What!? A Charismatic, Public Drinking Water Manager

by RALPH NADER

In contrast to years of underinvestment in America’s public drinking water works that has invited takeover drives by large corporations hustling city governments, George S. Hawkins, general manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, or DC Water for short, is leading a comeback in the nation’s Capital. A career environmentalist, Mr. Hawkins, in just nineteen months on the job, has brought immense energy, vision, and ambitious, overdue plans to the forefront. Consequently, people are calling this public servant the rarest of names – a charismatic leader.

Start with his outreach programs that far exceed the level of citizen utilization, thus far. For starters, he reports in print or online to every residence what is going on with their water – from the intake of water from the Potomac, through the Washington Aqueduct, until it reaches the home or business faucets.

Here is what Mr. Hawkins means when he speaks of “community outreach:”

1. Conservation Program DC – a rolling water conservation display for large community events (over 100 people) that shows ways to save water in your kitchen sink, shower, toilet, etc.

2. For a gathering of 10 or more, there is a free DC Water Speakers Bureau with knowledgeable lecturers on various aspects of the water and sewer systems from the processing facilities to the neighborhoods. Sometimes the speaker is George Hawkins.

3. There are environmental education programs for grades K-8 related to drinking water, water pollution, and wastewater treatment. These are available for any grade level, class size or time schedule. Most students in our country haven’t the faintest idea of where their water comes from or where it is processed for distribution, much less their rights under the 1974 federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

I worked intensively to get that law enacted by Congress and in the process was appalled at the low status and support given public drinking water officials then in city after city, especially in Cleveland and New Orleans.

Mr. Hawkins was interested in my suggestion that testing protocols for water contaminates be prepared for high school students taking lab courses in physics and chemistry. Applied around the country high school students could be regularly testing their local drinking water and keeping officials on constant alert and water-drinkers informed.

DC Water has had children’s water festivals to teach the value of water. There are 200 DC locations for free water bottle refills on the go. It runs a Mobile Command Center to be used during extreme weather events and complex water main breaks and sewer repairs. It staffs a “National Drinking Water Week,” the “World Water Monitoring Day”, the “Earth Day Celebration in April” and is launching its very ambitious “green infrastructure challenge.

The green infrastructure challenge invites people and firms to enter a contest to design innovative green practices to absorb rain water before it floods into the combined sewer system. What Mr. Hawkins would really like to see is the green approach become so widespread as to replace the presently planned, traffic-choking building of two giant storage tunnels to manage storm water runoff before it goes into the Potomac, Rock Creek and other waterways heading for Chesapeake Bay.

DC Water is looking for pilot projects to determine if there are enough permeable surfaces to meet the burdens of large amounts of rain overflowing from sewers and going into basements, streets or rivers.

DC Water is responsible for monitoring water quality in the distribution system. About ten years ago, long before Hawkins arrived, the Department was exposed by the Washington Post for allowing impermissible levels of lead in drinking water. This scandal led to the Department offering free filters to D.C. residents with lead water services lines and free testing for any resident. It also sparked an increase in bottled water purchases by people who could afford the product.

In an interview with Mr. Hawkins, he said that public drinking water systems get publicity only when things go wrong. He was determined to restore confidence in high quality tap water, rebuild the system and make good news the norm. Last year DC Water, which maintains 1,300 miles of pipe for 600,000 people, conducted more than 41,000 tests on water samples from hydrants, commercial buildings and household taps.

Many jurisdictions and Departments in the greater D.C. area will have to agree about which green paths to take and who is going to pay what share of the rate increases. DC’s antiquated water mains and sewers will cost at least $2.6 billion to repair or replace. “We foresee rate increases coming almost every year as far as we can see in the future”, Hawkins says publically. “So over 10 years, you’re seeing average bills double,” he forthrightly predicts.

But if the preliminary partnership agreement that DC Water negotiated with the EPA to explore rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavements as an alternative to the current expensive big-tunnel approach, can show the way to a green future, provide D.C. area jobs and persuade ratepayers that this groundbreaking path is in the nation’s future, Mr. Hawkins may find himself one day moving to head the federal EPA. That is just how high a hurdle he has set for himself and his energetic colleagues.

In the meantime, “fill ‘er up” with your reusable water bottle all over D.C.. It’s your water. And don’t hesitate to complain, if necessary, about the water or if your monthly bill is not accurate nor understandable. For DC Water can only do better when they hear from you.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 05, 2015
John Eskow
The Fake Courage of Caitlyn Jenner
Mike Whitney
 The Brookings Institute Plan to Liquidate Syria 
John K. White
Life on the Layaway Plan: We’re All Greek Now
Ted Rall
14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now
Thomas Mountain
A Letter From Africa to #BlackLivesMatter
Roger Annis
Well-Known Canadian Journalist Visits Ukraine and Praises neo-Nazi
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times