Drinking Water Systems Must be Part of Massive Investment in U.S. Infrastructure

Mother and Daughter in the kitchenDuring a campaign stop in 2016 in Flint, Michigan, whose water crisis continues now in its 32nd month, President Trump commented, “It used to be cars were were made in Flint and you could not drink the water in Mexico. Now, the cars are made in Mexico and you cannot drink the water in Flint? That is not good! It’s terrible!” President Trump continued by saying, “This will be changed, like everything else (when I am President)….this is why I’m doing so well in Michigan. I’ve been talking about (the state of the Michigan economy) for four or five years! The damage that’s been done over the years can be corrected by people who know what they are doing.”

Drinking Water Must Be Included

Without question the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan in 2014 heightened the public’s attention across the U.S. about the issue of the deteriorating, decades-old drinking water infrastructure. Since the crisis unfolded, Members of Congress and state and federal regulatory officials have conducted multiple hearings and site visits to learn more about these challenges occurring in multiple municipalities throughout the U.S. What they have learned is, drinking water infrastructure issues are likely to remain prominent in the U.S. through 2037 and beyond.

Water Main pipeline before/after rehabilitation using Aqua-Pipe (http://www.aqua-pipe.com/) cured-in-place trenchless technology.

Water Main pipeline before/after rehabilitation using Aqua-Pipe (http://www.aqua-pipe.com/) cured-in-place trenchless technology.

According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), much of the U.S. drinking water infrastructure includes more than one million miles of pipes beneath our streets and is nearing the end of its useful life. Compounding the challenges is the shifting U.S. population that generates significant growth in some areas of the country and requires larger pipe networks to provide water service.

Bottom line: the AWWA estimates that restoring the deteriorating existing water systems in the U.S. and expanding them to serve growing populations will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years, if we are to maintain current levels of water service.

Back in March 2016, then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing stating, “We are looking at a significant challenge in terms of water infrastructure (beyond the crisis in Flint, Michigan)… Across the U.S. we took a look at this in 2011 and 2012 and we estimated that the backlog of need for drinking water up through 2030 was something in the order of $300 some-odd billion. I do not have the exact figure in my head but I think that is a lowball estimate now. There are others that are now estimating it’s upwards of $600 billion.”

Without question drinking water infrastructure must be included in any U.S. infrastructure improvement plan.  Delaying investment in the U.S. water infrastructure will further degrade current water systems and result in increasing water service disruptions throughout the U.S.  Moreover, EPA already has a viable program in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) that is capable of getting needed financial assistance out to help water systems and states improve their systems. Typically, Congress appropriates funding for the DWSRF.  EPA then awards capitalization grants to each state for their DWSRF based upon the results of the most recent Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment. The state provides a 20 percent match.  EPA also administers the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA) program, a federal credit program for eligible water and wastewater infrastructure projects. WIFIA can also be used to finance water projects.

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Tim Cansler