Does anyone remember Carnac the Magnificent? Let me rephrase; does anyone other than Rusty or Beth remember Carnac the Magnificent? I am assuming there are a few of us, but for you Millennials go to your Google machine and YouTube it. Carnac was a recurring character portrayed by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, yes, there was life before Jimmy Fallon. For you crazy kids that have never heard of Johnny Carson, he was a thing. Johnny Carson is to the 1980s what Charli D’Amelio (ask your teenager) is to the 2020s. In any event, Carnac’s “gift” was he could “psychically ‘divine’ unknow answers to unseen questions.” Carson would come on-stage in full costume and his trusty sidekick (Ed McMahon) would hand him hermetically sealed envelopes with unknown questions inside. Carnac would put the sealed envelope to his head, divine the answer and announce it to the audience. For example, Carnac would loudly answer “Sis Boom Bah”, tear open the envelope (in his special way) and read the question “Describe the sound made when a sheep explodes” and the audience would go wild.
Fast forward to today, 2020 has not given us much to laugh about, and I am no Carnac. But if I were to be handed an envelope today (11/02/20) the answer I would give to the unseen question is “The largest public infrastructure and jobs stimulus bill since the New Deal”. The question is, “What will politicians in Washington, D.C. develop to put people back to work, repair our nation’s crumbling public infrastructure, improve our environment, and stimulate our economy?” If you are a POTW or a consultant that has not prepped your public boards and clients to get their ducks in a row for massive public infrastructure stimulus grants coming down the pike you should be charged with malpractice. If anything was learned from the financial crisis of 2007-2008 it was public works projects with planning and design complete will achieve massive grant assistance. This money will need to hit the street in the fall of 2021 and those that are, please forgive me for using this term, “shovel-ready”, will again be in the cat-bird’s seat. My district learned an important lesson after the 2008 national election; always have a project planned, designed, and on the shelf ready to take full advantage of grant opportunities. Through grants and free financing, we shaved $13 million off $26 million of treatment plant improvements. That savings allowed my district to dramatically accelerate initiatives towards cleaner water, energy independence, and regionalization. In my humble opinion, the only difference between now and the fall of 2008 is that the status of our nation’s health and economic crisis are significantly more challenging. More folks are sick and out of work while our public infrastructure continues to crumble, and we sit on the precipice of an environmental breaking point. Perhaps we can all agree on a few things (1) 2020 sucks, (2) we are all weary of COVID-19, (3) our environment is screaming out for help, and (4) we are all tired of the polarizing effect of politics.
What can we do to become part of the solution to these interconnected crises? Consider this, the water industry is perfectly positioned to affect transformational change. Wastewater surveillance testing can aid our health crisis. Construction projects can put people back to work while renewing our broken infrastructure. Innovators can develop new technology to create energy and reduce duplicate government service. There is literally something here for everyone. The environmentalist can grasp clean water and a decreased carbon footprint, entrepreneurs and innovators can build their companies and products, and government watchdogs can cheer the reduction of duplicate government services. 2020 does suck, but it is time to quit complaining about it and recognize that 2020 and the confluence of events will provide an opportunity that comes by once a career to “move the needle” on clean water.
“Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of man than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass will surely judge ourselves on the effort we contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.” – RFK
So, let this be an industry-wide clarion call to all essential water professionals, now is your time to affect transformational change. Now is the time to advocate for your clients and the environment alike. Opportunities like this do not come around very often. Do not be the last one to know. Reach out and contact your local government representatives and remind them the value of clean water and the unbounded opportunities that will flow from of a comprehensive national public infrastructure package. There are not many initiatives our politicians can agree on, but robust infrastructure bills have historically been points of bi-partisan cooperation. An infrastructure bill will happen, regardless of who is elected on November 3rd. What we do not know yet will be the size and the “flavor” of this infrastructure package. My guess is it will either be huge, or gargantuan. The 2009 American Rehabilitation and Recovery Act (ARRA) provided $3.5 billion nationally to clean water SRF programs. A 2021 Stimulus package could provide up to $75 billion or more to clean water SRF programs. Do not get caught flat-footed. Be ready and do not be bashful when sharing your story with decision makers. Our industry is in store for a renaissance and there is no better time to be a member of the clean-water community.
“Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate, nor nature, nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched with reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. Either way, it is the only way we can live.” – RFK