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Commissioner Neukrug Touts Leadership at 'Value of Water' Forum

The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum.
The panel at Value of Water Coalition's WHYY forum. Photo Credit: Brian Rademaekers

The tragic Amtrak crash that claimed eight lives and left hundreds injured in Port Richmond last week was an inescapable topic for panelists speaking at the May 14 Value of Water Coalition forum at WHYY's studios. Organized as a National Infrastructure Week event, What’s the Value of Water? The Pennsylvania Story featured five speakers, including Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug.

Like others at the forum, Neukrug noted how the "terrible" Amtrak tragedy sparked an intense and emotional debate about the importance of infrastructure investments.

"It’s fascinating to watch this discussion that’s happening with infrastructure now," Neukrug told the audience, noting the tone in Washington D.C. became "very partisan, very quickly."  But, Neukrug said, there are valuable observations to be made regarding how people think about infrastructure funding. 

“If you really want to create change in the city, or to create change in infrastructure in America, there are only two ways to do it … one is crisis, and the other one is leadership. What’s fascinating is that, if you watch this, crisis ain’t working,” said Neukrug. “Crisis happens. You can look at California today and realize that they’re just about out of water. And, yes, there are some policy shifts, and they are trying to figure out how to conserve water at the tap … but no big innovative change has come out of it. So, that takes the two ways of creating change and kind of shoves crisis to the side and leaves us with leadership.”

Pointing to the tagline in the new Philadelphia Water logo – “Est. 1801” – Neukrug detailed the city’s long history as a leader in innovative water management, starting with the creation of Fairmount Park as a means of protecting drinking water sources and the development of the Fairmount Water Works to deliver that drinking water.

As for more recent examples of leadership, Neukrug pointed to Philadelphia Water’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan, a nationally recognized model that uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure to achieve federal stormwater requirements while saving taxpayer money and contributing to the larger goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country.

He also pointed to the department’s Biogas Cogeneration Facility at the Northeast Water Pollution Control Plant, which turns human waste into energy needed to run treatment plants. Features like that and the sewage geothermal installation and solar photovoltaic system at the Southeast WPCP are important in part because they reduce air pollution, but also because every dollar not spent on energy is a dollar that Philadelphia Water can spend on improving infrastructure.

Neukrug said the ultimate goal isn’t just to get treatment plants to a “net zero” status where they are using no outside energy, but to create “net positive” facilities that can actually produce power for use elsewhere. That forward thinking recently saw the city awarded with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award

“We have really changed the game in Philadelphia,” Neukrug told the panel.

For more on Commissioner Neukrug’s comments during the forum, check out the video clips below.

Commissioner Neukrug's Opening Remarks:

Commissioner Neukrug on Biogas and Net Zero Energy Goals: 

Other panelists at the forum were: Beverly Coleman, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Economic Development, Temple University; Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program; Aldie Warnock, Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and Public Policy, American Water and Steven Wray, Executive Director, Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Want more? Read Value of Water Coalition’s latest report, The New Wave of Innovation.  

What’s the Value of Water? Tackle the Question at WHYY with Philadelphia Water

Philadelphia Water is serious about investing in infrastructure. Credit: Rick Orlosky
Philadelphia Water is serious about investing in infrastructure. Credit: Rick Orlosky

Water is essential for everything we do in life, and so are the systems that deliver drinking water to homes and businesses and remove and treat wastewater for safe reuse or return to the environment. After working around the clock for decades or more (often for over a century), and serving growing communities, Philadelphia’s water infrastructure is aging and in need of investment. Water systems also face stresses that their 20th-century builders never anticipated as changing climate patterns intensify storm events, increase drought occurrences, and contribute to rising sea levels and flooding.
Like cities and regions nationwide, Philadelphia is confronting complex environmental, demographic, and economic challenges while working to meet the public’s expectations for affordable clean water, effective wastewater management, and flood protection. But Philadelphia is tackling these formidable challenges with a unique approach. Philadelphia Water is aiming to be a model 21st Century utility with investments in innovative, decentralized water infrastructure as a cornerstone of our 25-year Green City, Clean Waters strategy to achieve that goal. Philadelphia is also pursuing strategies to make all wastewater treatment plans Net Zero Energy facilities.
 
As part of Infrastructure Week 2015, Philadelphia Water is joining forces with American Water, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and the Value of Water Coalition for a roundtable discussion on the state of water infrastructure and innovative investments in regional water systems. The conversation will cover a number of ways that water investments are moving Philadelphia and the region forward, and how water infrastructure in this region compares to projects and strategies in other regions across the country.
Join us on Thursday, May 14 from 8 to 10 a.m. at the WHYY Studios for free breakfast and engaging conversation. The event is free, but you must register by clicking here
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