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When water infrastructure is underfunded, a simple activity like drinking a glass of tap water could be unsafe.  There are over 52,000 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 2017 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking water systems a D and 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. Demand on treatment plants will grow more than 23% by 2032.  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).

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently estimated that over the next decade, the US needs to invest an additional $82 billion per year in water infrastructure at all levels of government, and all over the country.  Investing in our water and wastewater infrastructure is one of the best bets we can make as a nation.  A national report released in 2017 – The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure – finds that closing the water infrastructure investment gap would result in $220 billion annually in economic activitiy and 1.3 million 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.  A one-day disruption in water service would cost $43.5 billion in sales and $22.5 billion in GDP.  An eight-day disruption would shrink the annual GDP by one percent.  We must not let these systems fall into a state of disrepair. 

There are 25,000 miles of inland waterways and over 90,000 dams located throughout the United States. More than 575 million tons of freight valued at $229 billion move through the inland waterways system annually (American Society of Civil Engineers 2017).  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.”

The average age of dams is 56 years old and as dams age, deterioration increases and construction costs rise (Association of State Dam Safety Officials).  Federal dam-related spending reached a 10-year high in 2016, though almost one-third of the nation's 90,000 plus dams are still rated as "high" or "significant" hazard, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 2016 National Inventory of Dams.  It is estimated it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard potential dams.  


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Infrastructure That Needs Investment