As my taxi whisked me through the streets of Washington, D.C., toward the WEFTEC show last month, I realized that there's not nearly enough government. I passed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency building. I passed the Supreme Court building. I passed the U.S. Department of Energy building. But nowhere did I see a U.S. Department of Water building.
Here I was, on my way to one of the biggest water and wastewater trade shows in the nation, and there was no government entity set aside solely to protect and disseminate information on one of our country's most important and scarce resources: water.
I suppose it's not so strange. We have the EPA, which provides us with guidelines and rules to follow when taking care of our nation's drinking water. We have federal acts and sub-departments and water interest groups. And we have large associations like the Water Environment Federation and the American Water Works Association to help us understand these guidelines and provide us with the tools we need to do our jobs. But why isn't there one agency dedicated to something we all so desperately need?
This question was brought up at a round-table discussion hosted by one of the technology giants at the WEFTEC show. This company's goal is to make money off of technologies to keep our fresh water clean, make our wastewater reusable, and make our oceans—after much work—drinkable. But their underlying concern is not just to make money, but to also ensure that their children, and their children's children, have potable water well into the future.
The Water Resources Development Act of 2005 is a brave step in the right direction. The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program, the nation's largest water resources program. The Corps' responsibilities include navigation, flood control, shore-line protection, hydropower, dam safety, water supply, recreation, environmental restoration and protection, and disaster response and recovery. But again, this is a subcommittee of a larger program.
Kudos to Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively. They have called for proposals to address the challenge of meeting the nation's ever-increasing demand for water. But it's still just a drop in the larger bucket.
So what can we do to create a comprehensive department? I think that our legislators should create—dare I say it—yet another arm of the federal government. This department of water should be dedicated solely to our nation's—and realistically, the world's— most valuable resource. A combination of our best ideas, this department would help those in water and wastewater do their jobs better, support more basic research, define legislation, and house all water issues under one umbrella.
Amara Rozgus, Managing Editor