Last Tuesday, with Hurricane Florence barreling towards the Carolinas and southern Virginia, I spoke to a room full of water and wastewater utility operators about the need for them to shake off the sector’s “silent service” culture and embrace a new identity as proud and vocal stewards of public health and safety.
At WaterJAM, the joint annual meeting for members of AWWA Virginia and Virginia WEA, alert conference goers checked their phones all morning ready and waiting for the call back to their utilities to shore up emergency preparedness and response measures in case the worst should happen.
The reality of the day put a bright light on the truth of the message I was there to convey on behalf of the Value of Water Campaign: the water workforce does more to protect the public health and safety of communities and the environment than anyone else could – and not just during emergencies but 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Every person, business, and place we love relies on the water infrastructure and the services provided by water sector workers. Hurricanes like Florence remind us of that.
But even without the threat of natural disasters causing immediate and widespread disruption to water services, the water workforce’s task of providing the services we’ve come to expect is challenged by the nation’s aging and failing water infrastructure. Just like the water workforce is on the clock around the clock, so are the pipes, pumps, and plants they manage. With some built over a hundred years ago, the water sector is facing the dawn of what needs to be the infrastructure replacement era – not only to be more resilient in the face of the next Florence, but to continue providing the essential function of sustaining and supporting life and prosperity.
After all, just one day of service disruption at a national level would put millions in jeopardy and cost the country $22.5 billion in GDP.
In moments like these, there’s no doubting the need to close the water investment gap (about $82 billion dollars a year), and those on the front lines protecting public health and safety should embrace this identity and sound the call to lawmakers at all levels of government to value water and invest in the systems we all rely on.
It really can’t wait.