The easiest way to get involved in policy, Schapker says, is to join an industry trade association like NGWA or CGA. Groups like these exist to give water well drillers a say in legislation that will impact the work they do. “When you are sort of one fish in a big ocean it’s important to get that trade association backing because it does allow the industry to speak with one voice, which I think is critical,” Schapker says.
Schapker recommends contacting someone in a government affairs role like hers at NGWA or a similar association to get the ball rolling. They will be able to get you up to speed on current policy efforts and offer a wealth of information and resources.
Another good point of contact, according to Maggiora, is your local state representative. He suggests making an appointment with them to ask if any legislation relevant to you is being discussed, and to voice your needs. “Once you get a discussion going with your local people, they know who you are and what you’re looking for and they represent you as a contractor,” he says.
You can’t really form a stance or plan of action without knowing what legislation efforts are underway in your area, and trade associations can help. For example, NGWA has a Washington update that’s shared with members every two weeks online. It sums up what’s going on in Washington and what that means for the industry. The organization also offers local information. “From a state perspective, I know that we also offer on our website a state legislative bill tracking system,” Schapker says. “That’s pretty cool, where we have a map that you just click on your state and it can bring up all of the legislation that’s going on in that state anytime.”
The next step is sharing input and the best way, according to Schapker, is to join association committees and subcommittees. NGWA draws on committee members to provide driller commentary and expertise that government affairs representatives don’t have. This often involves testifying at hearings. “If there’s a topic that’s very relevant to our industry, it’s great to get a member to go up to Capitol Hill and testify on that hearing to meet with the members of Congress through fly-ins or separately.”
Fly-ins are something NGWA typically coordinates on an annual basis. A big group of industry representatives flies to Washington and meets with its congressional delegation to talk about issues at hand. CGA does something similar during a day trip to the state capital in Sacramento. About 30 of its members made the journey in February to voice concerns and goals to representatives. “They were very interested in talking to us because water is the hot topic here in California,” Maggiora says. “They appreciated that we came and talked to them and they know who we are because we’ve had this process in place for a number of years now.”
A positive result of forming relationships with state representatives is that a mutually beneficial information exchange is formed. Maggiora says it isn’t uncommon for legislatures to call the CGA office asking for driller insight regarding industry related discussions at the capital.
Local permitting agencies are also important places to form relationships. When it comes to knowing what’s happening in the world of policy, they can be helpful in sharing any changes that could be in the works for the current code. A less formal way of impacting policy is through local newspapers, according to Maggiora. “Most of them have open forums where you can voice your opinion. … That’s another good way of getting your opinion out,” he says.
The final and most important tip for policy involvement is sticking with it. Maggiora says that with the current drought and high demand for services in California, it can be difficult to find time for policy, but that drillers should make time. From a national perspective, Schapker says it’s important not to be discouraged by the process. “The real challenge is compelling Congress that they do need to focus on your issue, which could be an all-day every day battle, but it’s an important one to make sure that we stay on offense and make sure that Congress hears from us over and over again, that we’re here and we’re not going away.”
Policy Participation Matters
Remaining persistent depends on caring deeply about the end goal and for water well drillers, Maggiora says the stakes for policy participation couldn’t be higher. “Groundwater, in our industry, is our livelihood and if we aren’t proactive in taking a stance on issues, then we have no one to blame but ourselves if the legislative process comes up with something that we’re unable to live with.”
He says he hears a lot of opinions from drillers on policy after implementation and not enough beforehand. “Specifically in California, a lot of contractors were caught between a rock and a hard spot when California emissions legislation went through, which basically made a lot of equipment that a lot of the drilling contractors are running obsolete and illegal to run in the state without expensive retrofits.” With more involvement from water well drillers during the policy crafting process, he says outcomes like these become less likely.
How you approach policy is, perhaps, the most critical factor in creating successful outcomes. Working as a team, as opposed to a lone industry professional can’t be stressed enough. Having several eyes and ears to advise on what’s happening, and where and how to get involved is a huge part of why trade associations exist. From translating the complicated language of proposed senate bills to offering full time lobbyists as representatives, the benefits are huge. “It’s a big, big world out here and to know that you’ve got people working on your behalf and looking for ways to get you involved is critical,” Schapker says. “I’m not sure how you could do it as a one person show, kind of outside the beltway as they say.”