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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Water Environment Federation's Technical Exhibition and Conference, As Prepared

10/01/2012
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Hello WEFTEC! It is exciting to be at the world’s largest conference on water, and I’m very glad to be here.

One of the reasons I wanted to come to WEFTEC is to say thank you, so let me start with that. This conference provides me with a unique opportunity to thank the people working across the entire spectrum of water – engineers, plant operators, utility managers, scientists and executives. It gives me chance to say thanks to the men and women we work with at all levels of government, and those who work for environmental groups, businesses and nonprofits. So, to all of you – the people here in this room and those of you tuning in onlinethank you for all of your hard work for clean water.

I know I also speak for my colleagues at the EPA when I say we are very grateful for your partnership.

We are all here for a very simple reason: we recognize that clean water is vital to our health, to our environment, and to our economy. We know that if our waters are not safe for drinking, swimming and fishing, then our health and the health of our children is at risk.We have seen in years past how failing to protect our lakes, rivers and streams leads to the loss of irreplaceable natural resources. It destroys ecosystems and endangers species.

And we know that if we neglect to take action, more beaches will close, more treasured tourist destinations will lose business, more of our signature industries will struggle to stay afloat, because water has a ripple effect across our economy. As a result, more communities will lose jobs – and without clean water, they will have less of what they need to attract new ones. And we know that more governments will be forced to spend money cleaning up pollution we might have prevented.

Put simply, we know the many, many reasons why clean water is so essential to our communities.

Now, another reason I wanted to come to WEFTEC is because it’s a chance for me to come to my hometown of New Orleans. I learned the value of water first hand growing up here, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.

The coastal areas and the local wetlands are part of the local heritage and culture. They play a key role in the economy. The levees and the canals and the waterfront have shaped the city – and the lives of its people.

That also has its challenges. Some of you may know about the stretch of the Mississippi that was called “Cancer Alley.” People living in the area got sick at a much higher rate because of the heavy concentrations of pollution in the water.

More recently, there was the flooding following Hurricane Katrina. So much of the community was destroyed – including the house I grew up in. After Katrina it was clear that the devastation and flooding were so bad because our marshes and wetlands – the area’s natural defenses – had been destabilized and cut away for oil and gas lines.

That tragedy taught us an important lesson about preserving and protecting our waters and our wetlands.

Even more recently, my hometown and its neighbors along the Gulf Coast faced the devastating impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During the spill, we essentially “lost” the Gulf for a couple months. We lost the use of valuable fishing grounds. We lost months of tourism dollars that communities and jobs count on. And we lost the intangible things – the benefits of having a thriving, vibrant ecosystem at the heart of our community.

We learned just how difficult and costly it was to do without those things, even for a short while. We saw the full ramifications of what it might mean to lose those waters for good. And today we are working across the region to rebuild and restore.

Growing up where I did explains why I was drawn to study chemical engineering and wastewater in school at Tulane – and why I continued that work in graduate school at Princeton. And it explains why it is such an important issue to me now.

My commitment to clean water is one of the many reasons I am so excited to be at the EPA at this moment in our history. This year not only marks the 25th year of the National Estuaries Program – and my own 25th year since starting out as a staff-level scientist at EPA in 1987.

But, as you all know, 2012 also marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act – the nation's foremost law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.

A generation ago, the American people faced health and environmental threats in their waters that are almost unimaginable by our standards today. Municipal and households wastes flowed untreated into fragile rivers, lakes and streams. Harmful chemicals were poured into the water from factories, chemical manufacturers, power plants and other facilities. Two-thirds of the waterways were unsafe for swimming or fishing.

Almost 90 percent of water systems had little or no information on what bacteria or chemicals might be in the water they delivered. Polluters weren’t held responsible. We lacked the science, technology and funding to address the problems.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland had so much industrial waste and pollution on its surface that it caught fire. Lake Erie had been declared dead.

In Washington, DC, the Potomac River was so polluted that it’s been reported you could smell it in the city on hot days.

Then, after years of hard work and careful deliberation, on October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act became law.

In the 40 years since its passage, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways. Urban waterways have gone from wastelands to centers of redevelopment and activity, and we have doubled the number of American waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing. We’ve developed incredible science and spurred countless innovations in technology.

