Summit Calls for Prioritizing Reinvestment in Water Infrastructure

Funding priority for “invisible infrastructure” was the key message at summit & concurrent congressional testimony

The message in Washington on April 17, 2013 was loud and clear: investment in water infrastructure is an investment in America’s future. Top water leaders from the private and public sector joined together in Washington, D.C., to make the business case for water infrastructure investment during the well-attended National Water Infrastructure Summit and concurrent testimony before the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee on Appropriations.

Organized by the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the national Water for Jobs campaign partners, the free summit raised awareness about the need for resilient water infrastructure and how reinvestment in water creates jobs, drives innovation and safeguards public health.

At the same time, Matthew Millea, deputy county executive for physical services for the County of Onondaga (N.Y.) sought additional federal funding for clean water projects as he testified before the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee on Appropriations.

Summit Moderator John R. Bigelow, senior vice president of business services for American Water, opened the discussion by offering some perspective on the sheer vastness of this largely invisible network of pipes and tunnels—nearly 1.4 million miles span across the U.S., which is eight times the length of the U.S. highway system—its reliability and need for attention. Much of the U.S. infrastructure was built more than a century ago and currently around 10% of these systems are at the end of their service life. If not addressed by 2020, this number could rise to 44%.

Without attention, failing infrastructure could result in more disruptions of service, threats to public health, the economy, the environment and quality of life. Rather than continuing to borrow from the future to fix the problems of today, DC Water General Manager George Hawkins urged everyone to run towards the problem and work together to find solutions. When asked how many jobs water creates, he stated, “all of them.” The water sector essentially creates all jobs, because without adequate water and wastewater services you can’t have growth and development.

Economist George Schink, Ph.D., managing director and principal of Navigant Economics, supported this point by stating that investment in water and wastewater infrastructure offers the biggest bang for the buck when compared to other types of infrastructure.

All of the panelists agreed with Howard Neukrug, commissioner of the Philadelphia Water Department, who said that failure is not an option, [we need water to survive] and a solid plan going forward is needed. They also agreed that public awareness, although better than before, remains a challenge but it can be done.

“This is a very important time to ensure our voice is heard,” said Millea, who testified on behalf of WEF. “Appearing before the Appropriations subcommittee will help to ensure that we’re sending a clear and consistent message to Capitol Hill.”

“In an age of fiscal cliffs, credit downgrading and record deficits, many are skeptical about the timing of pushing for aggressive investment in water infrastructure,” said WEF President Cordell Samuels. “More than 40 years of data clearly shows this is a false choice. Water infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and investment creates and preserves long-term quality jobs.  So the question is not why would we invest in these tough economic times but rather why would we not?”

Water Environment Federation

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