Economic Stimulus – for Jobs, Clean Water and Sustainability

Clearly, the first purpose of the stimulus package is to kick the economy back into gear. But as David Brooks points out in the New York Times, there is a cost to spending as quickly as possible: 

In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.

 But is that the change the country really needs – throwing money at the old ways just because they’re familar? While we certainly need billions to fix our crumbling water infrastructure, we must not lose the vision for the future of water infrastructure. We’ve spent a lot of money on water infrastructure that has improved public health and the environment, but we’ve also spent public money that has subsidized sprawl that compounds other problems such as increased polluted stormwater runoff, flooding and greenhouse gas emissions.

 In Pennsylvania, for example, public sewage facilities are growing way faster than people need them. According to 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, sewered areas in the Souotheastern part of the state grew by an estimated 22% between 1992 and 2002, compared to a population growth of 3.2% and a growth in the number of households at 5% during the 1990s. We don’t need anymore sewers to nowhere.

 And Rob Pirani with the Regional Plan Association reminds us that the mega-federal investment in dams in the New Deal followed the “build-it-first-ask-questions-later” approach and yielded unintended and unsustainable consequences such as promoting massive water use in the arid southwest.

 But there is a better way that is also “ready to go.” American Rivers has called for a stimulus that invests wisely in the water infrastructure for the future by using green infrastructure and water efficiency first and focusing on fixing existing and pressing problems. The stimulus “doesn’t have to mean ecological disaster” – by working with and restoring natural systems we can improve our infrastructure, clean water, and make communities more resilient to the impacts that climate change will bring. Communities across the country are already using raingardens, greenroofs and wetlands to reduce flooding and provide clean water. Just today, national environmental groups released a broad list of projects for the stimulus today that would create as many as 3.6 million jobs by investing in clean water and green energy.

Big money should also mean big ideas – the legacy of this stimulus should be a better economy and better, smarter water infrastructure. Let’s make sure that innovation and the environment are part of the goals for stimulus, not the cost.