A Greek poet once said: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows but one big thing.”

One common interpretation is that the hedgehog sees everything as a single, central vision, while the fox pursues many unrelated, often unconnected ends.

As I thought about this commentary, which is intended to convey my thoughts on and priorities for the EPA national water programs in 2003, I realized that we — like the fox — are all struggling with many mandates and issues that often seem unrelated and unconnected.

Yes, we all share a common vision: clean and safe water. Yet we also face a daily challenge on how to best organize our work to achieve that vision.

This commentary does not cover all of the valuable work that the EPA does to protect and restore the nation’s waters. Instead, it is my attempt to reconcile the fox and the hedgehog, and to offer a handful of organizing principles to integrate into the day-to-day work of the EPA, where discretionary time, resources and management attention permit.

I originally drafted this as a memorandum to all of the EPA’s regional offices and the Office of Water in EPA headquarters.

Although my focus was on the broad national picture, I thought I would share this vision with our partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program as well.

  • Conserve the Gains of the Last 30 Years: Much of the dramatic progress in improving the nation’s water quality over the past 30 years is directly attributable to our investment in water infrastructure.

But the job is far from over. Communities are challenged to find the fiscal resources to replace aging infrastructure, to meet growing infrastructure demands fueled by population growth, and to secure their water and wastewater infrastructure against threats.

Our state and local partners in the Chesapeake Bay area have been leaders in this area, with the installation of nutrient removal technology at more than 70 significant municipal wastewater facilities throughout the watershed. But as you know, there are still more than 150 facilities in the watershed that do not yet have these retrofits.

Our strategy is to help local governments meet these challenges in fiscally responsible and sustainable ways. We will continue to work with Congress to support workable State Revolving Fund loan conditions tied to the fiscal sustainability of utilities.

In the meantime, we should press forward with administrative actions that we can take now, including: promoting asset management and administrative restructuring, which can reduce capital as well as operating and management costs; rate structures that lead to full-cost pricing and encourage conservation; and metering, which also fosters conservation.

Other actions include:

  • Build Strategic Partnerships with Agriculture: One reason reducing the risk to ecosystems is so daunting is that the EPA shares much of the responsibility with others. To speed up progress in reducing harmful nutrient runoff from agricultural sources, we need to forge strategic partnerships with a broad range of agricultural interests at all levels.

While I strongly advocate the need for a robust range of partnerships, I believe we should focus immediately on working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. and in counties across the United States to ensure that the EPA and USDA target their resources in complementary ways: the EPA’s §319 funds to restore impaired watersheds and Farm Bill dollars to implement practices to protect water quality more broadly.

Last October, EPA Administrator Christine Whitman, on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Program, worked with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to finalize the Resolution to Enhance the Role of the United States Department of Agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay Partnership.

  • Improve and Increase Monitoring to Support Information-based Environmental Protection: We find ourselves in the Age of Information with a dearth of essential, scientifically defensible data and information to manage our programs.

It is imperative that we close these information gaps as quickly as possible: They lead to market and regulatory failures, thwart our ability to document progress, and limit our ability to effectively target our scarce resources.

Monitoring continues to be vastly underfunded. As we work to improve the funding part of the equation, we need to work with our federal and state partners t develop methodologies to improve the comparability of data gathered at the state/local levels; elevate the visibility of monitoring so that everyone gains a better understanding of the value of investing; work with states to help preserve the integrity of their current programs in the face of significant cutbacks; make better use of statistical modeling techniques to fill the gaps; and do a better job of mining existing data and information.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is further along in its strategic use of monitoring and modeling than most other areas of the nation. The Bay Program’s $2.289 million expenditure on monitoring is more than 12 percent of its total budget and provides a sound basis for the policy setting, implementation and tracking.

The sophisticated models used by the Bay Program compliment the monitoring program well.

  • Implement Total Maximum Daily Loads Permitting and Trading on a Watershed Basis: I view TMDLs as an information-based strategy: They help to translate water quality standards into actions to restore water quality.

As we strengthen and accelerate our efforts to implement TMDLs on a watershed basis, we should take full advantage of innovations such as trading and watershed-based permitting.

Trading is a valuable tool to more cost-effectively implement TMDLs and to enable communities to grow and prosper while retaining their commitment to water quality. Trading can also be an appropriate mechanism in the pre-TMDL context, if the right conditions are met.

Both trading programs and watershed-based permitting have an additional advantage: They help to generate more holistic, integrated data on water quality.

I am familiar with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s early start on nutrient trading. The Bay Program’s endorsement of its own Nutrient Trading Fundamental Principles and Guidelines in early 2001 should play a role in helping to meet the water quality goals set out in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.

I know this is not the hedgehog’s one central vision. Neither is it a set of random, unconnected thoughts.

Rather, it is a manageable set of tools for all of us to focus our work — leading to greater chance of success in achieving our common goal of clean and safe water.