Monthly Archives: April 2013

We do 5, 10 and 20 year plans for infrastructure.  But how long do we expect to this infrastructure to last?  For example, how many roads only last 10 or 20 years?  Most roads only seem to grow with time.  Ancient Roman roads are the basis for many current roads.  We keep adding roads – few are ever abandoned. They simply do not go away.   So a 5, 10 or 20 year planning period makes little sense.

Roads are not the only limit.  The WPA-era water mains are approaching 80 years old, and still providing good service, and our Clean Water Act-era sewer improvements are approaching 40.  Sewer lines are similarly situated.  Many water plants are over 70; we celebrate 100 years on many.  Again, planning for only 20 years makes little sense in the context of the larger length of time.

More interesting, we rarely borrow money to pay for these projects for less than 20, 30 or 40 years.  So our infrastructure outlives our plans and our borrowing.  Often permits are less that the borrowing for infrastructure, which can cause stranded capacity in plants that may never be used.  Miami-Dade County has such a situation – they are not alone.

Let’s look at this in the context of groundwater withdrawals.  There are areas across the US where groundwater levels have fallen. They have fallen because of human activity to pump them for crops and water use.  Colorado has a 100 year management plan in the Denver basin which is basically make the water last 100 years.  Then what?  Texas has shorter plans.  The eastern Carolina drained parts of the Black Creek already, so this is not a theoretical western state issue only.  How do we address this?

Or let’s go back to Miami-Dade County the outer banks of North Carolina, historical downtown Charleston, SC, and many other venues where sea level rise could impact water, sewer, storm water and roadway infrastructure. As we redevelop those area, should plans look at the true life of those assets (100 years) vs. the 20 year plan?

Both issues involve the sustainability of infrastructure systems, which means the ability to adapt them to changing future conditions.  We have known for 10-15 years that stationarity is no longer accepted for future projections.  But we need leadership to move the infrastructure planning to the future changing conditions.

One.  That’s the mantra.  I started blogging a year ago with the statement that “It’s all one water.”  And that is true, regardless of the form it may be in (raw, waste, storm, reclaimed, gray, industrial, etc).  But I may have used too many words.  Dan  Pink notes in his newest book “To Sell is Human” that one of the recent trends is to try to get  your  message to one word.  Obama did this with “Change” in 2008 and “Forward” in 2012.  Others have noted that branding to one word is in vogue with private companies as well.  So what about the water industry? So what about water?  Maybe we simply need to say “One.”  It is all one.  We can treat any water quality to meet whatever your need may be.  So why differentiate the water source? There are many water associations out there for a variety of reasons including unhappiness with another associated (so they creates a breakaway group).  But how does this help the water industry?   There are too many water associations that are way too specialized in what they do.  Differentiating them create silos, silos that make you think water is different.  But we know it is not.  It’s all one.  So for example, the America Water Works Association is the oldest of the water industry associations and is the only one that sets standards for the industry.  It has long created manuals of practice that have been updated numerous times by industry professionals.  And water purveyors must treat all types of water to deliver healthy, safe water to your household, and they do, and have for over 100 years.  Tap water is as safe or safer than any other option.  So what would happen if AWWA were to reassert its leadership role with a new mantra that pulls the industry together.  What if they tried “One”?

In our prior blogs we talked about leaders and who they were.  I got a couple comments about those on the list, and those perhaps not.  So perhaps a little more digging is needed to illustrate the points.  For the purposes of this commentary, let’s focus on the social leaders, often political in nature.   Again, let’s do this based on quick perceptions, as opposed to deeper digging, because perception shapes our reality.  I was asked about George Washington.  In many respects Washington was our first “leader” in the Presidency, but his actions there were mostly non-descript.  He is mostly remembered as a good wartime general.  Even then,  there was really nothing to indicate he was or would be a great leader in government except that everyone respected him because of his accomplishments.  Keep in mind leaders are measured by their followers, so given the amount of respect for his accomplishment she commanded, Washington had many followers.  But perhaps his greatest demonstration of leadership was his refusal to become our king.  He noted that he had led an effort to avoid a monarchy and thought it disrespectful to those that had fallen to recreate one.  He led the revolution for change, but a permanent change.  He was supportive of the crazy radical liberal thinkers who actually had the audacity to think that a democracy by the people could really work.  We have no appreciation of just how crazy this idea was in 1776 because we have lived it as the norm for over 200 years.  But in 1776, it was anything but the norm, and the leadership in creating that democracy should rightfully be laced on James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, all of whom played major parts in developing the Federalist papers, Constitution and Declaration of Independence.  All had a vision of what the US could be and were able to bring others along to implement it.  Each was perhaps more of a leader as President than Washington.

