U.S. Water Infrastructure Challenges are Real

Posted in: Drinking Water News, United States Water News, Water Technology
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(Photo Credit: Kokomo Perspective)

Article Courtesy of Alan DeBoy|The Kokomo Perspective|September 20, 2014| Shared as Educational Material

Water issues have been a frequent topic in the news lately, from large main breaks like the one that shot water 80 feet into the air in a Boston suburb recently to the algae bloom in Toledo’s source water.

Closer to home, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recently completed a water resources study that warns one of the state’s strengths, its water supplies, could become a challenge without proper planning and management. Stories about water system issues come and go from the news headlines, but the challenges they represent are very much a constant point of discussion for those of us in the water industry, and they are worthy of greater focus for a broader audience, too. After all, quality water systems are essential for a community’s good health, fire protection and economic vitality.

In 2013 the American Society of Civil Engineers, in giving a letter grade to America’s infrastructure, rated our nation’s overall drinking water system infrastructure a “D,” and the US EPA projected that a staggering $380 billion is required to replace aging water infrastructure over the next 20 years.

How did we as a country get in this situation? Much of America’s water infrastructure was first installed in the mid- to late-1800s. As cities grew, more underground water pipes and related facilities such as additional pump stations, treatment plants and water tanks were added to support the needs of growing populations. All of these assets came at a cost, either from rate payers or, in some cases, through various loan or grant programs, and all of them have a finite lifespan.

Certainly many water system replacements and upgrades have occurred over time to our nation’s water infrastructure. Indiana American Water, for example, has invested more than $130 million statewide in the last two years alone for system renewal in the form of water pipe replacements, treatment plant upgrades and more, and is in better shape than most systems across the country. But not all systems have done so, and even those that have tried often get pushback from elected leaders, customers and others who simply don’t want to pay more for water service.

It’s understandable that no one desires to see costs for anything go up, but the fact is that, if we as a nation want to continue enjoying the benefit of quality water systems to support our communities, we must find new ways to make the necessary investments now to upgrade and fix them in order to meet modern needs, comply with stricter regulations and prepare for the future. This is especially true for many of the smaller systems that are most challenged economically because of lower tax revenue streams in their communities and small customer bases over which to spread infrastructure costs.

Broken water pipes, leaking systems, failing water treatment plants and outdated technology are just a few of the challenges many U.S. water utilities are facing today, and these translate for consumers into interruptions of service; potential damage to homes, streets and businesses; wasted water resources; and less than acceptable water quality. And this doesn’t even cover the need that some systems have to expand their service territories to meet the needs of those who don’t currently enjoy tap water service.

Indiana American Water is playing an active role in these discussions, and we invite others to join in the conversation. Take the time to learn more about water infrastructure issues, the true value of the water service you receive, and what it takes to draw water from a natural source, transform it into quality drinking water and deliver it directly to the tap. It’s a much more complex topic than you may realize.

Strong, viable water systems are necessary for economic development, and investment in infrastructure brings jobs to communities. Convenient, quality tap water was one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments during the last 125 years. We need industry and community leaders across the country engaged in discussions about how we will keep quality water flowing for the next 125 years, and beyond.

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