The Need for Action
All Americans rely on clean water infrastructure in some way. While many people might first think of the water they drink, clean water infrastructure is necessary for so much more, including manufacturing, recreation, and public safety. But for something that touches nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives, water infrastructure oftentimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Multiple studies and surveys make clear the costs and needs to maintain and modernize water infrastructure. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most recent assessments, $472.6 billion is needed to maintain and improve drinking water systems and $271 billion will be needed for wastewater and stormwater treatment systems over the next twenty years. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) report card gives both our nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a D+.
Many local governments don't have the financing capabilities to undertake large infrastructure projects without state and federal support. State governments have finite resources to allocate to infrastructure projects and also face rising regulatory compliance costs. Furthermore, in economically challenged areas, water users may have difficulty absorbing rate increases that would be necessary to pay for utility upgrades.
Unfortunately, federal investment has not kept pace with these needs, and in fact has decreased over the years. Since the mid-1980s, state and local governments have steadily increased their spending on water utility infrastructure, nearly doubling their spending over the last 35 years. Over that same period, the federal government’s investments have steadily declined, falling to less than half of what was provided 35 years ago. Most recently in 2017, the federal government provided 4% of all spending on water utility infrastructure, with states and local governments picking up the other 96%. This is far below the federal share of any other type of transportation or water infrastructure.
The longer these improvements are deferred, the more expensive the solution will be. When a water main breaks due to age, stress, corrosion, or any other reasons that stem from neglect, repairing the break is merely a band-aid. It is also expensive and inefficient, and fails to address our country’s underlying infrastructure needs. While the costs for making the necessary investments are not small, the benefits are tremendous. First and foremost, improved water utilities protect public health and the environment. On top of this, infrastructure investments generate economic activity and support good-paying, full-time, and long-term jobs.
In order to bring about these needed investments, the CWC is working to educate lawmakers and the public. By doing so, we can ensure this issue receives the attention it deserves.