We have reported often on the glaring deficiency in public funding – particularly at the federal level – of water infrastructure, and how a more active federal role in financing infrastructure projects is so critical to our way of life. This week, we feature this deficiency from a different angle, i.e., through the disparity in funding to U.S. ports versus to water supply and wastewater treatment projects. We at CWC recognize the value of investments in ports – both economically and for the health of our federal maritime system – and we applaud governmental funding of improvements to port facilities. But port investments won’t ultimately matter if the infrastructure supporting water to homes, businesses and manufacturers isn’t funded at the same robust pace.
As Circle of Blue senior editor Keith Schneider recently pointed out in an article discussing the lopsided funding between ports and other types of water infrastructure projects, making the case to lawmakers for port investment might be easier than arguing for clean water infrastructure. Spending on maritime infrastructure leads to visible, high profile results, and large scale port expansion projects are being funded with millions in federal assistance in cities like Savannah, New York, Charleston, and Miami. In contrast, spending on water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure may not produce such noticeable and visible results. As a result, spending on these types of water infrastructure has declined, and water quality all over the U.S. is deteriorating. As we have reported repeatedly, sewage from aging and failing wastewater treatment plants is contaminating water in communities all over the country. And as we wrote last week, inadequate infrastructure has also heightened the effects of drought in California and elsewhere. Schneider echos the point we have made often: that more expansion and modernization of America’s water supply and treatment infrastructure is desperately needed.
According to a 2014 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending on capital improvements to U.S. ports has averaged $10 billion annually over the last decade, compared to roughly $2 billion invested annually in water supply and wastewater treatment in that period. By 2025, capital investments in U.S. ports are projected to reach $20 billion annually, compared to an estimated $3 billion on water supply and treatment by 2025, the study states. Our April 1 post discussed another study of infrastructure spending by the Congressional Budget Office; that study found similar disparities in spending for transportation and water infrastructure.
The health and economic benefits of clean water may not be as visible as shiny new port facilities, but they are every bit as important to our local and national economies, and to our way of life.