EPA's Jackson Charts The Course For Cleaner Water
The head of the U.S. EPA, Lisa Jackson, spoke at North America’s premier water quality event, recounting past successes, identifying current challenges, and charting the path forward for an industry at the crossroads.
Calling it a homecoming, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, a native of New Orleans, welcomed a packed house of water and wastewater professionals to the Crescent City for the 85th Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) last week.
As the keynote speaker for the Water Leaders Summit, a program that included a panel of industry experts sharing their thoughts on the future of water, Jackson noted the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and its successful track record since its introduction on October 18, 1972. She also talked about the remaining and mounting challenges for the water industry, with key observations regarding the path forward.
Before the days of the Clean Water Act, Jackson recalled that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland literally caught fire, Lake Erie was declared dead, and “you could smell the Potomac River on a hot day” in Washington, D.C. These bodies of water, and countless others, are now thriving thanks in large part to the regulations set forth by the Clean Water Act. “It’s only when you don’t have access to water that you suddenly realize just how irreplaceable that resource is, and how much the ecosystem is at the heart of community and economy,” Jackson said.
The work is not complete, however, as even today 8% of Americans do not have access to water that meets all federal standards. An old and crumbling infrastructure has much to do with the failure to reach 100%, and was identified by Jackson as the prevailing issue for municipalities in North America. Other challenges mentioned were the financing of municipal projects, dealing with the repercussions of climate change such as drought and extreme weather, and protecting water from emerging contaminants derived from pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
Jackson stressed that the EPA doesn’t want to be a hindrance to success, as it is sometimes perceived, but a facilitator. “If you’re not successful, we’re not successful” she said, adding that “the way forward must be rooted in innovation and new technology.”
Success also hinges on growing the market. Noting that the water sector constitutes 37% of the U.S. environmental sector’s exports, Jackson said she was encouraged that the group’s innovative spirit could marshal the international market for clean water — “because that’s what we have to bet on moving forward.”
She added that, although it is a private sector initiative, the EPA is doing its part to promote American ingenuity abroad through the launch of the U.S. Environmental Technologies Export Initiative — announced at WEFTEC by Francisco J. Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, U.S. Department of Commerce. In particular, Jackson cited the Water Technology Innovation Cluster in Cincinnati as a springboard to environmental technologies that can be utilized the world over. Scientists there are focused on international issues such as the rising demand for water, the water-energy nexus, the development of green infrastructure, and the need for water reuse.
“We must become evangelists for water reuse,” Jackson implored the audience, referring them to the 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse recently issued by the EPA. She also touted the EPA’s WaterSense program for strides made in water efficiency, and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program for placing special emphasis on water topics.
In closing, Jackson reiterated the we’re-all-in-this-together message, at the same time charting a course of action for the future: “The best path forward is partnership among all levels — the private sector, government, nonprofits, and the public. It’s because of partnership that we’ve made progress over the past 40 years, and we will not endure without partnership and support.”