Water Utility Council Hits Full Stride in 2021 By Tim Worley
TWO YEARS FROM ITS REORGANIZATION in
December 2019, the Section's Water Utility Council
reached full strength as the membership's voice on
major policy issues in state and national government circles.
Activities in 2021 covered a wide range of topics, while
pandemic-related changes in advocacy methods opened new
doors to communicate with elected officials.
The Water Utility Council (WUC) communicated regular-ly
with the State Water Resources Control Board in California,
as the state pushed forward on an extremely active agenda.
Darrin Polhemus, head of the Division of Drinking Water,
spoke to the WUC about the state's plans at one meeting. The
WUC submitted comments through letters to the Water Board
on several matters, including draft permit conditions for di-rect
potable reuse, small utility laboratory challenges meeting
new accreditation requirements, development of water loss
standards and a complete update of the Cross-Connection
Control Handbook. Funding and spending decisions by the
State of California prompted WUC recommendations, such
as the process for distributing money to compensate for un-paid
customer bills or arrearages, budget provisions to support
computer-based testing for operator certification and support
of projects developed by Integrated Water Resource Manage-ment
groups across the state.
After COVID shut down the 2020 D.C. Fly-In, the event
roared back last year through virtual meetings with mem-bers
of Congress and their policy staff. Without the cost of
travel to Washington, the virtual Fly-In enabled 31 members
to meet with 34 California and three Nevada Representatives
and three of the states' four Senators. The main requests —
increased funding for the State Revolving Funds and federal
dollars for removing lead service lines and PFAS treatment —
were heard and included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,
also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In a
separate communication, the Section expressed support for the
nomination of Radhika Fox, who was confirmed as assistant
administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. Ms. Fox had previously worked for San Francisco Pub-lic
Utility Commission before heading the U.S. Water Alliance.
Based on the review by its Legislative Committee, the
WUC also offered recommendations on bills in the California
Legislature. As a nonprofit organization known for education
and technical strength on utility operations and water quality,
the Section represents a different voice that needs to be heard.
The WUC expressed support of bills to set a time limit on water
or sewer fees challenges; permanently authorize community
colleges to offer specified baccalaureate (bachelor's) degrees;
require consumer labeling and education to discourage
flushing of wipes that clog sewer systems; and more. Other
bills triggered advice against policy proposals with flaws and
negative consequences. These included bills to drastically
overhaul the state's water pollution control laws; reduce
residential per capita water use targets without a better
understanding of the effects; establish a water rate assistance
fund without specifying the source of funding; and revise
the conditions under which drinking water systems can
discontinue service for nonpayment of charges.
The WUC also introduced a new Water Policy Leadership
Award to recognize deserving individuals in government ser-vice.
For the first year, the choice was made to set a broad prec-edent
for the award so it can be given to recognize a career of
service or a new and emerging water policy champion. In the