NRWA Opens 2018 Rural Water Rally with Speeches from Sen. John Hoeven and Anne Hazlett

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rural Water Association opened the 2018 Rural Water Rally with approximately 350 rural water professionals in attendance on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C.

VIP speakers Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota and Anne Hazlett, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, spoke to the largest attendance at the Rally since 2014.

“Communities of all sizes rely on infrastructure to support their economies and their way of life,” Senator Hoeven said. “You, better than anybody understand the unique challenges that rural communities face when building infrastructure.”

He added that these challenges are often compounded by complicated Federal mandates and technical requirements that increase cost. Such complications underscore the importance of Rural Water professionals in supplying clean water to their community.

“Our citizens deserve safe and reliable access to infrastructure, no matter what their zip code is,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven’s work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Chair of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, has made him very familiar with the success of Rural Water Programs.

“USDA Rural Water programs are specifically-designed for Rural America,” Hoeven said. “They are cost effective, they are reliable and they are a good investment for our government.”

The Senator explained that Rural Utility Service loans have an extremely low delinquency rate and a cost rate of only 0.17%, meaning that it only costs 17 cents to support a $100 investment in rural infrastructure.

Senator Hoeven also discussed potential developments in the future of Rural Water infrastructure, including funding programs like the USDA Loan and Grant Program and EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. He also discussed the potential of new programs like the Move America Act, which would allow states to use tax-free bond and tax credits to create more flexibility and encourage private investment in infrastructure.

Anne Hazlett opened her speech with appreciation for the work of Rural Water and its partnership with Rural Development. She also described a vision for Rural Development that uses strong infrastructure to promote economic development and quality of life in rural America.

“Secretary Perdue has set a clear goal for us in the coming year and that is to use our people, our programs and our resources to facilitate rural prosperity and economic development,” she said, referring to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The priorities for meeting those goals are infrastructure, partnerships and innovation.

“We strongly believe that robust, modern infrastructure is truly a necessity, not an amenity for communities to thrive,” Hazlett said. “If we address these needs, many of the other challenge we face in our communities become much more manageable.”

Hazlett discussed a variety of partnerships, including the partnerships required to assist utilities after disasters like the recent spate of hurricanes. She also discussed future partnerships, where each Rural Development State Director has been charged to make building relationships between RD, state and local government, economic developers, and nonprofits are a regular part of business. Building these relationships will help develop and deploy innovative solutions in rural communities.

“We believe the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities are complex and constantly evolving,” Hazlett said. “Rural Development needs a forward-focused agency that is able to assist local leaders with new and fresh solutions to those challenges.”

She concluded her speech with discussion of the various innovations developing in Rural Water, including the ability to file Rural Development engineering paperwork electronically and the establishment of NRWA’s Apprenticeship Program.

“This successful model is exactly the kind of thing that we want to lift up through the innovation center’s work and replicate across other states,” Hazlett said.

The opening session also included remarks from NRWA President Steve Fletcher of Illinois; NRWA’s new Sr. Vice President and Chair of the Legislative Committee Kent Watson; and Keith Heard from the NRWA DC Staff.