THE U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS: MOVING INFRASTRUCTURE PROGRESS FORWARD

It happens with every new presidential administration in modern times, the promise to “do more about the nation’s infrastructure problems.” But, what happens after these words are spoken? Who becomes the voice of the people and makes sure that these promises are kept? The United States Conference of Mayors plays a major role in not just ensuring that administrations “make good” on the promises, but in helping to shape infrastructure plans and make the most efficient, effective use of federal funding. 

So who exactly are the U.S. Conference of Mayors? They define themselves as, “the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.” Currently there are 1,393 of these cities in the U.S., and each one is represented in “The Conference” by its mayor. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recognizes that the country’s economic health, physical health and leaders depend on addressing infrastructure issues immediately and strategically.

This is why at The Conference’s 85th annual meeting this June infrastructure will occupy notable space on the four-day agenda. In preparation for this meeting, the CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, prepared an eye-opening report that offers 40+ pages of case studies that, together, demonstrate how city governments are the fuel for achieving infrastructure goals better and faster than through state and/or federal programs.

The report—titled “On Task, On Time, On Budget: How Mayors Build, Maintain and Renew America’s Infrastructure”—looks at projects ranging from water, wastewater and flood control, to transportation and energy. And in my opinion this report makes a great argument for expanding partnerships between private utilities and public municipalities to not only update infrastructure itself, but also spur economic growth and job creation as well. 

There are over 50,000 community drinking water systems in the U.S., all facing numerous challenges, from access to capital, to basic operational efficiencies. The needs of every community are unique, which is why when American Water works with municipal partners to create solutions, it dedicated to local involvement, improving the quality and reliability of customer service and community water or wastewater systems, updating pipes and treatment plants to handle new growth, and being a good neighbor in the areas we serve.  

The U.S. Conference of Mayors report illustrates the many different options that can be used by cities to leverage:

Lastly, it’s important to look at the last two words of this report’s title, America’s Infrastructure. What makes the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ infrastructure mission so exciting is the fact cities are working together to provided building blocks for a better America. Together, they operate with the knowledge that one city’s infrastructure achievement is a valued piece completing the puzzle. And, therefore, all the mayors work together to influence policy and changes that can benefit everyone… and that keep the promise on track to driving nationwide infrastructure progress.

 

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ONE WATER SUMMIT: HARNESSING THE POWER OF SHARING TO CREATE A SUSTAINABLE WATER FUTURE FOR ALL

Sharing. It’s one of the earliest lessons we’re taught in life and as we grow up, we learn the powers and the benefits it brings. Sharing makes us feel good about ourselves and helps others. It can result in us having experiences we otherwise might not have had. It brings variety to and enhances our lives. This is why sharing is also the foundation of the One Water movement and the upcoming 2017 One Water Summit (June 27-29).  

Perusing the 2017 Summit list of 115+ speakers—which includes American Water’s President and CEO, Susan Story and Executive Vice President and CFO, Linda Sullivan—One Water seeks to mobilize the country in embracing the concept of one shared water resource for all. That is, One Water is driving a view in which everyone realizes the water they use ultimately comes from a single shared source.  

One Water is also working to mobilize the nation — from the highest government officials to water companies and corporations to individuals — to share one responsibility of water sustainability now and for the future.  

For example, If you live in Ohio and John Doe in Texas over-waters his 1,000 acres of crops, you won’t notice an immediate impact, but the planet will. And if the negative path of water waste continues, you and your grandchildren will feel the impact in food prices. Just look at the impact water withdrawals have already had on the Ogallala aquifer – an area that produces 20% of our nation’s food!  

However, achieving the vision of the One Water movement presents a much different scenario in which you in Ohio, and John in Texas, and everyone in between acts responsibly and practices water conservation techniques, creating an equitable water future for everyone! There’s no denying, the goal of One Water is epic. So, how is the movement setting out to achieve it? Aggressively.  

You could say, One Water’s M.O. is not to make progress drop-by-drop, but instead by bucketfuls! Scanning through the session themes for the upcoming One Water Summit illustrates this:

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to find that the first and foremost the summit is about… you guessed it… sharing of ideas, best practices and action plans for driving continued progress! At a time when much of the water conversation seems to focus on what is wrong, One Water is painting a hopeful picture by focusing the nation on returning to an innate concept—the power of sharing.

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2017 AWWA Conference—I think we’re going to need more lawn chairs!

The American Water Works Association Annual Conference has one concise and clear description: Uniting the World of Water. This year from June 11-14, in Philadelphia, that world will be uniting right in our own back yard. It is altogether exciting and humbling for American Water that all of these individuals representing water companies, scientists and engineers, organizations and other interest groups will come to Philadelphia for the event that in many ways sets the stage for a full year of strategies and work dedicated to the world’s most important resource. 

