Water is the "new oil," according to former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio and attorney Lester Taylor, both of whom caution that our nation must act now to effectively husband its water resources to avoid serious consequences in the future.
On a new episode of the NFN Radio News podcast, Florio declared, "Water is emerging as a major concern of this country and the world. The fact is, I’ve heard it said that water is the new oil, and what oil was to the last century water is going to be to this century – a major factor in terms of the economy, in terms of survival, and there are lots of problems that we haven’t really paid attention to. Water, of course, we don’t think about until we turn on the faucet and nothing comes out. Then we think about it."
Taylor, the former mayor of East Orange, NJ, works with numerous organizations regarding infrastructure and natural resources. East Orange manages and operates its own water utility, and when Taylor became mayor he was challenged with managing that resource. Because of previous mismanagement and the lack of previous infrastructure investment, Taylor was forced to raise local water rates by about 75 percent.
"People tend to be reactive," said Taylor. "When you couple the business interests of the private sector with the political and public policy issues of elected officials and/or appointed officials, it’s really hard to make the decision to invest in infrastructure because nobody sees infrastructure. People turn on the tap, they expect water to magically appear; they don’t understand or fully appreciate the tens of millions of dollars that go into making that happen."
Taylor is co-chair of New Jersey Water Works Education & Outreach Committee, which he said is "reaching out to municipalities and educational institutions K through 12 to raise awareness about sustainability of our infrastructure." He also serves on the board of Sustainable New Jersey and is a member of executive committee and chair of its development committee. Taylor speaks nationally regarding environmental and infrastructure issues.
Taylor pointed out that the nation faces numerous challenges. "The pandemic has shown that one ripple in the supply chain can affect every facet of our life," he said. "Who would have thought that a virus would result in there being no water or toilet paper in Costco because people were too sick and couldn’t go to work to produce the product? So it highlights how we are interdependent, and water is a source of life, and we have to protect it.”
Florio noted that the lack of early government action worsened the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic. "We've paid a high price because we didn't do things early on," he said. "If we don't pay attention to things now, we'll pay a price later on."
Both Florio and Taylor emphasized the importance of Washington reaching agreement on infrastructure legislation.
"Investment in the infrastructure also will produce jobs," observed Taylor, "and so we talk about environmental justice, economic justice; those are key components to help build the infrastructure of our communities, providing clean and safe drinking water and/or electric and gas resources, but also, quite frankly, creating new fields of employment and careers for people in various communities."
But the bottom line, he said, is that investment -- and reinvestment -- in infrastructure is critically important.
"Ultimately, our resources, water, electricity, you have to invest in them and reinvest in them to make the delivery stronger," he said. "There’s no one-time fix for a pipe, an aquifer. There are so many different systems for water delivery in our state, in our country, that it requires continuous investment.
"It’s no different than your car," Taylor continued. "You've got to change the oil; you’ve got to rotate the tires, and if you don’t, you’re going to run it into the ground. Our natural resources and delivery system for same are no different."
Listen to the complete interview here: