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Policy and funding changes needed to support efficiency, reliability and environmental upgrades for U.S. freshwater systems
Innovative financing and pricing flexibility are key to preparing the nation’s aging freshwater systems to handle growing demand and environmental challenges, according to a Charting New Waters report released by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, American Rivers and Ceres.
The Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure report is the product of a meeting convened by foundation in collaboration with American Rivers and Ceres, which brought together a group of experts to discuss ways to drive funding toward the infrastructure needed for the 21st century.
Largely built on systems developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries, U.S. water infrastructure faces profound problems of aging components, outdated technology and inflexible governance systems ill equipped to handle current consumption, environmental and economic problems.
Presently, about 6 billion gal of expensive, treated water is being lost in the U.S. each day due to leaky and aging pipes—some 14% of the nation’s daily water use. This pervasive water waste is underscored by the fact the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s water systems a D-, the lowest grade of any infrastructure including roads and bridges.
The report concludes that rebuilding and operating our watersystems as they are presently built would be enormously inefficient. One major problem is the very nature of the systems themselves—where drinking water, storm water and wastewater are built, financed and operated as entirely distinct units rather than as more efficient, interconnected systems. Another major problem is myopic, inflexible water-pricing systems that fail to distinguish between various water uses and generally undervalue water.