It’s interesting, as well as inspiring, to me that ever since we learned about the 2017 conference location, everyone at American Water has referred to it as happening “in our own back yard.” We haven’t said that the conference “will be coming to Philadelphia,” or “is happening in our area” or even “taking place here.” From the first moment we used the term in “our own back yard,” we have embraced this as an opportunity to make the Conference even more memorable and empowering for those attending, much as other cities have done for us over the years.  

One of the ways we’re enhancing our role as “neighbor” is by opening the doors of our Delran, NJ treatment facility to conference attendees for a tour. This tour, in fact, is already completely booked! That our tour is filled to capacity is, certainly, a source of pride for American Water. But, more importantly, it has us excited to know that so many people are eager to learn about the technologies we are putting to work every day. Some of the features we’ll highlight include 3,000 solar panels being used to supplement the electrical supply, as well as the processes we are using to increase the environmentally friendliness of our facility.   

The Delran facility also houses our R&D laboratory. Visitors will be able to see how we are doing advanced testing for microbes in water – among a number of other exciting projects! During the for days of the conference, American Water will also have nine experts—including myself—presenting on fifteen different topics. Our group will join with other industry professionals to cover everything from advanced leak detection techniques and goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to solutions for water-supply and infrastructure challenges and innovations in treatment technology.  

There is one last reason why I’m happy that the American Water team uses the “in our back yard” reference. And that reason lies at the very spirit of this annual Conference—exchange of ideas. Every year, the AWWA Conference fosters discussions, sharing of best practices and conversations about where we are, where we want to be and how to get there. I don’t know about you, but in my experiences some of the most insightful, motivational and productive discussions come when people get together in a comfortable and open environment… in one’s own back yard over a refreshing drink or a good barbecue. Along with AWWA we look forward to helping create that atmosphere and, together, take additional strides forward in protecting our water resources.  

I look forward to letting my readers in on more of the experiences and outcomes of the conference in future blogs.

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HURRICANE SEASON: RESPONSIBILITY AND RESILIENCY IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE VARIABILITY

Meteorologists have made their predictions for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November: 12 named storms, 5 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes reaching category 3 status or higher. In fact, the chief meteorologist at Global Weather Oscillations predicts that the 2017 season will be the most dangerous and costly in 12 years for the United States.

At the start of hurricane season, as well as when storms approach landfall, the media will be full of messages discussing public preparedness. People will be “battening down the hatches,” stocking up on provisions, setting up alternative energy sources in preparation for hours, days or weeks without electricity.

The heavy rains—as well as winds and other elements of hurricanes—kick filtration, water delivery and waste removal systems into overdrive. Damage to properties and streets from wind, rain, falling trees and other objects, not to mention water surges that can cause cracks and leaks in water mains. And power outages result in a total stoppage or at least reduced capacity of municipal water pumps.

Part of what makes hurricanes and other natural hazards so dreaded is our utter lack of control over them. Where, when and how hard they strike is up to nature. However, water and sewer companies do have a great deal of control when it comes to helping ensure residents experience minimal—or, better yet, no—disruption of service when a hurricane hits.

American Water places great emphasis on ensuring the resiliency of our systems—and we are continuously looking at ways to further improve service during hurricanes and other uncontrollable natural hazards. Some of the ways we do this include:


It’s little wonder that the return of safe, reliable drinking and bathing water after a storm brings with it a sense of relief to individuals and communities. In a situation where so much remains in chaos and disrepair, the flow of quality water—a vital resource to life and growth—to neighborhoods, businesses and homes signals the start of a return to normalcy. Water companies have a great responsibility to know the risks and have action plans in place before disaster strikes. In doing so, they can play a huge role in the recovery and rebuilding of communities.

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AND WE’RE OFF! SMART WATER TIPS TO HELP MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LAG BEHIND

The Farmers’ Almanac expects summer temperatures in the eastern U.S. to “arrive right out of the gate with unseasonably hot and dry weather.” The Almanac is also predicting the northeast’s first official week of summer to “bring a spell of hot weather with many 90-degree temperatures and even one or two spots breaking 100 degrees.” Even as I write this—one week before the unofficial start of summer—temperatures in the northeast have topped 90 degrees for three consecutive days and rain has been sparse.  

I think it’s safe to say that in the race of summer heat against water conservation, summer is doing everything possible to get a huge head start and maintain a steady lead!  

