McWane CEO and President Ruffner Page was a panelist at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business for the University’s World Water Week earlier this month, taking part in a wide-ranging discussion on water and its impact on public health.  Although the three panelists approached the issue from their unique vantage points, each was united in their assessment of the state of America’s water infrastructure and current regulatory system, and the difficult path toward a sustainable solution.

The situation in Flint, Michigan, was front and center, and Page said Flint officials failed to take into account “lead-leaching prevention 101,” by not considering the impact of the shift in the water chemistry and its effects on lead pipes.  “It’s positively horrific what happened up there,” Page said, calling the scandal a clear failure of management.

Page discussed his experience working in Washington, D.C., on state revolving funds, a state-level mechanism for funding water infrastructure. Compared to the large sums that are regularly earmarked for highway improvements, Page said water draws a pittance, with the fund recently increased to $4 billion for the entire United States. Page noted water projects are rarely among the highly touted “shovel-ready” stimulus projects, as the literal “out of sight-out of mind” nature of the issue rarely drives votes.

Beyond safety concerns are economic ones. Page said 30 percent of the water pumped in the United States leaks out of the pipes, while pumping water consumes 10 to 12 percent of electricity used in the country.  In addition to advocating for increases in water infrastructure funding, Page said McWane is working on a number of products that would make determining water quality easier and more readily available, such as Wi-Fi-connected in-home water monitoring.

While such technology can play a role, Page said the public would be best served by greater recognition of the enormous deficiencies in the country’s water supply, and the costly efforts needed to fix them.  “If it’s underground or unseen and you’re not personally affected by it or it doesn’t affect someone you know, a lot of our elected officials don’t necessarily focus on it,” Page said. “We need to make sure that the awareness is there and that there is an appreciation for the impact, from a health standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, and from an economic cost to our society.”