Mr. Mike T. Healy, Leadership Group, APWA Center for Sustainability

FATHOM Global Water Resources, Inc.


With the introduction of “Green Infrastructure” and “LEED” construction concepts there was always some initial confusion, not only in nomenclature but also in what actually qualifies under these advancements. The same appears to be true today in grappling with the concepts of “Sustainability” and “Sustainable Practices.”


As a white-haired former public works director, I recall struggling with past concepts, especially with the misconception—both by my City Council and a percentage of the general public—that most if not all of these advancements constituted an increase in cost to achieve.  I recall many a conversation centering on initial investment and ROI.  To be honest I won some and lost some, but most importantly these discussions resulted in a change of thinking and conceptual acceptance, albeit over time.


With respect to “Sustainability” and “Sustainable Practices” I would like to have a nickel for each time I have been told by colleagues, “I understand the concept but what is it?”  Normally I respond with a series of questions like: “Are you doing more today with fewer resources than before?  How did you get there? What practices did you implement to get there?” More times than not, they discover that these are all sustainable practices when they result in an improved deployment of staff effort, fuel and energy savings, or improved technology used to achieve positive results.


A couple of the prime examples that are simple and sustainable include: Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) in Water Utilities as these systems eliminate the very expensive and mundane process of meter reading while also delivering real-time, system-wide consumption data for use in water production, allowing utilities to meet consumption demand while pushing production schedules to periods when electric power is less expensive.  These systems when coupled with technology also aid in water conservation by identifying leaks in a day as opposed to month(s) later.  Another simple and common sustainable investment example is the use of solar compactor trash cans in high-pedestrian use areas such as central business districts; these have been found to reduce the  amount of labor and equipment use by as much as one-third.  In short, there are many ways to achieve sustainability and you may already be making strides in this, but are unaware of your day-in and day-out achievements.


One thing that I have learned very well over my long career in public works is that we are a nimble and dynamic bunch always looking to save money, partly because we are generally a vulnerable target of budget cuts, especially during tough economic periods.  In almost all cases, we find a way to cut costs and maintain or improve service delivery.  Simply stated, without knowing it, when we make process adjustments to meet resource decline, many if not all of the process changes are indeed sustainable achievements and need to be trumpeted throughout our communities.  This promotion is exactly how the concepts of “Sustainability” and “Sustainable Programs” gain traction and understanding.


Lastly, one other constant that I know about public works professionals is that we are reluctant to toot our own horns when we achieve success.  This has to change if we are going to advance an understanding of the concept of sustainability…


Dear colleagues, celebrate your sustainable achievements and let your communities know about it! 


President Obama signed into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), HR 3080, the first Water Resources bill enacted since 2007.  The new law authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct projects for flood control, water navigation, storm damage reduction, beach nourishment, ecological restoration, water supply and dam and levee safety.


Key provisions include limiting feasibility studies for new projects to three years and streamlining the environmental review and permitting process.  It also establishes a new pilot Water Infrastructure Finance Innovation Authority (WIFIA) to provide credit assistance to drinking water, wastewater and water resources projects and includes reforms to the State Revolving Fund (SRF) program.


In addition, the act establishes a new process for future bills to review and prioritize water resources development activities with strong Congressional oversight. It provides for increased expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to reduce the backlog of port and harbor projects and requires a review of possible ways to increase revenue collections for financing projects on the inland waterways.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation.  The vote in the Senate was 91-7 and 412-4 in the House of Representatives. 


During the signing ceremony on June 10 the President praised Congress for coming together to pass the legislation in a bipartisan manner and urged lawmakers to pass a transportation bill before the highway trust fund becomes insolvent before the end of the summer.


To read the full text of the law, click here


The National Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications to the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  The RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects created and managed by partnerships between eligible entities. Farms and other agricultural entities, through their use of fertilizers, are often the source of nutrient pollution in nearby water sources. The RCPP encourages farmers to partner with non-agricultural entities, such as wastewater utilities and municipal storm water agencies, to use available resources to reduce nutrient runoff pollution.  The RCPP is beneficial to the environment and the economy because it allows for the treatment of water pollution at the source. When farmers work with wastewater utilities to treat water before runoff flows to municipal water sources, municipalities can save money in water treatment and pass those savings along to rate payers.


The USDA, with participating partners, is funding the RCPP at $2.4 billion over the next five years. The USDA will provide $400 million in funding during this first year of the program. There will be three different funding pools for applicants to choose from: the national funding pool, the state funding pool, and the critical conservation area (CCA) funding pool. Projects that only deal with one state will be eligible for state funding; while projects covering multiple states will be eligible for national funding. Only projects that are located in the critical conservation areas, recently designated by the Secretary of Agriculture, will be eligible for CCA funding.  These areas are the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Great Lakes Region, the Mississippi River Basin, the Colorado River Basin, the Longleaf Pine Range, the Columbia River Basin, the Prairie Grasslands Region, and the California Bay Delta. State projects will receive 25 percent of the funding; national projects will receive 35 percent of the funding and CCA projects will receive 40 percent of the funding.


State and local governments, municipal water treatment entities and water and irrigation districts are among the entities that are eligible to participate in the RCPP. The deadline for application submissions is July 14, 2014. Many state and local agencies targeted by the RCPP are new to conservation programs run by the NRCS. To learn more about the RCPP and how to create a winning application, you can participate in USDA’s online information sessions. Two online sessions will be offered. The first one will be at 2PM EST on Monday, June 9 and the next one will be at 11AM EST on Wednesday, June 11. There will also be an in person information session at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC on Friday, June 6 at 11AM EST.  


Click here to learn more about and RSVP for the USDA information sessions.


Click here to view the official grant announcement.


Click here to learn more about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. 


On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency released their Clean Power Plan proposal. This proposal aims to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, the largest sources of carbon pollution in the United States.  Power plants are responsible for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  This proposed rule will amend the existing Clean Air Act and marks the first time that carbon pollution from power plants has been regulated at a federal level.


The Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon emissions nationwide from existing power plants by thirty percent below 2005 levels by 2030. According to EPA’s proposal, this reduction in carbon pollution will also result in reducing particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 25 percent.


EPA will implement the Clean Power Plan through a state-federal partnership. States will have until June 2016 to create and submit a plan to EPA to comply with the new proposal.  Many states have already adopted energy efficiency/ renewable energy (EE/RE) programs to encourage energy conservation and reduce the amount of emissions produced by energy production.  The Clean Power Plan gives states the flexibility to build upon these existing conservation plans or create new ones to meet the Plan’s new pollution limits. States will have the option of partnering with nearby states to create programs that will comply with the new proposal. States will also have the flexibility to set differing pollution limits and use a variety of methods to meet the plans goals, as long as it doesn’t affect the nationwide limit.


The EPA is expected to finalize the rule next summer. After the rule is published in the Federal Register, interested stakeholders have 120 days to comment on the proposal.


This proposal is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The President’s Climate Action Plan is the Obama Administration’s strategic initiative to cut carbon pollution; prepare the US for the impacts of climate change; and lead international efforts to combat global climate change.

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