Fortunately, as this info graphic demonstrates, even if summer comes on with an initial big burst of energy, homeowners can easily take the lead by implementing a strategy based on smart, steady water usage from May through September. Let’s take a look at what this winning approach should entail. 

Step one: Before stepping onto the track make sure you’re in top physical condition. 

Step two: Learn everything you can about the competition. 

Hot weather isn’t the only competitor to water conservation during the summer. Everything from thirsty plants to evaporation compete for our valuable resource too!

Step three: Conserve energy and finish strong!

Remember, the ultimate key to winning the water race again summer is consistency! Making use of these tips regularly will prevent you from falling behind.

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National Infrastructure Week: Reaching A Crossroads, It’s Time to Build

Every household has that drawer, closet or corner of the attic you’d rather not talk about. I know I do. It starts out innocent enough—you don’t know what to do the vase aunt Addie gave you so you just put it away “for now.” Slowly other gifts and broken household items accumulate in that space. At some point, you think, “I really should do something about this.” You have the best intentions, but that’s as far as it goes—it’s easy enough to close the drawer or closet door and forget about it.

Eventually, that door won’t close, that drawer gets jammed, or you can’t walk safely in that attic. And as the structure of the space itself begins to weaken (how many of us have had the “junk drawer” bottom out?), you can no longer look the other way. So, you begin to attack the piles, the whole time chastising yourself, “If I’d only kept this under control, the cleanup and repair would have been so much easier!”

This experience paints a vivid picture of what Infrastructure Week 2017 is all about. Running from May 15-19, it is a call for everyone—from politicians to individuals, utility leaders to community influencers—to not only recognize the critical crossroads American infrastructure has reached, but to be more vocal and active in helping to do something about it.

Going back to our analogy, America’s infrastructure is at the point where the shelves can longer sustain the weight. Populations are growing and ways of life are changing, putting increasingly greater demands on everything from aging water pipes, to wastewater disposal, to the power grid, to dams, bridges and roadways. Moreover, for decades, the country has let deferred bills for infrastructure replacement and repair pile up while some have looked the other way—allowing infrastructure to continue to erode. A look at the most recent ASCE Report Cards for American Infrastructure proves this point with American infrastructure once again receiving a cumulative D+ grade in 2017. America’s drinking water infrastructure held steady at a D from 2013 to 2017, while wastewater progressed slightly from a D to a D+.

If you think, “well, still, America must be outpacing other countries in infrastructure investments,” think again. You might be surprised to learn that other countries have invested significantly more in all kinds of infrastructure. This dynamic is putting Americans behind as the cost and time invested in “dealing with” aging infrastructure brings progress everywhere else down with it.

The hopeful news is that:

1. Americans do care about and understand the urgency of the infrastructure situation. Right now, more Americans support investing in our infrastructure than nearly any other issue.

2. American engineers and scientists have the innovative ideas and technology for solutions ready to go to work as soon as funding is available.

3. Politicians and other influencers are beginning to recognize that the $3 trillion infrastructure investment gap cannot be solved by incremental or stop-gap solutions. Leaders are looking seriously to advancing innovative partnership and funding needed for truly transformative projects that lead to sustainable solutions.

As the theme of Infrastructure Week 2017 says, it’s time to build America. The theme is not, make things better, or even re-build—because American Infrastructure is in crisis. During the week, more than 60 events are happening across the country, with the support of over 220 affiliate organizations, creating opportunities for everyone to join the mission. You can also follow the conversation online at #TimetoBuild and get involved!

And remember, it’s not enough to clean out that space, repair the damage and then start the cycle all over again. The crisis will only recur. We all need to make a commitment to change by putting the stronger voices, knowledge, and activities of Infrastructure Week to work 52 weeks a year.

 

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Drinking Water Week: Isn’t it Romantic?!

It’s clear. It’s good for cooking, showering and quenching your thirst. It shows up every day, without fail right from your tap. But how well do you know the basics about your drinking water? As I sat in front of my laptop to compose a blog for American Water Works Association’s Drinking Water Week (May 7-13), the 2017 theme “Your Water – To Know It Is To Love It,” jumped out at me and gave me a thought. What would drinking water’s profile be on an online dating site? I asked myself, what would water say to make that perfect splash?  More importantly, I then considered, what would the savvy, eligible “water bachelor or bachelorette” look for in a tall drink of water?

In the spirit of Drinking Water Week, I offer you my take on the criteria people who want to have a long-term relationship with their water might look for.

1. Must be clean, neat and into healthy living. Water quality reports can help you assess this by comparing the quality of water supplied by your utility against standards established by the EPA. 

