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Mayor Ethridge Calls for Mayors to Champion Water Issues — Describes "Un-Mandated Funding" Phenomenon

By Cynthia Zhao
June 23, 2003

Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge addressed colleagues at the Urban Water Council meeting in Denver. "As the challenges of water quality and quantity are so pervasive, we need the involvement of every mayor, and each one should be the champion for water issues," she stated.

Mayors at the meeting expressed their common concerns over water supply scarcity and quality. Mayor Ethridge briefed the Mayors on Waco's water challenges and recent developments. Clean water is scarce since Waco's water supplies are often contaminated with animal wastes which threaten the health, safety of Lake Waco (the leading regional water supply), and economic development in the region. The problem has received national attention. It is due in large part to animal manure runoff raising phosphorus levels in Lake Waco. The primary source of the phosphorus has been traced to several dairy farms located on the Bosque River, most of which reside in another county. The lack of adequate treatment and proper disposal of animal waste from dairies has become a serious problem in the watershed. "The future of our community depends on our capability to resolve the problems successfully", she said.

Mayor Ethridge commented on three efforts undertaken by the City in recent months.

First, constructing Lake Waco Wetlands in partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers "has been a huge success as a significant community asset." The project improves the taste and odor of Waco's water by removing nitrogen and phosphorous before these nutrients enter the lake. As a new and innovative technology, constructed wetland has the potential to redefine and improve upon traditional concepts for wastewater management.

Second, the City pursued sustained vigilance and community stewardship of water resources, partly through the establishment of an Education and Research Center. Mayor Ethridge pointed out that "telling citizens the truth about the challenges you are facing, and they will support you." Public involvement in the water issues is widely considered to be a necessary element of water resource management. This fact must be shared by all those that inhabit and influence the watershed.

Third, working with elected officials at the state and national level to attain legislation that is more protective of drinking water sources is essential. "The money is there, the science is there, and the solutions are known. All that is lacking is the political will to make it happen and to direct that funding appropriately." She said. Mayor Ethridge reminded the member mayors of the importance of political solutions.

The Mayor stated that all Mayors are familiar with unfunded mandates. But in her City there is a watershed problem where existing grant money available to dairy farmers under last year's farm bill would provide the funding to clean up animal waste. But there is no mandate to do so. She calls this the Un-Mandated Funding phenomenon.

In closing Mayor Ethridge commended the Urban Water Council because it played an important role in providing her City with a tool to help address water quality problems. She expressed her appreciation to the Urban Water Council for holding the Regional Seminar in Waco last September, which brought together stakeholders into a productive exchange of ideas. "It is a necessary step and is really an important beginning for us to start the dialogue with the other players. We couldn't be where we are if we have done that the way we did", she concluded.