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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Announcement of the Water Technology Innovation Cluster, As Prepared

01/18/2011
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Read what Administrator Jackson and SBA Administrator Mills co-wrote on the Water Technology Innovation Cluster.

As prepared for delivery.

Water quality is something I’ve always been very passionate about, from growing up on the Gulf Coast to studying the issues to working with communities when they were concerned about water issues affecting their health and the health of their children.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a need to improve. Today we are facing the challenge of less conventional pollutants – not the oil slicks or industrial waste of the past, but invisible pollutants that we’ve only recently had the science to detect. Many of these are the chemicals that have become more prevalent in our products, our waters, and our bodies in the last 50 years. We’re also dealing with less conventional sources of pollution. Contaminants in our water are not always coming from the end of a pipe. One of the most prevalent and fastest growing challenges is stormwater runoff, which today is stored and treated as wastewater. That can be very costly to cities and towns on a budget. Many of those cities and towns are struggling to maintain their current infrastructure – an effort that costs upwards of $30 billion a year nationwide. Even still, we lose almost 7 billion gallons of treated water each year because of leaking pipes.

In light of these and other challenges, I made a pledge last year that EPA would rethink the ways we protect America’s waters, that we would look to innovation in our strategies and innovation in the technology we employ. That is what brings us to the Water Technology Innovation Cluster today. By bringing together public utilities, research partners, small businesses and large corporations we’re taking steps towards meeting our 21st century water needs.

And the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana region couldn’t be a better place to explore those possibilities. This area is home to many research institutes – including this EPA facility – and home to some of the best water scientists in the business. The Cluster can help protect the health of millions of Americans by leading the way in state-of-the-art safeguards for water.

To address the many different pollutants that are today making their way into our waters, this Cluster will focus on improving monitors and sensors and on finding new ways to simultaneously treat multiple contaminants in drinking water. A great example of those innovative methods is the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, which recently broke ground on a $30 million state-of-the-art Ultraviolet Disinfection Treatment Facility. When operational, it will be the largest water utility in North America to use this innovative method, a chemical-free way to clean contaminants from water. As an added bonus, the GCWW UV facility will include 160 solar panels, cutting their carbon and air pollution as well.

And the GCWW is just one example. One Ohio-based firm – recognized by BusinessWeek as “One of America’s most promising startups” – already has a device on the market to help treat metals in our water. Another local company is developing sensor technology to better detect harmful substances that threaten our health and the health of our children. To tackle the less conventional sources of pollution, the Cluster will examine new green infrastructure techniques – like the rain gardens put in at Shepherd’s Creek in Ohio. The Metropolitan Sewer District is currently evaluating potential green infrastructure projects in the Lick Run Watershed, an environmental justice community in Mill Creek Valley. One especially promising project in Lick Run will remove storm water flows from the combined sewer system and create a new above-ground stream with surrounding park land. EPA, Ohio EPA, and MSD are collaborating closely on the Lick Run project and other potential green infrastructure projects. By working with nature, green infrastructure is an effective way to clean up water and beautify communities so that they are more attractive places to buy a home or start a business.

To support these advances EPA research will focus on cost-effective, innovative technologies to address the nation’s aging drinking water infrastructure. EPA’s Office of Research and Development will dedicate $5 million over the next 3 to 5 years to support the development and deployment of these innovative technologies. In addition, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results program and the Small Business Innovation Research program are developing two funding opportunities that compliment the work of this Cluster and help small businesses and research centers. First, through STAR grants we will make available $5 million for a National Center for Innovative Drinking Water Treatment Technology. This Center will seek truly innovative technologies to treat priority groups of contaminants in drinking water. It will facilitate the development, demonstration, and commercialization of these technologies, as well as their adoption by drinking water systems. In addition, we will announce the availability of up to $1.5 million through the SBIR program to fund innovative water treatment technologies being developed by the private sector.

As I said, joining this Cluster is the latest step in our pledge to rethink the way we protect our water in America. Part of that plan involved treating contaminants as groups. In 2010 EPA opened a conversation about addressing groups of contaminants and moving beyond a contaminant-by-contaminant approach. In the near future, we will be selecting our first group of contaminants to address. We are also identifying groups of contaminants where we need more data. We also committed to using all available authorities for protecting water. EPA’s Water, Pesticides and Toxics offices have identified new chemicals or chemicals that are potentially of concern in drinking water. We’re exploring the use of statutes like TSCA to strengthen protections and prevent these chemicals from threatening our health. We pledged to strengthen our work with states and local communities. Last fall EPA reached an agreement with three State Associations to facilitate sharing and analysis of data to target program oversight, compliance assistance, enforcement, and to enable consumers to obtain timely information about the quality of drinking water. And you can see the priorities of our pledge – fostering broad partnerships, encouraging innovation, addressing groups of contaminants – reflected in the work of the cluster.

This Cluster and the innovative firms and research institutions here have the potential to initiate a new era in sustainable, environmental technology. The ideas brought to life here will improve the health of our waters throughout the nation, and the health of all Americans. And these innovations will position America to lead the way in a new market of environmental technologies. I’m looking forward to working together to achieve this. Thank you.