Weathering the Storms

Working Together Through NACWA For A Better Water Future 

By Catherine R. Gerali

It has been a remarkable experience serving as both the District Manager of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver and the President of NACWA. I have learned one thing over my career, and it is that dedicated people, working together for a common cause larger than themselves, are the recipe for success.

NACWA has made great strides in ensuring a strong and growing network that can help address the complex challenges our communities face. In recent months, we have witnessed hurricanes, wildfires, and now, along the East Coast, a new foreboding term, the “bomb cyclone.” It brought frigid temperatures and widespread water and sewer main breaks to numerous communities, underscoring the need for continued investment in our aging water infrastructure nationwide. We will withstand these challenges, however, because of our collective sense of service and because of organizations, like NACWA, that help us marshal our local strength into a national force. 

NACWA has changed its dues structure to be more equitable for small communities, ensuring the broadest possible participation in setting policy that reflects the needs of all public utilities—large or small, in the East or the West, in arid or wet regions, and in urban or rural communities.

NACWA added more than 35 new members over this past year and already has 12 new members going into Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18)—a banner year—underscoring the unique value proposition and return on investment to be gained from a proactive national agenda.

We created a new Arid State and Water Quantity Workgroup—headed by accomplished leaders from California and Florida—to give voice to water quantity issues and ensure these issues are fully integrated into NACWA’s strategic plan and advocacy agenda.

NACWA, together with a broad array of allied organizations, successfully defended the tax exemption for municipal bonds as well as solid funding levels for the State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) in both the FY17 budget and the Trump Administration’s proposed FY18 budget (notably, these are the only major programs in these budgets that avoided deep cuts).

NACWA has also expanded its Engage® online peer-to-peer networks, providing a venue, and an invaluable opportunity, for utility executives and the entire utility’s staff to share best practices and solutions that lift up the sector as a whole—with an equal focus on large, medium, and small agencies.

As a farmer, I know full well that many hands make for lighter work, and no great accomplishments are achieved by only one person. I am most proud of how the incomparable NACWA staff and membership have consistently displayed a tireless spirit of collaboration with fellow water sector organizations to accomplish great things. This collaboration will no doubt be embodied by Water Week 2018 in Washington, DC, where we can build on the successes of last year’s Water Week. These include record participation from a broad array of water sector organizations and more than 1,000 Capitol Hill office visits by water sector leaders, who specifically elevated clean and safe water as a top national priority.

Ultimately, there is reason to be optimistic. NACWA, and its members, know that hard, daily work, not slogans, advance the water sector and quality of life for all ratepayers. Utility leaders and their staff have proven, time and again, to be the sector’s chief innovators, forging a clear path toward our collective vision: the Utility of the Future.

There are over 55,000 drinking water utilities and 16,000 publicly owned treatment works in our country. The governance challenge will only grow as the population expands, climate and resilience challenges persist, agriculture and industry advance, and technological capabilities evolve. Whether we represent a large, medium, or small utility; an urban, rural, or suburban region; or a wet or arid climate; we will only maximize our chances of success by sharing our stories, learning from one another, and collectively demanding the respect we so very much deserve. By doing so, we will build on an already unparalleled legacy of water quality protection and sustainability. 

On behalf of NACWA, I thank you for your support.