What Will the Trump Administration Mean for the Water, Wastewater Industry?

President Donald Trump has promised to make clean water a high priority, but what exactly can we expect from his administration?
What Will the Trump Administration Mean for the Water, Wastewater Industry?

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“We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

Those words, spoken in November 2016 by President Donald J. Trump, may spark encouragement in many, especially those with specific interests in rebuilding and updating the nation’s infrastructures. But with any election and new administration come uncertainty, and this year brings with it its own unique share of trepidation.

The water industry is quickly taking notice and keeping eyes and ears open for what President Trump’s administration will mean for water infrastructure, wastewater issues and other topics relating to one of the world’s most precious commodities.

Trump’s own website, www.donaldjtrump.com, touts the 45th president’s public views on water. He notes that he will “make clean water a high priority. Develop a long-term water infrastructure plan with city, state and federal leaders to upgrade aging water systems. Triple funding for state revolving loan fund programs to help states and local governments upgrade critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.”

To add weight to those goals, he also cites a recent investigation conducted by USA Today that found nearly 2,000 water systems throughout the states that have excessive levels of lead contamination.

After Trump’s election, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) penned a letter to Trump urging his administration to “make water infrastructure investment a key priority.”

The AWWA letter stated that “the top priority facing our nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems is financing the repairs, replacement and expansion necessary to support our communities and assure a vibrate economy. Water infrastructure protects public health and the environment, supports local businesses, protects us from fires, and brings us a high quality of life.

“AWWA estimates that approximately $1 trillion dollars will be needed for the repair, replacement and expansion of existing drinking water distribution systems over the next two decades. This figure does not include the estimated $30 billion that would be required to replace U.S. lead service lines to protect against incidents such as the one in Flint, Michigan.”

The letter also focuses on issues of source water protection, the energy-water nexus and affordability issues.

Likewise, a letter from the Water Environment Federation (WEF) asks similar things of the new president, leading off with aging infrastructure as a concern. And it cites a 2014 WEF report that emphasizes its importance. “For every $1 million spent on water infrastructure, 16 jobs will be created . . . additionally, for every $1 million spent in water infrastructure, nearly $3 million will be generated in economic output in our economy.”

While their proactive letters are encouraging, they can’t predict what will happen now that President Trump has been inaugurated, and the groups have no way to truly predict what his administration’s policy priorities will be.

“Across every aspect of business and society, we’re all sort of waiting to see,” says Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council in Milwaukee. “There is so much unknown. We’re pretty much a wait-and-see from a regulatory standpoint. Certainly things are going to be different, but we don’t know what that is necessarily going to look like.”

Amhaus does say Trump’s vow to focus on infrastructure is “encouraging” since “our infrastructure is crumbling. It’s not just the roads that we see, it’s what’s crumbling under the ground that we don’t. To put some attention on that water structure is critical.”

Melinda Kruyer, executive director of Confluence in Ohio, agrees that an infrastructure focus is key. “I hope it does happen,” she says. “Water is such a big part of that. Water infrastructure has been so utterly underfunded for so long. There’s this growing need. We’re at the point now where we really have to deal with this.”

Environmental groups are taking a less than optimistic view of what the administration could do, noting concern online about the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule — an update to the Clean Water Act regulations.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed the rule beneficial to the everyday operations of water utility managers, a new head of the department could mean change, for better or for worse.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been selected to lead the EPA — a move that has many environmentalists bracing themselves for conflict. Pruitt has been vocal about his opposition to WOTUS and he also sued the EPA in 2015 over the Clean Water Rule.

In addition to this appointment, Trump’s comments about the veracity of climate change also alarm some environmentalists.

As Amhaus says, for now it’s a wait-and-see game. But both he and Kruyer voiced excitement about potential innovations for water entities, and they hope the changing of the guard will embrace them, or at least consider them.

“What I would encourage anyone from a policy standpoint is that we not only fix the things that are out there . . . by putting in new infrastructure . . . and new innovative solution,” says Amhaus. “We will work with any administration . . . water is a non-partisan issue. Water will get into a Republican’s basement and a Democrat’s basement."


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