But our first great leader was Lincoln, who was not always that popular as President.  Again there was nothing particularly distinguishing about Lincoln that would lead one to think he would be a great leader, but the struggles Lincoln had faced throughout his life had prepared him for the darkest hours of the young USA.  He inherited a situation where half the country had an economy based on slave labor, did not recognize slaves as people but as property, were determined to maintain their way of life and were willing to risk armed conflict to preserve it regardless of the impact on the young union.  Prior presidents and Congresses had refused to alter the status quo to keep the peace, which really festered the issue for many years and hardened positions further.  When the CSA attacked Fort Sumter and Lincoln acted.  Lincoln set a course to protect the union at all costs.  He refused to recognize the CSA as a legitimate nation (which would later make their re-entry to the union easier), instituted marshal law by executive declaration and set about to rework (change) the federal bureaucracy to support the wartime effort.  He recognized that money would be an issue, so he set a competitor, Salmon P. Chase, to create the central banking system, a major change in how a government did business.  Marshal law restricted activity that might be detrimental to the union, a radical departure from the past.  He bided his time before the change to emancipate former slaves by executive proclamation, and allowing them to fight as full members of the army. He updated the military, and despite setbacks with generals, kept changing them until they provided the results he wanted.  He pursued new developments in weaponry, yet made sure he engaged the servicemen with frequent visits to the battlefield and hospitals.  He created a vision, and became the living personification of it.  The citizens of the north bought into his vision and mission and sacrificed significantly.  In the end he preserved the union, and offered the rebels readmission with relatively limited penalty.  He was unfortunately assassinated prior to seeing his full vision.  The ugliness of civil rights that lasted another 100 years likely would not have made Lincoln happy.

Our next leader also inherited a difficult situation – FDR.  The nation was at the depths of the Great Depression caused by banking speculation in real estate, economic collapse in Europe and other factors, creating rampant unemployment, and devolved financial system.  A few starts and stops aside, FDR convinced Congress to borrow and spend money for construction WPA projects that updated or initiated water, sewer, parks, storm water and roadway projects that updated much of the south and rural areas.  He created regulations for banking and securities, including separated banking and investment monies that protected us (until many were repealed in 2000), insured personal banking accounts through the creation of FDIC, created oversight agencies like the SEC, and initiated social security in response to the banking crisis that left many older Americans in poverty, which was the start of the societal social net.  In the second half of his terms, he led a frightened nation to victory in WWII, setting up the greatest economic boom on US history.  He also died before his vision was fully realized, but his successor, led us through to plan to avoid the errors in dealing with the defeated after WWI, developing the Marshal Plan to rebuild the defeated German and Japanese economies and creating a better model for international communication (United Nations).  Both built on changes from past thinking about how to deal with the issues.

The next social leader was never elected:  Martin Luther King led us to the completion of Lincoln’s dream to integrate all Americans into one nation.  He gained champions in Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who pushed forward civil rights legislation along with major changes in policy in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Even Johnson acknowledged that signing the Civil Rights legislation would create a backlash among certain Americans who would abandon his party. But he made the hard choice to change.

Arguments could be made for Teddy Roosevelt, who led us to setting aside parks, and Woodrow Wilson in WWI.  It is not a coincidence that President Obama was pursued “Change” as a mantra, although he has yet to be able to institute consensus for a lot of change.  For most of the rest of our political leaders, what leadership did they display?  Harding?  Buchanon?  Grant?  Andrew Johnson?  Taft?  Hoover?  Tyler?  So many others.  Leadership is indeed difficult to come by, but leadership is defined by dealing with an opportunity, and the leaders are agents of change to resolve that issue, not the status quo.  Too many of our political leaders have desperately attempted to maintain the status quo.  As I have mentioned in classes I have taught to elected officials – no one remembers, and no one builds statues to the guy who refused to raise taxes.  We remember and build statues to those who implement change, not those that maintain the status quo.  And while all changes may not be positive, trying to return to the 1890s, is not leadership.

My thoughts are with those in Boston.  A terrible incident surrounding a wonderful springtime celebration where some one or some group that has decided that violence is somehow an appropriate means to make a point, a point that so far has escaped us in Boston.  No one deserves to be impacted by events like that.

All such acts are terrorism, domestic or otherwise.  We need to understand that the goal of terrorism is to disrupt our day-to-day life, to scare people, make them afraid to do normal activities, to cause their withdraw from society, to bankrupt business and disrupt economies by slowing cash flow and disrupt governance.  All to make some point.  Or because they are crazy.  Crazy people do crazy things; we expect it, but are always surprised when it happens.

My message to those who did this – so you are crazy, have some issue with someone, are unhappy or want change.  There are doctors and appropriate channels for change, so why disrupt people’s lives?  What does this accomplish?  That’s the eternal question.  Such behavior cannot be tolerated and tends to make us stronger.

For the rest of us, we do society and those directly impacts an injustice to “accept” it, to tolerate it or to ignore it.  May we judiciously pursue the guilty and bring them to justice.  We all must do our part.  Special thanks to all those already helping – the blood donors, first responders, people on the scene who helped.  In the meantime, as FDR said the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   Defy their goals!  Don’t give into their desire to disrupt us.  May our healing begin…

Let’s think about great leaders in business and politics in the US. Our two greatest leaders were Lincoln and FDR. Lincoln led us through challenging times, but his means to govern and organization of the federal government was a huge change from those before him. FDR led us through the challenge of the Great Depression and WW2. But government and the world was hugely different as a result of his tenure in Office (and thanks to Truman for completing it).

Other political leaders included all those crazy radical forefathers who had the audacity in 1776 to think that average people could actually govern themselves. We have no conception to day what a crazy idea that was in the 18th century as we take it for granted today. Teddy Roosevelt changed how we viewed open space. But mostly is change that people wrought that made them leaders.

In business, Ford changed how car were made in an effort to sell more at lower costs. Edison changed the world with the light bulb. Los Angeles would not exist if William Mulholland had not conceived of bringing water and power across the mountains. So is it change or challenge that creates leaders? Or both? Or something else?

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