At one time America’s water infrastructure was the most advanced in the world, but this is far from the truth today. Talks of facilities and underground pipe and systems nearing the end of their useful life have lasted for more than a decade, but we are not much further along today. One only has to take a look around to see that the condition of our nation’s infrastructure continues to decline.
A new report from the American Water Works Assn. (AWWA) indicates that $1 trillion will be needed for repairs and expansion of U.S. water infrastructure alone over the next 25 years. The report, titled “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge,” takes various factors into consideration, including timing of water main installation and life expectancy, materials used, replacement costs and shifting demographics.
According to the report’s findings, infrastructure needs across the nation are evenly divided between replacement and expansion requirements.
In February, the Vermont Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released its “Report Card for Vermont’s Infrastructure.” The report card provides an evaluation and letter grade for Vermont’s roads, bridges, dams, municipal drinking water and municipal wastewater systems. These five areas of infrastructure grades ranged from a “C” to a “D+”, with drinking water scoring a “C-” and wastewater scoring a “D+.”
Surprisingly, these low scores show improvement from 2009, when Vermont’s water and wastewater infrastructure barely passed with a “D-.”
Vermont is not alone. Just about every state is dealing with funding starved municipalities, outdated systems of desperate need of repair or replacement, overloaded sewer systems and water main breaks. This was not always the case.
Just as recently as 1995, the World Economic Forum listed U.S. infrastructure as one of the best in the world. Unfortunately, we have slipped down to 23rd place in 2011.
It is painfully obvious that we can no longer continue to rest on our laurels. Water is cheap; too cheap to cover the cost of maintenance, upgrades, replacements and expansions required to bring our infrastructure into the 21st century.
Among the AWWA’s report findings, two key points stand out: Household water bills will go up, and postponing investment will only worsen the problem.
To solve our water infrastructure problem, we need to fundamentally shift public and water systems’ understanding of true water costs, and to clearly identify the expenses associated with sustainably treating, delivering and collecting water and wastewater for the long term.
If our infrastructure has indeed reached the end of its useful life, we cannot stand idly by and watch its spiraled decline. The time has come to resuscitate.