INTERVIEW: Green Bay Water Utility Manager serving on EPA drinking water advisory council

Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 8:34 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The City of Green Bay’s Water Utility Manager has caught the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nancy Quirk is now serving as one of 15 voices on the EPA’s national drinking water advisory council.

Chris Roth discussed the opportunity and position with Quirk during Tuesday’s 4:30 interview segment to hear what her duties will include.

You can watch the interview in the clip above.

Nancy Quirk on her role on the EPA council:

How does the advisory role work?

The EPA accepts nominations from hundreds of people to be on this council from all over the country. If the EPA administrator chooses you, you are sworn in as a special government employee of the EPA for your term’s duration—which is three years.

I was chosen based on my credentials as a water engineer in leadership roles over the last thirty years after the American Water Works Association nominated me. However, I’m not there for the association or Green Bay Water Utility—I’m advising based on my own experience and independent water expertise.

The reason the National Drinking Water Advisory Council exists is to support of the Safe Drinking Water Act.  So this council gives advice, information and recommendations to the EPA administrator—because protecting America’s drinking water is a top priority for EPA.

In total, there are fifteen members of this council and only five of us from municipal drinking water systems. We were chosen based on our expertise in the water industry to create a well-rounded group of advisors. The EPA lets us know what programs they are working on- whether that is a program about water conservation, a policy concerning an emerging contaminant, watershed protection plans or recommendations for treating the water. As council, we have to be knowledgeable about the current issues and research—ultimately assisting the administrator with programming decisions and making recommendations on regulations.

How much influence will you have?

The council position carries significant influence. I’m one of fifteen people on this council—making recommendations that can impact the regulations for about 50 thousand utilities. That is a serious responsibility. We know that our regulators at the EPA have access to the best science and critical research. Applying that research and science in order to govern the water industry—that’s where we as the council come in to provide what we know to be true from our own areas of expertise.

Lead pipe removal from GB water system, what did you learn from that?

In 2015, the National Drinking Water Council gave the EPA recommendations for the lead and copper rule revisions. That lead and copper rule affects millions of people who are dealing with lead in their homes. The council’s recommendation was for water utilities to remove their lead services over time.   I was in another influential role with American Water Works Association at that time—on what’s called the “Water Utility Council,” and I poured over their recommendations. It was based on that research and my experience that we started removing our lead pipes shortly after. Now, we’re considered a leader in the drinking water industry for the ways we found money to give our resident’s so that they could replace the lead in their homes at no cost.

How can that apply to national policy?

Of course, WBAY covered the EPA’s signing of the Lead and Copper Rule in downtown Green Bay back in October 2019. So you know that our city is already on the radar as an example for other cities. The EPA has looked at our city and the way we provided funds so that no homeowner had to pay for their lead service removal. They are looking at the ways we communicated with our customers. I think it’s essential that utilities start working! We are stewards of public health.

We all take drinking water for granted; should we?

Please. Do not take clean drinking water for granted. Providing safe water takes hard work, research, money, talent. It takes a dedicated workforce, and experience. You have surely seen reports from your affiliates across the United States that some systems are failing. I think what we need to remember is that our water systems are used to fight fires, in hospitals, to wash hands—no living thing exists without water—which means this is work that will never end.

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