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Infrastructure Week: The Role of Water Infrastructure as a Driver of America’s Economic Recovery, Equity & Resilience

To mark Infrastructure Week 2021, Xylem hosted a virtual event, co-sponsored by the US Water Alliance, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Water Environment Federation, where water sector leaders discussed possibilities for the future of America's water infrastructure. The expert panel shared perspectives on how to seize the moment to address legacy water infrastructure needs and modernize the nation’s water systems. Among the key topics covered was how President Biden’s $2 trillion-dollar proposed investment in US infrastructure, including a $111 billion investment in water, can be best utilized. Panel members highlighted the potential to create a legacy and the need to harness this opportunity to upgrade and modernize the nation’s water systems. 

Panel participants included: Kishia Powell, Chief Operating Officer, DC Water; Andrew Sawyers, Director, Office of Wastewater Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Adam Krantz, CEO, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA); George Hawkins, Founder and CEO, Moonshot Missions; and Patrick Decker, President and CEO, Xylem. 

At the event – titled, “Water Infrastructure as a Driver of Economic Recovery, Equity and Resilience” (watch here) – panel members were unanimous that prioritizing water infrastructure is essential to get America back on its feet. Panelists reflected on the potential for water infrastructure to address the social, economic and environmental challenges of this generation, and solving them for the next. Harnessing the power of digital solutions to improve water affordability and resiliency also featured prominently.

“This is an incredible moment in time for the water sector and everyone we serve,” said Patrick Decker, President and CEO, Xylem Inc. “Investing in water infrastructure – and digital solutions, specifically – is an opportunity to invest in new jobs, the economy, environment and social value. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. With the technology that exists today we can address our water challenges in a way that’s much more affordable.” 

The panel discussion was broadcast from a new collaboration space for the water sector, located in Washington D.C. 

A snapshot of key insights from the panel:

On the power of digital solutions…  

“We have all these challenges in front of us to build new infrastructure or refurbish the aging infrastructure that we have around us. And so how do we do that in a way that affordable? We think it's an opportunity of a lifetime because the innovation and the technology exists today that didn't exist 10 years ago, and it can do all that in a very, very affordable way. But we have to educate our communities and our political leaders as to what the options are that are out there.” Patrick Decker, President and CEO, Xylem Inc.

“Just to underscore very quickly, Patrick's point about the role of the digital utility, the technology approaches. Those are vital in terms of how we address this issue. And that should also be a component of any major legislation.” George Hawkins, Founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions and former Director of DC Water 

“We just have to make sure we harness the opportunity that's ahead of us. We could create a legacy that will be long lasting.” Andrew Sawyer, Director, Office of Wastewater Management, U.S. EPA

“So we're not just putting the money in the ground so that we have new pipes, but we've got to make sure that we're building up communities, and that those communities have an opportunity if we do it in the right way, that they're not overburdened financially. That every community has an opportunity to be resilient in the face of climate change. That every community has an opportunity to take advantage of the economic, social and environmental benefits that come from making those investments.” Kishia Powell, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, DC Water

“If we can start to think about the innovation that's needed. We have invested in water for the last 45 years, and we have pursued certain approaches. I think it's going to be really important for us to be innovative. Technology will be fundamental to that.” Andrew Sawyer, Director, Office of Wastewater Management, EPA

“We have to invest in a way that allows us to improve the condition of our infrastructure, because we know as utilities that we are required to provide a level of service that our infrastructure is not allowing us to keep up with. We also know that trends. Changing climates is causing so many impacts.” Kishia Powell, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, DC Water 

“They hear the affordability issue. The youth, look at this and say, this is what you're leaving us? This is what we're inheriting? And then when they hear the technologies exist to actually do this in an affordable way, they say, what are we waiting on?” Patrick Decker, President and CEO, Xylem Inc.

“I think we have been working very diligently to change the conversation. To go from we're just here and, you know, we're just trying to make improvements, to improve water quality and to be good stewards of the environment. All of that remains the same, that is true. But this is also an economic conversation. Investing in water infrastructure means jobs. Water fuels economies.” George Hawkins, Founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions and former Director of DC Water

“And how do we go beyond just focusing on adapting to climate change and start being part of the mitigation measures for climate change?” George Hawkins, Founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions and former Director of DC Water

On the opportunity to accelerate progress through new infrastructure funding

“Infrastructure does not just employ people and products and services in the building of the infrastructure. By investing in infrastructure. it improves every other business, every other community in its ability to produce because it's an underlying cost of every other element of the economy. So by investing in infrastructure we support everyone and everything. And with water, it is also essential to every person, every family, every community and every living organism and every ecology and economic and environmental system in the country. It’s an extraordinary opportunity.” George Hawkins, Founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions and former Director of DC Water 

“Water is at the heart of every single community in this nation. And so, as we think about the investments that are being contemplated, they will be at the heart of every community in this nation.” Andrew Sawyer, Director, Office of Wastewater Management, U.S. EPA

“All other infrastructure sectors, whether you look at transportation, education, hospitals, roads, bridges are funded more along the lines of 60% federal investment, 40% local state. It's exactly the opposite in the context of water infrastructure, where we have 95% local investment and 5% federal investment. That to me is something that needs to be addressed very directly. There's nothing more important than water infrastructure.” Adam Krantz, Chief Executive, NACWA

“I have already seen in many respects that this is water's moment, water's moment needs to become permanent. And that federal investment needs to be something that doesn't last once and done, or over a five-year period. It has to be ensconced in a policy and in funding through Congress and the federal government in a way we simply have not yet seen to date.” Adam Krantz, Chief Executive, NACWA

“We're in a stronger position than we've ever been. We have smarter, more able, more capable people running water utilities, working at EPA, working in Congress than we've ever had before. Water needs to be a bipartisan priority. And I think we're on the cusp of something very special here.” Adam Krantz, Chief Executive, NACWA

“If you're in the water sector then you pretty much know that our infrastructure has failing grades and that's not acceptable for any student. It certainly isn't acceptable for the infrastructure of the United States of America.” Kishia Powell, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, DC Water

“It's not acceptable for us to have infrastructure that is failing. We had a lot of help to put this infrastructure in the ground. Now we have billions of dollars of assets that we have to manage but that is being managed by the rate payers.” Kishia Powell, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, DC Water

“Without water and wastewater services we could see significant public health, water quality issues, perhaps no other infrastructure in this country can actually say the same thing.” Andrew Sawyer, Director, Office of Wastewater Management, U.S. EPA

“You can't charge the true value of water. You cannot get there. It becomes a rate setting issue. So if the federal government can come in as a partner and help us to alleviate that issue at the local level, it does free us up to a great degree as utilities across the country to begin to move toward what really is the true value of water for those who really at the local level should be paying exactly that.” Adam Krantz, Chief Executive, NACWA