Today, 92 percent of Americans have round-the-clock access to safe, clean drinking water that meets national health standards, and more than two-thirds of America’s assessed waterways meet water quality standards.

So much of this progress is due to your work, and your commitment to clean water.

But despite the progress of the past 40 years, there is still much, much more work to be done. And there are many remaining – and some brand new – challenges to clean water.

As I said, about 92 percent of people have access to clean drinking water – but what about that last 8 percent? Today more than two-thirds of America’s assessed waterways meet water quality standards – but that means one-third are not where they need to be yet.

Our nation’s water infrastructure is in tremendous need of improvement, The American Society of Civil Engineers rated both the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a D-, the lowest grades given to any public infrastructure.

The U.S. population is projected to grow 55 percent from 2000 and 2050, which will put added strain on water resources.

We’ve discovered how nitrogen and phosphorus pollution can impact streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters, causing serious environmental and human health issues, and harming the economy.

Climate change is predicted to bring warmer temperatures, sea level rise, stronger storms, more droughts and changes to water chemistry.

And we face the challenge of less conventional pollutants – not the oil slicks or industrial waste of the past, but invisible pollutants – so-called emerging contaminants – that we’ve only recently had the science to detect.

We’re also dealing with less conventional sources of pollution. Contaminants in our water are not always coming from the end of a pipe.

We need to find a new way forward if we are going to meet today’s demands and tomorrow’s challenges. And that new way must be rooted firmly in technology and innovation.

The 1970’s initiated several extraordinary advances in the protection of the water. I have said many times that I want to see another advance in clean water protection like we saw in that time. During my time as administrator, I want to be a part of changes that will benefit American communities for 10, 20, or 40 years down the road.

Luckily this room – and this nation – is filled with innovators and problem solvers—people who think outside the pipe.

The U.S. is a global leader when it comes to environmental technology innovation. According to the Department of Commerce, in 2010 the U.S. environmental industry generated about $312 billion in revenues. In 2010, the environmental industry employed nearly 1.7 million Americans and included approximately 61,000 small businesses.

Water equipment and chemicals is the largest component of the environmental technology sector – about 37 percent of exports. In 2009 we saw almost $10 billion in these exports and a $3.9 billion surplus in trade.

This is quite a track record, and it gives me great confidence in the innovative spirit and entrepreneurial ability of the people working across the water sector.

Last May, I announced new EPA efforts to promote the export of U.S. environmental products and services.

The strong global position of the U.S. environmental technologies industry provides a valuable opportunity for EPA to contribute to the President’s economic goals for the country – while simultaneously furthering global environmental protection and sustainable international development through the expanded distribution of our technology.

Increased international use of American environmental technologies would significantly expand all of the economic and environmental benefits we already see from the sector.

Expanding access to the kinds of advanced environmental solutions being developed here in the U.S. – and on showcase at WEFTEC – also means that more developing countries around the world will have the tools they need to contribute to a cleaner planet.

EPA is working to improve the connection between our environmental science and analytical expertise and the global market expertise that exists in the Department of Commerce and other federal agencies. This means more strategic support for American companies that are in a position to help solve environmental challenges in countries around the world.

We’ll be working with American environmental trade associations to share information on environmental solutions and American providers with our international partners through our government representatives in Embassies around the world.

We have also developed an environmental technologies exporters’ online portal – which we are unveiling for the first time today.

The portal is one-stop-shop that provides information on the range of U.S. government programs. It’s intended to help you expand your exports of environmental product and services, and it’s up and running now at www.epa.gov/inernational/exports.

Accelerating our technological development will help us address the many complex challenges we face today – both here in America and around the world. Because as great as those challenges are, they are matched by the opportunities they present for innovation. This is particularly true when it comes to water.

Let’s start by developing a water investment strategy focused on reuse, on the water/energy nexus, and on the refurbishment of aging water infrastructure and use of green infrastructure. We need to be innovative with financing and develop alternative funding mechanisms that engage both the public and private sectors to address any gaps.

Let’s figure out how we can manage water demand through consumer education effort through improved data and analytics, and increased use of innovative technologies at the municipal level. And let’s do this by supporting public-private partnerships and strategic pilot demonstrations between creative environmental entrepreneurs and our utilities.

