Winter’s Toll Highlights the Need for Water Infrastructure Investment

As we have reported before, an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water is lost in the U.S. each year because of leaky pipes and broken water mains resulting from failing water infrastructure that is often more than a century old. At no point is that loss, or the toll it takes on our daily lives, felt more acutely than during the harsh winter months. This year’s bitter cold and enormous snow accumulations in the Northeast are a telling example. Plunging temperatures and numerous heavy snowstorms have caused countless breaks in old, brittle pipes, resulting in dangerous flooded sidewalks and streets, water shutoffs, new potholes, and countless road closures throughout New England. As is the case in other parts of the country, many of the Northeast’s “combined” sewer pipes also carry storm water runoff, so that waste from bathrooms, homes, businesses and industry flows into the same pipes that hold melting snow running off roofs and streets. Winter storms regularly cause those pipes to overflow, wreaking havoc on communities already struggling with bitter cold temperatures and icy conditions. Beyond the billions of dollars that they cost in water loss, repairs, lost productivity due to schools and businesses being forced to close, and lost revenue to utilities who can’t charge customers for water lost before it gets to them, these incidents cause severe disruptions to residents’ livelihoods and daily lives.

Despite this enormous cost, we at CWC are dismayed to observe that funds to address this problem are still in short supply. In fact, as we have also written about before, federal spending on water infrastructure is down more than 30 percent since 2012. At a time when investment in our aging and deteriorating water infrastructure should be growing, the federal government continues to ignore the problem. That’s why a top priority of CWC staff is to push for more funds for repair and replacement of aging water infrastructure, through innovative new financing mechanisms like those we have reported on before, as well as traditional funding mechanisms like appropriations. We will keep lobbying for Congressional action to preserve and increase the EPA’s State Revolving Fund allotment in the face of proposed cuts, to fully fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act pilot program that was established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, and to support innovative financing mechanisms involving partnerships between the public and private sectors. We’re working hard every day to persuade legislators that water infrastructure investment is necessary not only because it will address the incalculable cost of crumbling pipes on Americans’ business and personal lives, but because it translates into jobs. Investments in rebuilding a region’s water system, for example, can employ thousands of workers and create jobs in numerous industries. In CWC’s economic impact study on the job creation and economic benefits that come with water and wastewater infrastructure projects – called Sudden Impact of Funding Water Infrastructure Projects – we evaluated the effect of a $1 billion investment in water and/or wastewater infrastructure in terms of job creation and other economic factors, and found that every $1 billion could create approximately 27,000 jobs. (For the full Sudden Impact analysis of the positive economic ripple effects of water infrastructure investment, click here.)

We at CWC know that what it will take for Congress to finally get the message and act on water infrastructure is action at the local, grassroots level. Residents of effected communities will need to make their voices heard about failing infrastructure – what it means in their day-to-day lives and how fixing it can and will create jobs – so we invite you to join us in our fight.

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About Clean Water Council

The Clean Water Council (CWC) is a group of national organizations representing underground construction contractors design professionals, manufacturers and suppliers, labor unions and other committed to ensuring a high quality of life through sound environmental infrastructure. Working in concert, CWC's 39 national organizations, advocate federal legislation and policies that will promote clean water and improve the nation's failing infrastructure.​
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