Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Small Steps to Big Goals


When I learned I had been selected by GOVERNING Magazine as one of their 2014 Public Officials of the Year, I was pleased beyond words for the reasons most would guess, and one most would not.  The reaction that is expected, although not any less special, is to feel humble and grateful that I am receiving recognition for work that has taken great effort by the superb team at DC Water.  Our world-class public servants make me look good every day. 

The reaction that is personal to me is that receiving this award represents the achievement of a goal I set almost 20 years ago.  In 1996 I was a member of Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review – charged with building a government that works better and costs less.  Just a few years before, GOVERNING – a regular partner of the Performance Review – had started selecting their Public Officials of the Year (POY for short).  I admired the officials who were honored by GOVERNING and decided that I wanted to be considered in that group.  I wanted to drive change in public service.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Private Sector Efficiency for the Public Good

I was delighted to meet the new President and Chief Executive Officer of The DC Chamber of Commerce Harry Wingo several months back, and even more so when I learned about one of the reasons for his visit to Blue Plains.  He informed me that I had been selected as the 2014 Business Leader of the Year by the Chamber!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let's Toast to Tap

We recently honored the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act by hosting a Toast to Tap event at CityCenter in downtown Washington, D.C.  We were grateful for CityCenter providing the venue in a new park surrounded by both water fountains and city streets, and I was pleased to speak to the enthusiastic crowd that assembled to celebrate this important milestone.

The site was especially fitting for me, because the CityCenter development plan presented such an interesting water issue when it came before me when I was Director of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE).  The folks at City Center wanted to recycle stormwater captured on-site and use it for a variety of purposes – watering plants and other green features and perhaps in HVAC.  This was a first for us, and we had to decide how clean this water needed to be – if it was not going to be used for drinking water.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Ounce of Maintenance is Worth a Pound of Cure

Maintenance saves the world!  Every day, all over the world, maintenance men and women are both protecting us and saving money.  In the water world we often think our efforts are unheralded, and within our unheralded world, the most unheralded work may be maintenance.  Yet there is a good case that their work is near the top in importance.

How and why?  Good question.  Take a look at the following video:



What this video captures is the dedication of our maintenance staff, their drive to innovate, and the particular ways the work is changing with the times.  What the video does not capture is the vast and complex systems that must be maintained.  It only begins to hint at the financial benefits that come from pro-active maintenance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Good Company

WEFTEC, the annual trade show for the folks who serve our nation’s wastewater systems, has come and gone again. WEFTEC is put on each year by the amazing staff at the Water Environment Federation, and rotates between Chicago and New Orleans.  I attended this year in the Big Easy and was yet again staggered by what I saw:

  • The size and scale of the businesses and services that serve this cause.  Although there is a new report that emphasizes the economic and community vitality that we drive – one need but see the floor of the convention center to be amazed by this reality.   The floor was nearly a half mile long and about a football field in width, teeming with people describing a nearly endless array of innovative goods and services.
  • The remarkable creativity of the people who do our work, and their willingness to help their brethren.  From dawn to dusk from Saturday to Wednesday, programs and seminars on almost every conceivable topic burst with vision and wisdom.

For me, I arrived on Sunday evening and spoke at my first event at 7:15 on Monday morning – to the annual breakfast of the American Association of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEE).  AAEES’ membership list is a who’s who of some of the most accomplished members of our profession, and much of what they focus on is both how to create suitable technical standards to underscore our work and people, and also to identify and highlight the best of scientific and engineering accomplishments of these same people.  I was honored to be there.

Yet as I scurried from one engagement to the next, I took away three special messages:

  1.  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy knows water!  During the opening morning plenary, the Administrator spoke to a huge, standing-room only crowd in a gigantic ballroom.  The Administrator is known for her expertise on air issues and climate change, given her prior position as Assistant Administrator for Air at EPA.  Some of us were concerned that maybe she would not be as attentive to water issues.  I can state with certainty that this worry was put to rest. 
    The Administrator spoke with authority on water issues, painting a compelling picture that water (is) will be the first and perhaps most important measure of climate change, and that the protection of water when there is both growing scarcity and flooding is becoming more important, not less.  She explained the need and importance of an updated definition of the “waters of the United States” for the Clean Water Act, and the need for both increased flexibility in implementation, yet continued focus on reducing nutrient pollution.  Mindful of algae blooms in Lake Erie and droughts in the West, the Administrator has a command of water issues and is a powerful voice for us at the helm of our nation’s environmental agency.
  2. The Johnson Foundation released a remarkable report that is the capstone of a six-year effort to chart a new future for water in the United States.  I was honored to be asked to provide brief remarks about the report, which I have already read and annotated!  While I am mindful that reports on almost any topic seem to be published by the day, I am certain that this one is different. 
    Unlike many reports on water, the Charting New Waters report does not spend much time on why we need to act.  This report, neatly organized and well written, is about what we need to do and how.  It is a practical roadmap, a game plan for any coach of a water team, of the extraordinary flowering of creative ideas and approaches that can leap-frog our enterprises to new levels of service, effectiveness and efficiency.  And the best part is that every idea is tied to examples – real world examples that demonstrate the words go beyond fascinating ideas, but have already been developed and implemented by some of the best of us in the industry. 

