This editorial letter originally appeared in WQP March 2021 issue as "Then vs. Now"
As someone who regularly travels professionally under normal circumstances, it is startling to realize that it has been almost a year since my last business trip in early March 2020 for the Water Quality Association (WQA) DC Fly-In. I’m sure many readers can relate.
At the time, there was a clear sense of optimism following conversations between water industry advocates and congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. Drinking water contaminants, such as lead and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), were increasingly of concern on the Hill, as were the role of treatment solutions. Yet, only a week later the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and water was forced to take a back burner. The momentum was delayed.
Now, as a new administration occupies the White House and COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, water may once again become top-of-mind to legislative officials. First, if an infrastructure bill is introduced to boost the U.S. economy, it is likely that all facets of the water sector will see the impact. Though it has been historically difficult to pass an infrastructure bill, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at his confirmation hearing that, “What makes this time different is that we’re also doing this in the context of the need for economic recovery,” according to The New York Times.
Also on the table is potential regulations regarding PFAS in drinking water, particularly an MCL for PFOA and PFOS. President Joe Biden’s nominee to become U.S. EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, has a long history fighting PFAS contamination. Regan, who previously led the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, spearheaded negotiations that resulted in the PFAS contamination cleanup of the Cape Fear River at the time, according to The Associated Press. It is likely that emerging contaminants and drinking water quality issues will be a priority under his leadership, if he is confirmed.
Clean water for all is no small feat, but I’m optimistic we are inching ever closer to that all-important goal. Regardless of politics, the pandemic has forced many of us to re-evaluate our priorities, both personally and professionally. Where does water fall on that spectrum?