I had the privilege yesterday evening to hear a conversation with Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and authors of the Commission’s report The Moment of Truth (2010). It was a great chance to hear genuine statesmen discussing one of the most pressing issues of our day. Logically, the first question posed by the moderator was “how did we get here?” Mr. Bowles discussed the five main causes of our national debt crisis—health care, the tax code, defense spending, social security and compounded interest. Sen. Simpson had a very short answer: we got here because US citizens over the past decades have elected representatives to Congress to bring home the bacon. He listed a few of the things that we have asked the federal government to pay for, and number one on the list was dams.
I think it is fair to say that federal subsidies for state and local water resource projects constitute a relatively small proportion of federal spending. Nonetheless, they are viewed by many as an important way to bridge the water and wastewater infrastructure gap in the US. This is especially true of the managers of government-owned utilities and their public policy supporters. It is becoming increasingly clear to many in the US, however, that our federal government will remain strong and stable only if we change our fiscal ways, and that includes not asking for federal subsidies of state and local water projects. While some environmental advocates and private sector utilities have argued for full-cost pricing of water and wastewater services, the water industry will need to embrace that concept more broadly and deeply in coming years. Hopefully after the 2012 US presidential election is past, those of us in the water industry can sit down and craft a national water policy that will truly support water resource sustainability and fiscal responsibility at the federal, state, local, utility, corporate and individual levels.