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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at US Water Alliance Awards Ceremony, As Prepared

04/07/2014
Let me just thank Ben for all the amazing work he’s doing. Of course, as Administrator I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the legacy Ben left at EPA when he ran the water office. Thanks for your continued service, Ben.

Last week, NASA made a pretty incredible discovery. They found evidence of an underground ocean of on one of Saturn’s moons. That’s a huge deal. Why? Simple—water
could mean life. Because here on earth—water is life. There are few more basic to our well-being and prosperity than water. Drinking it nourishes us. Using it sustains us. And the need to protect is compels us. Heck, it compelled the creation of EPA.

But I’m preaching to the choir. And you know well that water issues matter the most at the local level. That’s where you operate. That's where the action is.

From my local work in Massachusetts, to running the state DEP in Connecticut—that’s what I felt. Your communities, your companies, and your cutting edge innovations are where the rubber meets the road. We work with many of you at EPA—our efforts and our programs aren’t meant to replace your work—they’re meant to build on and support it. Altogether, as of 2013, the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds have delivered more than $25 billion dollars in total assistance projects.

But here’s the thing—our changing climate has had a ripple effect on our water problems. They’ve become more complex and they’ve evolved. We have to evolve, too.

That’s the intent of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan—to build a path toward a future in a carbon constrained and climate impacted world. Yes, we have to reduce carbon pollution. But just as crucial is building resilience to the impacts we are struggling with today. And a
huge piece of that is water.

Your organizations spend a pretty penny on preparing for those hundred-year events, like floods, storms, droughts and more. You better believe after Superstorm Sandy, the last thing we should do is build those wastewater treatment plants back the same way.
Those hundred year events are getting ahead of themselves thanks to a changing climate. So our challenge is this: how do we work together, amidst this complexity, to make sure people are planning and designing with climate change in mind?

That’s the new normal and we have to get with the program. But the good news is that’s exactly what you’re all about. This organization was built on the principle that given everyone’s differences, we are all interested in commonsense water policy - in one water - because clean water to drink and safe water to live, work, and play in is a universal need.

You’re the experts in your cities and towns. Consider EPA here to help. Our Office of Water is out in front on those efforts, let me share a few ways how.

First, we have a few programs that are aimed at local support: Our
Climate Ready Water Utilities and Climate Ready Estuaries programs aim to give managers the knowledge and resources to manage water in an integrated way. And our Climate Resilience Evaluation & Awareness Tool assists drinking water and wastewater utility operators by delivering climate threats and their risks into an accessible software tool.

Second, EPA has a framework specifically designed to promote the kind of integrated planning that helps cities prioritize wastewater and stormwater projects. Naturally, we call it our integrated planning framework.

Third, we have to keep leaning on the creativity and commonsense that comes with green infrastructure solutions to treat, manage, and use water. The economic case for green infrastructure is clearer by the day. There are case studies in 13 communities – from big cities like New York and Seattle to smaller communities like Lenexa, Kansas and West Union, Iowa – showing that green infrastructure can save cities a lot of money while delivering environmental, health, and social benefits.

Finally, I want to make a point about innovation. This room—and the rest of this nation—is filled with innovators and problem solvers. That’s why you’re all here. You’re people who think outside the pipe.

EPA’s Office of Water is committed to cultivating that creativity. Last March, we released a “Blueprint for Integrating Technology Innovation into the National Water Program.” It was such a hit, we did it again. And I’m thrilled to announce that today we released our second blueprint. It highlights our plans to promote technology innovation. The blueprint points to Energy Reduction and Recovery at Drinking Water and Wastewater Facilities – the 150,000 drinking water and 15,000 wastewater facilities nationwide account for almost 2 percent of the national electricity consumption. That’s enough to power six and a half millions homes a year.

We also want to improve Reliability of Small Drinking Water Systems. Over 90% of the 160,000 public water supply systems are small, serving fewer than 3,300 people. We can’t let decentralization be an excuse for disorganization.

Let me congratulated todays awardees. There’s a thread that ties them all together: it’s that they aren’t just thinking about providing clean water today—but managing it for the future. That kind of ingenuity means breaking down silos. It means investing and innovating more, but also measuring and managing better.

The President’s Climate Action Plan—and our work across the administration to recognize the needs of community climate resilience—shares that same value. At the end of the day, our north star is ensuring a world with safe water to drink, clean water teeming with fish and wildlife, and healthy cities and towns for our children’s children to enjoy.

Thanks so much for having me.