When water infrastructure is underfunded, a simple activity like drinking a glass of tap water could be unsafe. There are over 53,000 community drinking water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit non-community water systems in the U.S. Surprisingly, there are several areas of the nation that are still utilizing water infrastructure systems that pre-date the Civil War. In 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems a D. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s 2013 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment it is estimated that drinking water utilities will need to invest $384 billion through 2030 to continue to provide safe and sufficient water to the American public. That is a serious level of funding needed but if we are to maintain a first-class society, where people can safely drink from our water systems, we must make these investments.
There are over 30,000 wastewater treatment and collection facilities. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and storm water systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next twenty years. Most Americans may never see such a facility since most of this infrastructure is hidden, underground, and out of sight. For every $1.00 invested in public water and sewer infrastructure services, approximately $8.97 is added to the national economy (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008).
Investing in our water and wastewater infrastructure is one of the best bets we can make as a nation. A national report released in 2014 – The Economic and Labor Impact of the Water Sector – finds that 30 large water and wastewater agencies alone plan to invest $233 billion into the economy in the next decade. This will result in $524 billion in economic output over the next ten years and support 289,000 jobs annually.
However, if these systems fail, and our drinking and ground water becomes contaminated, we will find ourselves dealing with a crisis of such significance that the costs could be far more than we are able to afford in terms of dollars, quality of life, and future cleanliness of our water supply. We must not let these systems fall into a state of disrepair.
There are 12,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways and over 87,000 dams located throughout the United States. Over 4,000 dams are "unsafe" and have deficiencies that are estimated to cost $21 billion to repair. The average age of dams is more than 51 years old and as dams age, deterioration increases and construction costs rise (Association of State Dam Safety Officials).
More than 566 million tons of freight valued at $152 billion move through the inland waterways system annually (American Society of Civil Engineers 2013). These are critical infrastructure systems that, if not repaired and maintained, will cause catastrophic consequences by flooding towns, cities, and farmland in virtually every region of the United States. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed the world what happens when our levees are not built to handle the appropriate levels of water. Had we invested more just a few years before, we may have prevented the billions in costs following that disaster from having to have been spent and saved thousands of lives. As Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Mesa, Arizona Mayor John Giles explains why infrastructure investment is important in his community.
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"There is no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We've always had the best infrastructure. This is work that needs to be done."