2. Must come from a strong family background. Water quality reports can also help with this through their descriptions of local drinking water sources. 

3. Must be reliable and punctual. Look at what it takes to keep water flowing reliably every day to understand what makes water consistently clean and available. Remember, American Water invests more than $1 billion annually in our water systems to ensure continued reliability for our customers, who count on us every day.

4. Science and technology geek preferred; I like someone who stays ahead of the curve to make themselves and me happy! With its rigorous testing protocols, water epitomizes using modern technology to deliver better results.  For example, American Water’s lab in Belleville, Illinois, supports research through sophisticated testing and analysis, and sets the standard for water utilities. The lab has a history of being on the forefront of monitoring, testing, identifying and controlling contaminants before specific federal regulations are put in place. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency regularly taps into our lab and our research team to help develop federal drinking water standards and regulations.

5. Must have a vulnerable side too; I like to support and help better the lives of the people I love! Protecting our most valuable resource offers powerful ways for anyone to make an impact on current communities as well as the future of water. Numerous local groups and organizations exist that work on community-based environmental projects to improve, restore and/or protect watersheds and community water supplies. Through American Water’s environmental grant program, we help support those of you who are in many cases “on the ground” and getting your hands dirty to protect our nation’s rivers and watersheds, as well as to advance sustainability initiatives. Every individual and community can make an impact by getting involved. 

6. Must be young at heart. Here, water may need to do a little work before landing its soulmate! As we’ve addressed many times in this blog, much of the water infrastructure across the country is aging and in need of repair or replacement. But, our engineering and operations teams work closely with our communities every day to “restore youth” to water infrastructure by identifying problem areas and putting upgrade plans into action.

When you think about, an individuals, we have a longer and more intimate relationship with water than with anyone else. Moreover, it’s a relationship that starts before we are born and lasts our entire lives! So isn’t it worth getting to know your water better? The more you understand it, the more you can truly appreciate—and LOVE—it!

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Warm Weather Tips for Staying Healthy and Looking Good

When the seasons change to spring and summer, the warm weather can often put “looking good” at the top of our priorities, and there’s a lot of pressure to feel like it’s a competition, especially with all the images we’re inundated with on social media and glossy magazines. Keep in mind that being healthy is more important than adhering to a certain look. Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not talking about your tan or swimsuit body…I’m talking about your lawn and garden.

We want to keep our lawns and gardens looking healthy and fresh, but we want to do it without wasting water, and apply it to environmentally friendly landscapes. It’s estimated that up to 50% of the water we use for outdoor needs is not necessary to maintain a healthy landscape. Don’t know where to start? Here are some tips that will help you conserve water and still manage to feel good about the look of your lawn this year.

  1. Don’t over-water.  One of the biggest mistakes we can make with plants is watering them more than they need. A good rule of thumb is; 1 inch of water per week, and when in doubt, make sure the plant’s soil is lightly moist. Keep in mind that over-watering is just as bad as under-watering! 
  2. Keep plants local. For gardens and landscaping, native plants require less water and care than those found unnaturally in your local habitat because they are adept at utilizing whatever rainfall is typical of your region.
  3. Water in the morning or late in the day. The cooler it is outside in the daylight, the more time the plant has to absorb the water throughout the day and receive nourishment before the water evaporates. 
  4. Watch what you’re watering. Check sprinkler heads to make sure water isn’t being wasted on your sidewalks or pavement. You can reduce the runtime for plants in shady areas, too.
  5. Keep an eye on the weather. Rain in the forecast? This saves you not only a few minutes in the morning by not having to water your plants, but also a lot of water! Be sure to turn off sprinkler systems.  Invest in a low-cost rain sensor that turns off the sprinklers when it’s raining.
  6. 50 shades of (brown) grass. This is an *extra* pro-tip because though brown grass may not look the nicest, brown grass isn’t necessarily dead grass. Grass can go dormant (brown) in the scorching summer months but will likely turn green again once it begins to cool off.
  7. The right amount of mulch. Now that you’ve got your local super-plants, you don’t want to over-mulch. Mulching beds do help retain moisture and prevent weeds but over-mulching can stress plants. Two to three inches should be plenty.
  8. Do some research. Knowing of some drought-friendly plants could benefit your yard. In the event of a drought, many of your foreign plants may die- but those accustomed to a drier climate will look healthy and maintained all summer, regardless of the weather. You can start by browsing this helpful guide.

Maintaining a beautiful lawn or garden is something to be proud of, but conserving water while doing so is even better. I hope you have a great summer and strive to follow at least some of these tips. For other water-saving (and money-saving) tips this summer, check here. Your lawns, gardens, and wallets will thank you.

