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Director's Report: Flint, Lead, and Copper

As water professionals, we are challenged every day to provide safe and sustainable water for Nebraskans. This is something we do with great care and passion and because we know the lasting impact it has on making our communities thrive.

We have also come to learn in the recent past how mismanagement of drinking water can ruin lives. Flint, Michigan, has become the recent poster child for things gone badly as they relate to drinking water. For any C-SPAN junkies that might be out there (like myself), we have witnessed first-hand the lambasting of several of the highest elected leaders and regulatory administrators in the country. The reasons behind the attacks are diverse, but most of them center on dereliction of duty.

It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on the legitimacy of the allegations that are being brought forth, but what can easily be inferred is how important safe water is to maintaining trust within a community for sure, but also within a state and even a country. The pure emotion and passion that is pouring from the public causes one to take pause and wonder...what if this were my water system, or what if one of my children were affected by elevated levels of lead in the water?

As an association of water professionals, times like this cause us to band together in support -- and protection -- of the consumer. Accordingly, in a March conference call, AWWA directors and leadership went on record to announce support of the Environmental Protection Agency's revising the Lead and Copper Rule in accordance with the report of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.

The report is in keeping with the National Drinking Water Advisory Council's December 15, 2015, letter report, which transmitted and incorporated the August 24, 2015, final "Report of the Lead and Copper Rule Working Group to the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee." Excerpts from the report say that there is no safe level of lead and that public water systems and state resources should be focused on actions that achieve the greatest public health protection.

Some of the identified measures include:

The impacts from this series of events have been devastating and will no doubt affect many water systems across the country. This likely will be manifested through regulations, and it is reasonable to assume that changes will be coming to the Lead and Copper Rule. What this may look like in Nebraska is unknown, but we can expect a heightened sensitivity and awareness about water. As a Section, we can use this situation to reinforce the great work we do and find solace in a Chinese proverb that reminds us, "The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials."