The former director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ben Grumbles, is the new president of the Clean Water America Alliance. Ben recently spoke with BC Water News about his new position, the agency's "Managing One Water" initiative, and the inaugural 2011 U.S. Water Prize, which was awarded at a May 9 ceremony in Washington, D.C. This interview is available exclusively to BC Water News readers, and is the type of content you receive free with your subscription. Read and enjoy.
May 10, 2011

10 Minutes With …

Ben Grumbles
What motivated you to work for the Clean Water America Alliance?
I wanted to be in the thick of policy making and collaborating in the nationís capital to help prevent a water crisis across America. Having served as a Board Member of the Alliance since leaving the EPA, I was also very familiar with the organizationís mission, members and officers. Itís a great place to call home, work with creative thinkers and do some good for water and people.

What would you most like people in the industry to know about CWAA and its mission?
The alliance is uniquely qualified to unite people and policies for water sustainability, helping to break down barriers and shift paradigms (or, as I like to say, stir up the pot to circulate fresh ideas and prevent policy stagnation).

What do you believe CWAA can accomplish that is not possible through other existing industry organizations?
To find common ground on difficult issues, you need an uncommon collection of voices, views and visions. The alliance is able to do that by reaching across disciplines, regions, and missions. How many times do we have high-level officials, executives and educators, and advocates in the drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, agriculture, environmental, energy, transportation and manufacturing sectors, in the same room, much less on the same page? Not often enough. But we can help change that dynamic. The Alliance strives to be a convener and facilitator to increase the collaboration and find the common ground, which by the way, always has water running through it.

Tell us more about "Managing One Water." What are your biggest priorities this year?
Above all, weíre striving for progress on holistic watershed approaches without running into legal thickets or political quagmires and steering clear of one-size-fits-all, top-down policy prescriptions. Our national dialogue and report on "Managing One Water" laid out some key steps. One is to continue focusing on urban water sustainability, with green infrastructure as a centerpiece. Another is to help utilities, as well as community leaders, businesses and organizations, understand what water sustainability, green infrastructure and resource recovery can mean specifically for them. Professional peer exchange programs and details customized for particular communities and watersheds are a recipe for greater success.

What has been most challenging and surprising about getting representatives with a wide range of water interests — including traditional adversaries such as environmental groups and utilities — into a dialogue?
Iím pleasantly surprised by the willingness of diverse groups to discuss their agendas in a room full of other agenda-driven interests. Some of the greatest challenges are oldies but goodies: the resistance to change, the fear of the unknown or the loss of control/authority, the concern about a top-down prescriptive approach that fails to account for local or regional differences.

Talk to us about the "Essential Principles for Water Sustainability," a key element of CWAAís policy framework. In your view, what real changes are needed in water policy and what will it take to move from talk to action?
Water is our most precious liquid asset and yet it is also one of the most undervalued, underappreciated resources known to man (except of course if youíre dying of thirst, your well is dry, your crops are withering, your catch is contaminated, your business is shuttered, etc.). We need to work nationally and locally to underscore the value and vulnerability of water and the infrastructure supporting it. Thatís the beginning and overarching principle. The others embrace watershed-based practices, technology, innovation, and collaboration. We canít overemphasize the importance of waterís nexus to other key areas: energy production, transportation, food and land. The Alliance also sees a burning need for improved monitoring of both water quality and quantity. There is a compelling need for greater investment and attention by federal scientific agencies. This will lead to smarter regulatory decisions and help local managers adapt to changing conditions, whether theyíre caused by climate change or not.

What are you hoping to accomplish by establishing the U.S. Water Prize?
I want to get Americans to treasure water champions as much as sports champions and entertainment icons. That may be a bit more audacious and dreamy than realistic, but weíre going to try hard, through positive reinforcement and public recognition, to make progress. With the U.S. Water Prize we can build recognition to the point that someday many Americans will know about the winners like they do the winners of the Oscars and the Heisman. By commemorating and celebrating true leaders from all walks of life in America, we can take water policy from behind the scenes to center stage and that will create untold opportunities to integrate, innovate and educate.

Youíre back in Washington, D.C., after a stint with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Whatís your weather report on the policy and regulatory environment for water on the next few years?
Rough sailing, given the budgetary storm and political shoals, at least for now. But an impending crisis truly can present promising opportunities. By developing a framework of water sustainability principles, connecting new partners, and changing our countryís views about water and wastewater treatment plants, the role of the private sector, the need for efficiency, reuse and resource recovery, we can generate the fiscal and political support for water sustainability. Congress will serve America well if it keeps water on its mind when debating budget deficits, jobs, health care, national security, and global economic competitiveness. No country can remain strong, healthy and respected if it allows its greatest assets, including natural and cultural resources, to be depleted or decayed.

We have a lot of passionate young readers who are just getting started on their careers. What advice would you give them based on your career in water and the environment, as well as the challenges you see for water professionals?
Follow your passion, learn from the best, and get different perspectives. Find the smartest and hardest working people who are thinking about tomorrow and spend time with them. Try to create opportunities to work or study outside of the water sector, for instance in air or energy or transportation fields, and with people who have very different skill sets compared to yours. Above all else, take advice with a grain of salt, particularly if itís from strangers, former regulators or people giving advice in interviews.

What do you do when youíre not thinking about water policy?
Most likely, itís family, friends, fitness and food (although not always in that order). Sports, nature hikes and childrenís poetry can make me very happy.

Name something most folks would find surprising to learn about you.
Over the years Iíve collected caps from every Major League Baseball team, although I havenít been to each ballpark. Turns out Iíve been to more drinking water and wastewater treatment plants than major league ball parks, and Iím OK with that.

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Name: Ben Grumbles

Title: President, Clean Water America Alliance

Background: Grumbles was named president of the Clean Water America Alliance in December. He previously served as director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and is the longest serving assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Before his service with the EPA, Grumbles worked as a senior counsel for the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and served as environmental counsel and deputy chief of staff for the Science Committee. He also taught for 10 years at the Environmental Law Program of George Washington University Law School from 1994 to 2004.

Grumbles has a bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University, a master's degree in environmental law from George Washington Law School, and a law degree from Emory University.

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