CQ Weekly: Interview with Radhika Fox

Radhika Fox, the new president of the U.S. Water Alliance, spent the first few years of her life in a village without running taps or flush toilets.

The New York native moved to her grandmother’s home in the Guntur District of rural India while her immigrant parents completed their training in the United States. Later, Fox would take summer trips back to the country where two-thirds of the population still lacks access to basic sanitation facilities.

“Going back and forth really leaves you in awe of the water systems we have built in this country,” she says. “I grew to recognize the powerful ability of infrastructure to give people basic human dignity.”

But as infrastructure debates in Congress focus on transportation and highways, the self-described “Infrastructure Girl” is adamant that all is not okay, pointing to drought-ravaged California, where she was long a top policy advocate.

As president of the Alliance, Fox will lead a coalition of public utility providers, businesses, nonprofits and regulatory agencies working to build a more sustainable water policy. The group aims to break down policy “silos” that divide drinking water, waste management and disaster control issues.

For Fox, this is a perfect fit. Her path is littered with broken silos. At Columbia University, she majored in philosophy and religion, and had her eyes set on law school. But through youth development work in Harlem, she saw the importance of infrastructure.

“Infrastructure improves a neighborhood physically, creates jobs and builds a foundation for social services,” she says. She got a master’s degree in city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and spent a decade as the federal policy director at PolicyLink, a liberal research institute.

She dabbled in water projects at PolicyLink, but it was not until she joined the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that Fox really got her feet wet. There she was director of policy and government affairs for the provider of water and wastewater services to 2.6 million people.

In early 2015, she became director of the Value of Water Coalition, which is managed by the Alliance, before becoming the head of the entire organization this summer. It’s a far cry from Guntur District.