The rising cost of water was cited by Governing Magazine among the 10 most critical issues that states and localities will take on in the coming year.
Water costs are expected to rise for a number of reasons. First, as we at CWC have reported in the past, thousands of miles of old and decrepit water mains, pipes and other water infrastructure are in desperate need of repair in cities all over the country. According to a recent estimate, it could cost more than $2 trillion over the next 25 years to replace and expand drinking water and wastewater systems nationally. (See our September 17, 2014 post for more information about the impact of aging water infrastructure on American cities.) As Tom Curtis with the American Water Works Association (AWWA), recently said, “[t]he era of cheap water is really coming to an end.”
Second, certain regions such as the Sun Belt, facing the prospect of future water shortages, are spending huge sums seeking new water sources in distant areas. According to Governing’s analysis, these regions are not only tapping new aquifers and building reservoirs, but are exploring the idea of recycling water and in some cases building desalinization plants.
Third, many local governments are being forced to make upgrades to their stormwater systems, treatment plants and other facilities either to improve their ability to withstand natural disasters and climate change, or as a result of Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions. These upgrades can be hugely expensive.
Localities will be forced to finance these enormous costs, at least in part, by passing them along to consumers through higher water rates, posing a significant problem for low-income customers. As the water crisis in Detroit last year showed (see our September 3, 2014 post for details), this creates terrible pressure on already struggling communities.
CWC is keenly aware of the significance of this issue, and we understand that states and localities are often in no position to bear the financial burden associated with upgrading water delivery systems. As a result, our priority for the new year is to help Congress see that the federal government must become a better partner in financing these critical improvements. As you read this post our legislative staff is meeting with both new and seasoned members of Congress, impressing upon them the importance of active federal assistance in the job of water infrastructure modernization. We will continue to fight hard on this issue in the coming year, as we always have.