In this new era of shiny, pretty, and hip new technologies, we have gotten very good at turning a blind eye to the things that we know need to be addressed. One of the most important of those is the aging wastewater treatment infrastructure. The time has come for us to wake up and pay attention to the new challenges that we are being faced with. Much of our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, the million miles of pipes beneath our streets, is nearing the end of its useful life and approaching the age at which it needs to be replaced. And as our population brings significant growth to urban areas of the country, the need for better and more robust treatment systems is here.
According to the AWWA study, Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge¹, if we are to maintain even the current levels of water service, restoring existing water systems and expanding them to serve a growing population will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.
Let’s take a look at that number. One trillion dollars may seem to be a lot of money but postponing infrastructure investments in the near term will only add to the problems we will face in the years to come. According to the AWWA if we don’t begin to solve this problem our costs of fixing our water infrastructure could double to over $2 trillion if action isn’t taken now.
Another point that we need to remember is, not only will the cost to implement new infrastructure increase, but it also increases the odds of facing the extraordinarily high costs associated with water main breaks and other catastrophic infrastructure failures. We need to keep in mind that the $1 trillion needed doesn’t need to be invested over night. It will by fiscal necessity be spread out over the next 20 years. But, if we act now there is time to plan and implement policies that will get us on the right track and headed for a more definite future.
Business as usual is not an answer to this problem. Not only do we as residents need reliable water systems but all of us, public and private rely heavily on our infrastructure. If we choose to wait to address the updating of our water systems our economy may be in jeopardy because of rising costs and the loss of valuable marketshare.
With the recent atrocity in Flint, Michigan where thousands of people were poisoned by lead contaminated drinking water, we know easy fixes will not suffice and that action must be taken. We can’t delay the inevitable and with the costs inevitably rising now is the time when new technologies can be implemented and encouraged. Status quo won’t work anymore.
There are many actions that we can take as a community and as a country to ensure that our water infrastructure lasts for generations and that our economic future is safe. Can we really afford not to?