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Water and Waste Digest: “Industry Insight: Taking the Lead”

In July, the U.S. Water Alliance named Radhika Fox as the organization’s new president. The alliance, a nonprofit established in 2008, is focused on promoting integrated, sustainable water management. W&WD Associate Editor Amy McIntosh spoke with Fox about her goals for the organization, as well as her thoughts on the state of today’s water climate.

Amy McIntosh: What do you plan to focus on as president of the U.S. Water Alliance?

Radhika Fox: The U.S. Water Alliance is proud to host and staff the Value of Water Coalition, a diverse and growing coalition focused on educating and inspiring the nation about how water is essential, invaluable and needs investment. We recently produced a beautiful and functional educational campaign and communications toolkit with the theme, “What’s the Value of Water?” Continuing to expand the coalition and building on our success is a big priority for me.

Additionally, I look forward to working with the alliance board of directors, members and staff to accelerate the adoption of one-water management approaches through a multifaceted program of network building, national dialogues, policy development and peer exchange. We will build upon the great work of our Urban Water Sustainability and Business Councils. Some issue areas that are of particular interest are the nutrient challenges in the Mississippi River basin, how we meet the water and wastewater service needs in smaller communities, supporting new business models in the water sector and addressing the water affordability challenge. 

McIntosh: What are some of your goals for the organization?

Fox: I want the U.S. Water Alliance to be a neutral broker, convener and connector that brings together people in the water sector and beyond to address the thorny issues that we struggle with. So many industries are totally reliant on water, and not just agriculture: manufacturing, energy, technology—our economy would grind to a halt if we didn’t have abundant, clean, reliable water service. We will be stronger and more effective if we work together—fostering a spirit of collaboration is a big goal for me. 

McIntosh: What do you consider some of today’s most pressing water issues?

Fox: This is a defining moment for the water sector. A number of factors, such as epic drought in large swaths of the country and extreme weather events, have brought the issue of sustainable stewardship of water resources to the forefront in a way we haven’t seen before. Population growth, urban development, land use and climate change, among other factors, are making water the critical issue. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s annual global risks report found water crises to be the No. 1 global risk in terms of impact.

How we are going to address the growing water infrastructure gap is a pressing issue. Decades of deferred maintenance and water pricing that doesn’t reflect the true cost of providing this essential service has pushed our systems to their breaking points. We need to solve this to secure a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

McIntosh: What technologies do you see as being important for the future of the water industry?

Fox: It’s an incredibly exciting time in our sector as far as technological advances. We are building wastewater treatment plants that are energy neutral or actually generating energy. We are creating valuable products like fertilizer from waste streams. We have an array of water reuse technologies that are being deployed at the local building scale, as well as the large-scale industrial level. We have sensors that can detect leaks in water and sewer pipe before they reach a breaking point. I could go on and on. The technology is all there, and we have the best and brightest to continue to develop new technologies as well. I think what’s important is building a culture of innovation, and also communicating the value and benefits of new technologies. We know that we can ask a lot of our customers, but explaining to them why things might be different than they were before is critical to the public accepting those changes.

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