A recent discussion of water resources took on a slightly wider view than is often the case. The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group, conducted an ongoing, year-long “Dialogue on Sustainable Water Infrastructure in the U.S.” In a recent online article, Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, former associate assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, and a participant in the in the dialogue, describes some of what took place. Meetings were held in May and September 2008 and in January and March 2009, and a final report was published last May.
The dialogue cited many of the usual infrastructure culprits, including combined sewer overflows and leaks in drinking water delivery systems that might be costing us up to one-fifth of the water that flows through them. However, says Deane, “The common discourse surrounding water infrastructure improvements in the U.S. tends to stop at pipes, reservoirs, water mains and treatment plants. We often forget about the natural systems—the rivers, lakes, streams, aquifers, wetlands and watersheds—that are equally important to the quality of our drinking water and wastewater systems.”
Well, yes and no. The rivers, lakes, and streams tend to be the focus of our stormwater programs; they are what we are trying to protect. Even moreso with the growing emphasis in the last few years on “green infrastructure” and low-impact development, the “natural” components of the system are getting more attention. It’s good to see a wide-ranging discussion with such a variety of participants, though, bringing together a variety of perspectives.
The dialogue had more than two dozen particupants, although the institute has a not-for-attribution rule so that no comments or specific ideas are credited to individuals. The organizations represented range from local water districts and environmental groups to universities to the Coca-Cola Company; many are listed in an appendix to the report, which is available for download.