Take advantage of the Flint Water story

Recent news stories present an opportunity to draw attention and support.

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Everyone on this earth has to deal with water and wastewater to some degree. Most don’t have the relationship with it that you do, but we all consume water and produce wastewater.

And sometimes we’re even chased out of our homes by stormwater.

All three play an intimate role in each of our lives, yet most of us in the general public choose to pay as little attention as possible. It has to be tough serving a customer base that largely takes what you do for granted, and it’s easy to take it for granted. Turn on the faucet and the water is there. Flush the toilet and the waste is whisked away. Even when the rain is pouring down, we drive through the puddles focused on our destination without a thought given to where that stormwater is going.

If you lived in Cambodia and were among the 84 percent who don’t have access to freshwater, you probably wouldn’t take it for granted. And if you were Haitian, you probably wouldn’t take access to a sanitary toilet for granted, because only one in five have that luxury. But it’s easy to take things for granted in the U.S. It’s what we do.

One thing I know for sure, the ubiquitous supply of clean, fresh drinking water isn’t being taken for granted in Flint, Michigan, anymore. Perspectives changed rather quickly when residents learned poison was being piped directly into their homes and there was no quick fix. But before the crisis in Flint surfaced, and even in the months since, unsafe levels of lead have been found in the drinking water of many communities across the U.S.

The problem was a shock to the average citizen, but I don’t suspect it was too big a surprise to those who’ve built their careers in the water industry. Our infrastructure is not in great shape. That doesn’t come as any surprise either. You’ve been fighting for more funding to repair and rehabilitate your systems for years, even decades in some cases. The public, taking water and wastewater services for granted as it does, has demanded better infrastructure. And with those utilities buried below the surface of everyday life, it’s been easy to bury the need.

I’m not using this space to call out the decisions made in Flint. Instead, I’m calling out the rest of you. Turn this terrible situation into something positive. Use it to rally support for your utilities. Make sure the powers that be are aware that all utilities are susceptible, if not to lead, than to other significant threats. Make sure your customers know what goes into delivering a clean supply of water. The faucets in their kitchens aren’t magic. They require an elaborate infrastructure to procure, treat and deliver that water. You’re well aware, but are they?

Are they aware of what shape your system is in, or how much it will cost to bring it up to speed, and maybe more important, how much more expensive it will be if you wait? Get the word out. The work you do is vital to the health of your communities. Make sure your customers understand. And make sure your political leaders know their heads will roll if their failure to fund needed improvements leads to another situation like the one in Flint.

It’s too important to just sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t you. It could be.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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