By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – December 5, 2011 – Comment

I enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday at the beach with my wife.  Two of my kids live in Colorado (we’ll see them after Christmas) and my youngest is doing a semester in Austria.  The oldest daughter spent Thanksgiving with her family at their in-laws.  I have a lot to be thankful for… family, friends, and good health, among many others.  As I lay in the sun looking at the vast expanse of the ocean, the thought also occurred that I’m also very thankful to live in a country in which access to adequate supplies of clean water has virtually been a birthright.

And to whom should I be most thankful for this supply of clean water? (For its delivery that is – not for its creation, which I’ll leave to a theological discussion for others.)

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, even to our great-grandparents’ , as these were the generations that were willing to invest for the future in major water infrastructure projects.   These community leaders had the vision to acquire the land and water rights, build the transmission lines and reservoirs, and plan for the treatment plants and pipelines that serve us today.  It was a huge investment, but it was an investment in our future.

The problem is that many of the pipes that carry much of today’s water supply are the result of these early investments.  Some of the pipes in our water systems are over 100 years old; many others are reaching or have reached the end of their useful lifespan.  Within the next 10 years it is estimated that 44% of the pipes will be classified as poor or very poor.  Leaking and broken pipes waste nearly two trillion gallons of clean drinking water each year.

The question is, “Is our own generation willing to invest in the future of water supply for our children and grandchildren?”

Community leaders today are too willing to defer these hard decisions.  Congressional bills designed to spur water infrastructure investment have languished, and municipalities have been hard-pressed to make the investments on their own.

It is not easy during these times to tell folks they have to pay more for anything – even for the water that keeps them healthy and their communities thriving. Just look at the reaction Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel received when he recently launched a $4.1 billion initiative to replace much of the city’s aging water infrastructure over a five-year period.   Being a visionary is not always easy, but it is right and a necessary thing to do.

Perhaps the tide is turning, and as a country, we’re coming to realize that a plentiful supply of clean water is not a birthright after all, but a vital commitment from one generation to the next.  For that, I am thankful!