Let’s create work with countries and institutions around the world to ensure shared international semantics on water efficiency – to help with not only the development, but also the deployment and commercialization of environmental technologies.

Let’s also get the private and public sectors together to set up better systems for technology verification to help entrepreneurs bring new, advanced technologies to market faster.

And let’s improve the way we exchange information on water innovation, here in the US and around the world.

Under Nancy Stoner and Lek Kadeli’s leadership, the Office of Water and the Office of Research and Development have focused on developing new technology and innovative solutions to address these issues.

They are identifying the critical areas for us to advance research and innovation – things like wastewater treatment, the water-energy nexus, green infrastructure, and financing mechanisms – as well as opportunities for partnerships across the Agency and externally that will help us achieve our shared goals.

A good example of the kind of partnership-based endeavor I’m talking about is our Water Technology Innovation Cluster based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

That cluster brings together public utilities, research partners, small businesses and large corporations to meet our 21st century water needs. They are researching and developing new technologies that make our water protection efforts more efficient and effective – all while creating good jobs and opportunities in the process.

The results we’re seeing are promising. Through the Cluster, EPA has partnered with GE to develop and commercialize a “Smart Water Platform” adaptive monitoring system for drinking water distribution systems.

The EPANET “Real-Time eXtension” software will demonstrate real time water-infrastructure monitoring to support the wide scope of utility decision-making needed to sustainably improve utility operations and enhance their security.

EPA is also partnering with Cincinnati-based entities UrbanAlta Technology, Aginova, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati to develop and demonstrate sub-surface moisture sensors and flow monitoring technologies for infiltration-based green infrastructure.

Another way we’re working to stimulate innovation on water technology is through our Small Business Innovation Research program. Over the past two years, we’ve placed a special emphasis on water-related topics.

This year we made "proof of concept" awards to small businesses in several areas, including those developing technologies to minimize energy use in water treatment. We also made two "development and commercialization" awards for technologies related to treatment of contaminants of emerging concern and water infrastructure.

EPA is also focused on promoting water efficiency through our WaterSense Program, and we have seen significant progress as a result. For example, in 2004 there were only 22 toilets that met WaterSense criteria. Today there are more than 1,100 models of high-efficiency toilets.

We need to promote greater reuse of water as well. EPA recently released our 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse, which highlight a broad range of opportunities for using reclaimed water, summarize the existing regulations in the U.S., and provide information on planning for future water reuse systems.

The recognition that wastewater can also serve as source of energy is an exciting development in the industry. We’re working to identify and promote promising technologies that can help reduce energy demand or generate energy through combined heat and power and other technologies. EPA’s research office is also collaborating with the U.S. Army on its “Net Zero” initiative to conserve energy and water on military installations.

Let me also say that we have to make sure we’re preparing the next generation of environmental stewards who will one day take the reins on these issues. Our new Campus RainWorks Challenge is aimed at engaging students across the country in tackling stormwater management – one of the toughest challenges to clean water. Not only will it help encourage the use of green infrastructure on college campuses – it will also show students what a career in the environmental sector can mean.

Despite what we see lately on the cable news shows, there are quite a few issues on which Americans – for the most part – agree. The need to protect our water resources is one of them.

A Gallup poll on a range of environmental issues showed that at least 75 percent of Americans “worry a great deal or a fair amount” about pollution in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and drinking water. In fact, clean water issues topped every other environmental issue asked about in the poll.

Behind that support are the human stories that demonstrate the value we place on water – parents who want to know that the water their children drink is safe, kids who spend their Saturdays fishing in their local pond or creek, or families whose livelihoods depend on people visiting the beautiful stretches of water in their communities.

This is about protecting a resource that is critical to our health and the health of our children, to our economy and to our entire way of life.

The challenges are daunting – but entirely achievable for a nation that restored the Cuyahoga, brought Lake Erie back to life, and revitalized the Potomac.

The best path to clean water is partnership – among all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits and the public. It is because of partnership that we made so much progress during the past 40 years, and it partnership that will ensure we build upon that progress over the next 40 years.

I thank all of you for being an instrumental part of protecting water, and for working with us to ensure that the vital natural resources our communities depend on are safeguarded for generations to come.

I’m glad to be with you today. Thank you very much.