Water Leaders Celebrate 40 Years of CWA Accomplishments

November 26, 2012

Laws & Regs

WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger speaks at a National Press Club event about the Clean Water Act. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.).)

WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger speaks at a National Press Club event about the Clean Water Act. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.).

On Oct. 15, the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) joined others in the clean water community to celebrate four decades of accomplishments under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and call for a new vision to ensure further water quality progress. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA; Washington, D.C.) and the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA; Washington, D.C.), as well as Washington, D.C.-area utilities, also participated in the National Press Club (Washington, D.C.) event.

Event speakers agreed that CWA has led to vastly improved water quality and community and economic vitality in the United States, and discussed even greater financial, environmental, and sustainability challenges that lie ahead. Several shared personal anecdotes illustrated the significant effect CWA has had.

Karen Pallansch, CEO of Alexandria Renew Enterprises (Alexandria, Va.), toasted attendees with a glass of tap water. She spoke about how we now take clean water for granted today. However, when her husband grew up in the D.C. area, she said, he rowed for his high school crew team and was told to avoid any contact with the water in the Potomac River, which used to be “mocha” in color and full of dead fish.

“That was our drinking water supply 40 years ago,” Pallansch said. “[Today] gives us the opportunity to look back and see how far we have come from those dead fish, … the milestones we’ve achieved, and the miles we still have to go to fully realize that vision of clean and safe water for every person, every second of every day, in our country.”

DC Water (Washington, D.C.) General Manager George S. Hawkins told the audience how as a boy he first saw the Cuyahoga River. He said that the river was so polluted that to his 9-year-old eyes the water “looked like a finger-painting” with all the colors running into each other. The river famously caught on fire that same year. “I became an environmentalist that day,” Hawkins said. “You could be in fourth grade and [still] know something was wrong.”

Considering the progress that has been made in the past four decades, Hawkins said CWA “is the most successful progressive statute of our time. [With] how many issues can you say … that we identified a problem, put a resolution in place on a bipartisan basis, spent the money, and largely — not completely — solved the problem we were identifying at the time? … It is an extraordinary outcome of governance from both parties over decades.”

WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger spoke about what must be done to ensure CWA’s continued success in the future.

Event speakers include, from left, Karen Pallansch, Alexandria (Va.) Renew Enterprises CEO; Jerry Johnson, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission general manager; Carlton Haywood, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin executive director; Alexandra Dunn, ACWA executive director and general counsel; George S. Hawkins, DC Water (Washington, D.C.) general manager; Jeff Eger, Water Environment Federation executive director; Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director; Ellen Gilinsky, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency senior policy advisor.

Event speakers include, from left, Karen Pallansch, Alexandria (Va.) Renew Enterprises CEO; Jerry Johnson, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission general manager; Carlton Haywood, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin executive director; Alexandra Dunn, ACWA executive director and general counsel; George S. Hawkins, DC Water (Washington, D.C.) general manager; Jeff Eger, Water Environment Federation executive director; Ken Kirk, NACWA executive director; Ellen Gilinsky, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency senior policy advisor.

“There are all the wonderful things that [CWA] has performed, but we have been the silent heroes,” Eger said. “We haven’t really told the story; we just do our jobs. Well, it’s time to change that. … We need to embrace the innovation and technology that will continue to make us better, … but we also need to spread the word; we need to get the attention. … We need to be sure we celebrate 40 years from now how we transformed our industry and how folks get it, and appreciate it, and are willing to support it.”

Other speakers at the event included Ken Kirk, executive director of NACWA; Ellen Gilinsky, senior policy advisor in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water; Jerry Johnson, general manager of the Washington (D.C.) Suburban Sanitary Commission; Alexandra Dunn, executive director and general counsel of ACWA; and Carlton Haywood, executive director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin and ACWA Interstate Board representative.

Melissa Jackson, WEF Highlights

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