible by the most efficient means available. The water purveyor is the “ultimate multi-tasker” who oversees projects and solves problems while making sure that the community can depend upon clean and reliable water. In other words, the work of the water purveyor involves integrated water resources management.

But we are not alone, and our actions have consequences. When it comes to water, the decisions made by one individual, one city, or one water district can significantly impact neighboring communities. Additionally, one success can create a domino effect, spurring similar changes and positively impacting water resource management across a wide spectrum of locales and industries. But the key to promulgating success involves capitalizing on our connections. As AWWA President Craig R. Woolard, PhD, P.E., points out in the ACE conference program, “idea sharing” can lead to “safe water, better service, and a more secure tomorrow.” In other words, the best water resource management plan is the one that you share.

Sharing information is the driving force behind the National Water Research and Development Initiative Act. The bill—which has been passed by the House of Representative but is still awaiting Senate ratification—legislates total water management by mandating the coordination of national research and development efforts to “provide a clear path forward to ensure adequate water supplies for generations to come.”

The author of the bill, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), describes the Act as the “coordination of federal agency activities” that would foster “a stronger partnership with state, local, and tribal governments [that] will ensure that federal programs are focused on areas of greatest concern, and that our efforts are complementary and effective.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  • The creation of a National Water Initiative Coordination Office for technical and administrative support, as well as public “point of contact”
  • The requirement that the president establish or designate an interagency committee that will include representation from all federal agencies dealing with water so that a National Water Research and Development Initiative can be implemented in order to improve federal activities on water, including research, development, demonstration, data collection and dissemination, education, and technology transfer
  • The interagency committee would be responsible for the implementation of a national water census, the development of new water technologies and techniques, the development of tools to facilitate water resource conflicts, the development of information technology systems to enhance water quality and supply, the improvement of hydrologic prediction models, an enhanced understanding related to ecosystem services, and an analyses of the energy-water nexus.

Water resource management and water efficiency go hand in hand. And whether it involves federal legislation or individual action, the best and most effective way to promote efficient water resource management involves capitalizing on the achievements of our colleagues while sharing our own experiences. Because, to paraphrase those old American Express commercials, membership has its privileges…and its responsibilities.

Elizabeth Cutright is a previous editor of Water Efficiency.

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