All across America, communities have huge obstacles to overcome as they struggle to provide reliable water in the face of aging infrastructure, growing demand and the increasing complexity of water management.
Yesterday, Jeff Sterba, our president and CEO, provided testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies regarding financing solutions that would help water providers across the country repair and replace the nation’s aging water and wastewater systems. Representing both our company and the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), he discussed the severe challenge that the country’s aging infrastructure presents for the water industry and the nation as a whole, and the ways that government can help enable private sector funding and partnership to turn the situation around.
When we talk about the aging infrastructure in our country, it’s important to keep in mind that upgrading the vast and complex systems is not the sole responsibility of any one group, organization or entity. The nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is in critical need of repair, and water utilities’ access to private funds for financing upgrades to pipes, pumps and plants are on an increasingly dire timeline. With an estimated 650 water main breaks occurring every day, and two trillion gallons of treated water lost every year at a projected cost of $2.6 billion, aging and deteriorating public water systems threaten economic vitality and public health. Communities nationwide are faced with massive fiscal challenges to replace critical water and wastewater infrastructure, but there are answers.
Public-Private-Partnerships, where private-sector water companies assist in the design, rebuilding and/or operation of publicly owned water systems, is a viable solution for many communities. In addition to increased access to capital, one way in which partnerships can help local municipalities is by leveraging the knowledge and experience of a skilled partner. Small communities may significantly upgrade their water systems once every 50 years. At that rate it makes little economic sense for smaller towns to employ highly sophisticated full time personnel to manage complex updates. Private water companies, meanwhile, utilize the existing resources of highly specialized staff who can be made available to communities as needed. Through partnerships, municipalities gain affordable access to such expertise.
The combination of public service and private enterprise working together can help build the water infrastructure our communities need to thrive and to be healthy. As Jeff presented, the challenges may seem vast, they don’t need to paralyze us from moving forward. With tools that will help attract private capital for the long-term, reliable investments that well-run water utilities provide will work in tandem with municipalities to deliver cost-effective and sustainable solutions.