Now more than ever, advocacy on behalf of the water quality industry is necessary to ensure the water sector’s needs are being met.
Two of the industry’s most ardent advocates share tips on how to get involved in industry government affairs and get results.
Mae Stevens is a policy expert working on water issues as executive vice president and chair of Signal DC Water Practice, a fully integrated public affairs practice dedicated to the water sector.
Ted Stiger is senior director of government relations and policy for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP).
RCAP is a national nonprofit serving all 50 states and territories through regional partners, providing technical assistance and training to small community water systems serving populations 10,000 or below.
RCAP is predominantly federally funded by the USDA Rural Development, U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The organization works closely with members of Congress.
Why Engage With Legislative Advocacy for Water Quality Industry Issues
“It is imperative for the water industry to advocate for itself strongly and consistently with Washington lawmakers,” Stevens said. “Increased federal funding for the sector is needed to address a slew of issues, including aging infrastructure, water affordability, increasing regulatory compliance requirements, and the need to bolster resiliency to emerging challenges like climate change and cybersecurity threats.
“Water professionals must fight for themselves to ensure they remain top of mind with lawmakers when it is time to dole out funding,” she added.
Stiger noted that it is critical to get involved in advocacy as the EPA — which regulates the water industry — is working on the historic investments that have been made through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, through such programs as state revolving funds.
“Advocacy is critically important to making sure those investments reach the communities that need it most,” he said. “Federal agencies can’t do it alone, nor should they. It’s a critical time if you haven’t been involved in advocacy to start engaging on these issues. You can start small.”
How to Approach Legislators to Stand Out in the Crowd
“We start by building relations by talking about the current work we’re doing either in their district or state, giving them some background on RCAP and how we’re funded. Then we make ourselves available as a resource,” Stiger said.
It is important to build an established or trusted relationship or “it’s unlikely you’re going to get a response on any particular ask,” he added.
Fear that interaction with an elected officials will be nerve-wracking, high-stress or not impactful stops many people from doing so, Stevens said.
“Members of Congress and their staff enjoy hearing feedback and recommendations from stakeholders and their constituents,” she said. “Whether you call, email or visit a congressional office, the person on the other side of the interaction will be a young staffer eager to field and make a written record of your concerns.”
Stevens noted that there is no “magic formula” for making an initial connection with an office other than simply reaching out.
“If you have an existing relationship with staff, send them an email letting them know what you would like to discuss,” she said. “If you don’t have any contacts in the office, call the front desk and ask for the email address of the staffer who handles water issues. If you don’t get an email reply, follow up.”
How to Develop an Elevator Pitch
“You have to be clear on what you’re going to be asking them for,” Stiger said. “Identify the issue, why a legislative fix might be needed and how you’re going to help. You have to justify what was done with the funding in the last year or two to be able to ask for additional funding. Identify your goals. Justify the need and why the change.”
“When delivering your request or your ‘ask,’ concision is key,” Stevens said. “Whether you are communicating via phone, email or in person, the best formula is introduction, background information, solution and ‘ask’”:
- Introduction: An introduction should be no more than a few sentences, introducing yourself and your organization.
- Background: Explain why the topic is a problem that needs to be addressed using statistics, brief stories and examples. Examples from the lawmaker’s state or district are the most helpful.
- Solution: A high-level explanation of your proposed federal solution, such as increased funding or a policy change and the potential resulting positive impact.
- Ask: Specific policy action you want the lawmaker to take to get to this solution, such as voting ‘yes’ when a certain bill comes to the floor or introducing a certain amendment during an upcoming markup.
Leveraging Existing Industry Resources
“The water sector is multifaceted,” Stiger said. “Help build coalitions to leverage these resources in any effort, especially if it’s something that if you’re asking for some sort of legislative change it will impact the entire sector.”
Outreach meetings with other organizations help get the buy-in and necessary support, “because it’s unlikely if it’s a major change that you’re going to get anywhere,” he added.
Stevens noted that there are many resources available from which one can pull statistics and background information on issues facing the water sector, such as reports and white papers from the US Water Alliance, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies’ clean water campaign, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Why This is Important Now More Than Ever for the Water Industry
Flint, Michigan’s, water crisis resulting from lead in the pipes was a rallying cry for change, Stiger noted.
Today, “we’re dealing with drinking water regulations, the lead and copper rule revision, PFAS, climate adaptation, water cybersecurity,” he added. “It has opened the floodgates and we need to be involved. There’s been a lot of activity at the state and federal levels.”
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November 2021 provided historic levels of water infrastructure funding to the sector, Stevens said.
“However, the investments provided are nowhere near enough to meet the level of need in U.S. communities,” she added. “It is critical that water advocates seize on this momentum and ensure the passage of water infrastructure funding included in the Build Back Better Act and fight for funding increases in upcoming appropriations and water resources bills.
“At a time when our country is increasingly divided, water infrastructure consistently polls as one of the issues with the highest levels of support, cutting across party lines and all major demographic groups. It is important to emphasize for lawmakers that if they are looking for bipartisan wins, water infrastructure is an area ripe for opportunity.”
A Long Journey
Stiger, who used to work on Capitol Hill for a trade association representing rural local governments, advised those engaging in advocacy to stay the course on long-term strategies.
“You’re always going to have policy priorities that don’t that don’t get passed with Congress,” he said. “We have a number of sections in ‘Build Back Better.’ You have to take what was proposed and keep pushing that boulder up the hill.
“There are other opportunities as an advocate. You can’t get discouraged about certain things. There’s always next year and more people you can talk to. The political environment in Washington changes constantly. Don’t let temporary setbacks hold you back as an advocate. You need to be looking for the next opportunity and realize that everything is not in your control.”