An Open Letter To Water Professionals Around The U.S. Elections
2020 has turned out to be quite the year, and that is especially true in Washington, D.C. With an upcoming election that may not be resolved for weeks after polls close, things are only going to get more dramatic before it’s all over.
I will leave it to the political pundits on cable news to dissect whether so-and-so winning or losing is “good” or “bad” for America. Regardless of party makeup of the House, Senate, and White House, it is more important than ever that the water sector engage with Washington.
Federal investment in the water sector has fallen by nearly 80 percent over the last 40 years, leaving the burden for maintaining and modernizing our nation’s water infrastructure on state and local governments, many of whom are already cash-strapped. Clean, safe, resilient, and affordable water is essential to every American and important to the commercial and industrial sectors as well. It is imperative that investments in our nation’s water infrastructure be at the forefront of every elected official’s mind as we go into 2021.
The good news is that water is an incredibly bipartisan issue. In my many years working on Capitol Hill, the bills that I worked on to increase federal funding for water infrastructure all passed the Senate with at least 97 Senators supporting, most of them passing unanimously. If you have watched any cable news recently you might be surprised by this — the only bills that get that much support are those naming a post office. Both President Trump and Vice President Biden have called for massive investment into our nation’s water infrastructure, as well as have many candidates down the ballot and in all regions of the country.
There is a real possibility of getting an increase in funding and attention to the sector in 2021, no matter who wins. However, Washington doesn’t know what you want if you don’t tell them. And with the amount of people scrambling to get a piece of the multi-trillion dollar Covid-response packages, the water sector needs to shout to raise their voices above the din. What does that mean? Each and every one of you calling or writing your Members of Congress and letting them know what the sector needs.
How can you do this? Go to your Members’ and Senators’ websites and submit comments. This does not have to be a long, well-researched treatise! One to two paragraphs is ideal; any longer and the message can get muddled.
Don’t want to write? Make a phone call instead! The question I get most often when I suggest this is if the conversation is going to be political or contentious — as if everyone in Washington is just like the talking heads you see on FOX or MSNBC. I assure you, calling your Member of Congress is nothing of the sort; most likely you will leave a message, which will then be tallied and relayed to a policy advisor and then the Member themselves. If someone answers the phone, they will be a young, polite, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed staffer whose sole job is to make note of your opinion. No name-calling, I promise.
Don’t know who your Members of Congress are? I would not admit this publicly, but I would rectify this immediately. If I were you, I would go to https://www.house.gov/ and enter my zip code in the upper-right corner. You can do the same at https://www.senate.gov/ by clicking on “Find Your Senators” in the upper-left corner. This can be our little secret.
What to ask for? Many of the trade associations that you, your company, or utility are members of recently sent a letter to Congress asking for specific things to help the sector address the Covid-19 crisis. Perusing this letter for issues that will help address challenges in your community is a good place to start. One idea that is rapidly gaining traction is a $1.5 billion fund to support low-income families in paying their water bills throughout the pandemic and economic downturn. This provision has now passed the House of Representatives three times, avoiding the cuts in negotiations over the past seven months that have beset other industries. We will need to keep up the pressure on the Senate to agree to the provision and ensure it makes its way to the President’s desk for his signature.
If it is that easy, does it even make a difference? Yes, of course! Democracy relies on participation. We cannot ignore what happens in Washington and hope that everything will turn out alright. I know firsthand that when the water sector shows up in Washington, we can accomplish great things. Regardless of who has won or lost this election year, it is imperative that your voice be heard.
Hoping that you, your families, and your colleagues are well at this difficult time.
Onward and Upward,
Mae Stevens is the Chair of the Water Practice at Signal Group, the nation’s only fully-integrated public affairs firm dedicated to a safe and equitable clean water future. Additionally, Mae is the Founder and CEO of Safe Water Voters, the first and only bipartisan grassroots political action committee dedicated to electing water infrastructure champions to Congress.