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Mayors Meet in Washington to Develop Strategies on Water Infrastructure Rehabilitation

By Cynthia Zhao
February 9, 2004

Trenton (NJ) Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Sugar Land (TX) Mayor David G. Wallace convened a meeting of the Urban Water Council (UWC) in conjunction with The U. S. Conference of Mayor's 72nd Winter Meeting. The Co-Chairmen briefed participating mayors on the continuing problem of inadequate water infrastructure investment.

The mayors cited problems with sub'surface infrastructure (underground pipes) and displayed news film clips depicting water main breaks that literally cripple cities with gushing water and flooding streets. The Co-Chairmen of the UWC stated that the failure to invest in rehabilitating the sub'surface infrastructure has led to destruction of public and private property, loss of business and gross inconvenience to citizens trying to conduct their normal daily lives.

Palmer and Wallace encouraged mayors who have water problems in their cities to join the Urban Water Council since it is not only a place for mayors to exchange ideas and share information, but also is tasked to help them to solve the existing and increasingly urgent water infrastructure issues facing their cities. They called on mayors to begin developing investment strategies to modernize their water infrastructure to avoid the problems witnessed in the film clips.

The mayors were joined by keynote speaker, General Robert Flowers, Chief of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), (see related article), and by James Hanlon, Director of the U.S. EPA's Office of Wastewater Management. Mr. Hanlon provided an update to the Mayors on EPA activities and projects dealing with the nation's aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Based on the Agency's 2002 Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis, the EPA estimates the funding gap for both capital and operations and maintenance (O&M) from 2000 to 2019 to be more than $500 billion. Strategies and tools such as asset management and Environmental Management System (EMS) have been developed for cities and local governments to tackle the funding shortages and fill the projected gap. According to Hanlon, "EPA has been working with local governments in the development of Environmental Management Systems for over five years. The data is compelling. Cities that have implemented an EMS have an exemplary record when it comes to compliance and often realize cost savings on the order of 20 percent." He encouraged city executives to explore this tool for application in one or more of their operations.

The participating mayors expressed interest in EMS. Mayors who have benefited from the Environmental Management System shared their experiences in using them to improve water infrastructure and the environment quality of their communities. The real benefit of an EMS to a city, according to Hanlon, is each system's capability to combine system-wide management and people with the expertise to get a job done, particularly city employees and public utility managers.

The Co-Chairmen of the UWC introduced two new sponsors to the UWC's Water Development Advisory Board. The new members are: CH2M HILL and KHAFRA Engineering. Both companies provide engineering and consulting services nationwide. They will be called upon by the UWC to provide expertise and advice to the Council on numerous water infrastructure, water supply and water conservation issues.

The Co-Chairmen provided participating mayors with information on upcoming meetings of the Urban Water Council in 2004. Wallace will host a Regional Seminar on Municipal Water Partnerships in Sugar Land this spring. Also this spring, the UWC will host the Annual Urban Water Summit on April 27-28 in Washington (DC). The UWC will also meet during the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Annual Meeting in Boston this June.