Guiding Principles for Securing Our Water Future in Wake of Flint Crisis

Feb. 8, 2016
Value of Water Coalition offers advice for making water decisions

The current crisis in Flint, Mich., is a stark reminder of the essential value of water and the role of water infrastructure in protecting the health and well-being of all people.

The Value of Water Coalition believes this is an important moment for America to commit to a future where everyone can count on reliable and safe water service -- now, and for future generations.

Modern water and wastewater systems are one of the greatest public health achievements in this country, dramatically increasing life expectancy. Water is essential to everything we do, and no community can thrive without water. Our water systems cannot be taken for granted.

This country is capable of doing great things when we commit to a vision, and align resources and leadership to make it happen. Now is the time to do that for water. To secure a sustainable water future for all, the Value of Water Coalition offers the following principles:

Invest in Water Infrastructure Renewal to Ensure Public Health and Safety

America pioneered sanitary sewer and drinking water infrastructure more than a century ago. But the nation's water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and decades of deferred maintenance have ballooned into a massive challenge. The American Water Works Assn. estimates that more than $1 trillion in upgrades is needed to replace aging underground pipes. Somewhere in America a water main breaks every two minutes, and changing weather patterns and drought are putting extra stress on water and wastewater infrastructure. These systems need ongoing stewardship, continued investment and modernization to ensure public health and safety. This will require a renewed coinvestment by water providers and local, state and federal governments.

While rates for water bills across the country vary widely, this essential service is affordable relative to other utilities. While communities are investing in their systems, the timing and pacing of infrastructure renewal is simply not happening fast enough in most places to keep up with the need. Often, the average water bill does not reflect the cost of service. We must appreciate the true value of water and increase investment in the systems that bring water to and from homes, businesses and farms each and every day.

Take A Long-Term View in Making Water Decisions and Build a Partnership with the Public

Water is essential to life. As a nation, we cannot be shortsighted in the decisions we make in how we invest in, maintain and operate water and wastewater systems. The public health and safety of residents must be our guidepost. Priorities, challenges, changes and decisions must be approached with a long-term view.

Water providers must create and maintain a deep relationship with the communities they serve. Communities need to know that their public servants and water providers are prioritizing health and safety. The most effective water providers are transparent with their customers about the challenges their systems face, and the priorities and plans to fix those issues. Many water utility leaders around the country make themselves publicly available at town halls and open up their treatment facilities for public tours. This should be the model for all water providers. Demonstrating that decisions are made with residents' health and safety first, and building public trust, are all critical to securing our nation's water future.

Build a Water Safety Net

America is a nation of great abundance. Every community should have access to clean, safe and reliable water and wastewater service. We need to guarantee some base level of access to this essential service, regardless of income. As costs for system improvements and maintenance increase, affordability for lower-income people is a growing concern. While there are assistance programs, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, for other utilities, there is no equivalent for water. We must work together as a nation, with coinvestment by water providers and local, state and federal government, to ensure that everyone in this country has safe and reliable water service. This is fundamental to public health and well-being.

The Value of Water Coalition hopes that these principles provide a platform for sustained national dialogue and action to secure a sustainable water future for all.

Source: Value of Water Coalition