 

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SURVEY SAYS: HOW GOOD IS YOUR DRINKING WATER?

Family Feud, first launched in 1976, has been a top game show in syndication, new iterations, as well as a pop-culture icon. Of course the trademark” line from the show is “survey says…” Sometimes the responses to the surveys are predicable, but other times you wonder “who in the world was answering those questions?” Gallup just released their annual environmental poll, conducted in March, and maybe it’s not surprising, but 63 percent of respondents said they “worry a great deal about pollution of their drinking water.”  

Gallup reports that these results reflect an all-time high concern since they started the poll 16 years ago. Moreover, poll numbers indicate that American’s are more concerned about water pollution than the other four key environmental issues assessed in the poll (air pollution, climate change, loss of tropical rain forests and the extinction of plant and animal species). That makes sense, as pollution of drinking water has an immediate personal impact! 

Poll analysts connected news about high-profile water crises with the rise in Americans’ concern about the quality of their drinking water. This is completely understandable given the headlines about lead in the water of Flint, Michigan and some other cities. At the same time, newspapers are shouting headlines about risks from industrial chemicals, pesticides, and “emerging contaminants.” Environmental groups may advocate for certain policies or viewpoints; and of course you can find almost any opinion on the internet! Having people pay more attention to their water is a good thing. Being a vigilant consumer is a positive step – but how does one sift through all the noise to get the right information? 

Fortunately, this is the time of year when all water utilities are required to inform their customers on the quality of their drinking water. The process must be completed by July 1 and customers can receive this information either in print form or electronically. The “consumer confidence report” is intended to provide the public with information on the quality of their drinking water and how to get additional information if there are any questions. 

American Water’s annual Water Quality Report provides details how we meet or surpass all federal, state or local standards for delivering safe, quality drinking water. American Water customers can access their Water Quality Report by using this link: https://amwater.com/corp/water-quality-wastewater-service/water-quality-reports and then just enter their zip code to get their specific report. Other information is available that addresses frequently asked questions. There is also a phone number that will link you to our national call center where an agent can help you get additional information, if needed. 

Individuals can also make an effort to be aware of what is happening at local, state and federal levels in terms of water policies, and get involved. Engaging your local, state, or federal representatives can show your commitment to water quality and make your voice is heard.  

It takes a concerted daily effort by many teams of dedicated employees within the water industry to ensure that quality standards are consistently met and continue to improve. Keeping people informed and aware can drive actions and keep us vigilant and vocal on key water issues. This information and understanding can go a long way to address the concerns of the “63 percent” and help provide assurance and peace of mind about the quality of your drinking water. No feuding needed…this is something all families can agree is important.

 

 

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GOALS FOR GAINING KNOWLEDGE AND TAKING ACTION ON EARTH DAY 2017

Each year, Earth Day presents an opportunity to make good on goals that possess the ambition and dedication to change the world. At an industry and organizational level, we are always striving to take the lead when it comes to environmental stewardship. In addition, for our customers, we likewise work hard behind the scenes to make it easy for them on an individual level to take action as well.

The vision of the Earth Day Network is to increase the public’s “Environmental and Climate Literacy,” which is also the theme of Earth Day 2017 (April 22). A closer look reveals that “Environmental and Climate Literacy” isn’t just about everyone having the right vocabulary and knowledge about the issues. Here, knowing is just the beginning. The essential part of the Earth Day campaign—as well as the larger Earth Day Network goal for 2020—is the movement towards internalization of environmental values.

Not only getting everyone to the point where we can talk intelligently about the issues, but also inspiring them to talk passionately about them. It means not just knowing, but taking action. It means not just being grateful for what other people and groups are doing, but owning one’s personal responsibility to make an impact right alongside them.

Imagine 7.8 billion people—the anticipated global population by 2020—exhibiting this type of environmental and climate literacy. As I said, awesome! Even more so when you consider environmental and climate literacy is the engine driving:

In the spirit of “Environmental and Climate Literacy” here are a few actions you can take on April 22:

1.    Measure your environmental footprint. Shocking but true, today the world’s population consumes 1.5 planet’s worth of resources annually! Take this quiz to see how many planets you need to support your lifestyle.

2.    Make an act of green: this can include everything from planting or donating a tree, to joining the March for Science, to writing down your new plan for utilizing more locally sourced food.

3.    Participate in an Earth Day Teach-In in your community.

4.    Go paperless with American Water: log into “My Account” and sign up for paperless billing.

In closing, I draw on these words of Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” This last part is what environmental and climate literacy work toward—creating a planet that lives on forever, sustained to support an endless number of generations.

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