The National Rural Water Association’s 2018 Rural Water Rally took place this past February in Washington DC, with approximately 350 rural water professionals in attendance. The rally, which had the largest attendance since 2014, featured VIP Speakers Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota and Anne Hazlett, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development. The Water Rally’s 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.
Senator Hoeven stressed that rural communities understand the unique challenges faced when building infrastructure, “communities of all sizes rely on infrastructure to support their economies and their way of life.” He added that many of these challenges are brought on by complicated federal mandates and technical requirements that increase the cost of projects, in turn creating complications and hindering the importance of Rural Water professionals in supplying clean water to their communities.
Hoeven, who was Chair of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, is very familiar with the importance and 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.” Senator Hoeven went on to explain that Rural Utility Service loans have an extremely low delinquency rate.
Hoeven also discussed ideas for the future of funding Rural Water infrastructure, ideas including USDA Loan and Grant Programs and EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program, as well as new programs like the Move America Act, that allows states to use tax-free bond and tax credits to create more flexibility and encourage private investment in infrastructure.
Anne Hazlett showed her appreciation for the work of Rural Water partnership with Rural Development. Hazlett also has a vision for Rural Development that includes 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.
Hazlett outlines the priorities of meeting those goals as infrastructure, partnership, and innovation. “We strongly believe that robust, modern infrastructure is truly a necessity, not an amenity for communities to thrive,” said Hazlett. Hazlett believes that if we address these needs first that many of the challenges faced in communities will become more manageable.
Hazlett discussed the future partnerships where each Rural Development State Director has been given the task of building relationships between RD, state and local government, economic developers, and nonprofits. By building these relationships RD will have access to a variety of innovative solutions to help rural communities.
“Rural Development needs a forward-focused agency that is able to assist local leaders with new and fresh solutions to those challenges,” said Hazlett. She concluded her speech by praising the establishment of NRWA’s Apprenticeship Program, stating “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.”