    I applaud the work of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, their creative and charismatic project leader Lynn Broaddus, and John Ehrmann and Molly Mayo of the Meridian Institute who helped create the report.  Honestly, if I were to suggest one read for our industry this year it would be Charting New Waters.  I guarantee your copy will have underlines and notes in the margins like mine does.  It captures this moment in time – one where our industry is changing because it must, led by the spirit and ideas of our own. 

  3. Water Works!  Once again, we also emphasized the economic and community vitality we are driving in the water industry.  SanFrancisco PUC General Manager Harlan Kelly seemed to be everywhere, representing a group of 30 General Managers who have banded together to tell the story of the strength of our industry.  WEF highlighted the importance of the study we published about the hundreds of billions of dollars of work we will be undertaking over the next decade, and the tens of thousands of jobs we will foster.

My most significant take-away, again, is to admire the people who work in our industry.   We are a group that is dedicated to public service, are problem-solvers to our core, and both creative and practical.  I congratulate WEF on another extraordinary year of WEFTEC, and look forward to next year in Chicago.  



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bravo for the Anacostia Watershed Society!

Kingman Island, Northeast Washington, D.C.
The Anacostia Watershed Society celebrated its 25th Anniversary recently on the banks of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC.  I was delighted to be there and to share the podium with the Honorable Anthony Williams, founder Robert Boone and a new friend from Boston – more on that in a moment.  For my part, I was pleased to emphasize that the people who give, work or volunteer for AWS are undertaking the most important work for the River.  Why?

Because people are at the heart of any action.  People must care about the river.  People must enjoy the river. People must monitor and report on the condition of the river.  People must advocate for change.  Informed, thoughtful people are what drives government, businesses, and other community organizations to act.  The action, though, starts with the people – not the other way around.

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The proud Wild Rice seed collection team.

When dedicated people take on almost any issue in this manner - supported by science-based assessments of what is going on and what is needed, presented in thoughtful and reasoned arguments of what needs to be done and why – the world changes!

Only an organization, like the AWS, that cares about the whole watershed and sees the river as a vibrant system can safeguard the health of the entire waterway. Unlike government entities who can only govern sections of the watershed’s tributaries, and all of the land that drain to those waterways, AWS is free to take a holistic approach to protecting the watershed.

And AWS has been brilliant.  Starting from its roots in the heart and mind of Bob Boone, one of the most deeply passionate, and deeply principled environmental advocates I have met – AWS has helped lift the Anacostia River from polluted and forgotten obscurity to prominence as the “it” river for the current day. 

Countless boat trips, presentations, stream clean-ups, community meetings and volunteer monitoring efforts have introduced countless people to the River.  Some of the countless people include Senator Ben Cardin, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip Chris Van Hollen, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, every mayor of the District since Anthony Williams and local officials from every jurisdiction in the watershed.
Summer evenings on the Anacostia river.
All of us have both marveled at the beauty of the river, the improvements that have been achieved, yet the heart-breaking challenges that still remain.

We also heard from Tom Sieniewicz from the Charles River Watershed Association at the event – which is just about twice as old an organization at 50 years.  He highlighted that the Charles River, another great waterway of a great older city, was graded at a D in 1994.  Yet after 20 years of committed dedicated effort since that date, the Charles received an A- in 2014.  Wow – an urban waterway, the Charles River in Boston, from D to A- in 20 years!

Two messages resonated with me.  One is that we can succeed!  Just as people can now swim in the Charles River, we can achieve the same for the Anacostia.  Fishable and swimmable on the Anacostia is possible…

The second is that the AWS is instrumental to the prospects for the Anacostia and its many neighborhoods. Its energetic membership and staff, led by superstar Jim Foster, who followed fellow superstar Jim Connolly, understands that people are the cornerstone of the future of the river.

DC Water will certainly do our part – and the Clean Rivers Project will drive the most significant improvements to the River in the last many decades.  Yet it is the Anacostia Watershed Society that is at the core of this effort.  We should all celebrate their 25th birthday, and join in helping them continue celebrating long into the future!

We all share in their success!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Water works!



Earlier this month I joined my colleague Harlan Kelly, GM of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (water, sewer and power) and Tony Parrott, Executive Director of the Metropolitan District of Greater Cincinnati to launch a national effort to convene the chief executives of water utilities to focus on one principal issue: the economic and community benefits that spring from our work, to parallel the obvious attention that is given to the costs. 


In every jurisdiction, water and sewer rates – however configured – are rising as old infrastructure is updated and new regulatory mandates and technological opportunities are implemented. We felt that attention has to be focused not just on rising costs, but on the opportunities we provide for good jobs, improved neighborhoods, and new businesses. From initial meetings in early 2014, we completed a study – founded on a survey of 30 municipal authorities – of our economic and community characteristics. Here in Washington in mid-September, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and the Water Research Foundation (WRF) released a report that highlights the economic activity driven by these 30 utilities. The report found that:
  • Thirty of the largest water and wastewater agencies will invest more than $230 billion over next decade; and
  • these agencies support 289,000 permanent good-paying jobs, annually, strengthening America’s middle class; and
  • DC Water will contribute $13.1 billion in economic activity over ten years; and
  • The Authority will provide 7, 090 jobs over the next years.

I also take pride in the fact that the group chose to adopt the name DC Water uses for its own jobs program – DC Water Works – by calling the national effort “Water Works!” The entire report can be found on the Water Works! website, and a DC Water-specific fact sheet is available online here. We will continue to emphasize the importance our organizations play in the communities we serve.