Investing in Water Infrastructure Keeps our Economy Flowing

The following is a summary of an opinion piece by former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell:

 When we talk about the decline of America’s infrastructure, every American can see the rusting bridges, potholed roads and rush hour congestion in their communities. But less apparent to the naked eye are the millions of miles of underground water and sewer pipes that provide an essential service to our homes, businesses, farms and factories. Out of sight and out of mind for most Americans, these pipes are the arteries that carry our nation’s jobs, businesses, and productivity. But this infrastructure is aging and stressed, putting our jobs, families and economy at risk.

Across the country, water systems are coming to the end of their useful life. Too many communities are running on crumbling, aging water infrastructure — and borrowed time. Nationally, more than one in five water mains are more than 50 years old, and nearly half are between 20 and 50 years old.

 Nearly 50 percent of mayors surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 2015 rank water and wastewater investment a top three priority for their cities. Yet deferred maintenance and the cost of decades of neglect are adding up. A water main breaks somewhere in America once every two minutes, costing $2.6 billion annually in repairs.

The American Society for Civil Engineers estimates that the gap between what America is investing in water/wastewater infrastructure, and what it needs, is more than $100 billion. Failing to close this gap over the next decade would be disastrous for America’s economy, hampering day-to-day commerce, resulting in losses of more than $500 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, and jeopardizing nearly 500,000 jobs.

America’s water-reliant sectors — agriculture, energy and several manufacturing sectors — account for 25 percent of America’s economy. Without reliable water service, the nation’s economy could grind to a halt.

Reliable water doesn’t just make other sectors run; it creates good-paying jobs. A study by the Water Research Foundation surveyed water utilities in 30 large cities, representing a quarter of America’s population, and found that adequate investment would create 289,000 permanent jobs, generate $19 billion annually in labor income and more than $50 billion in economic output.

To build the kind of America that we want future generations to enjoy, we’re going to have to invest in our water systems, just like generations before us did. That way, every community, today and for years to come, can thrive.