It’s something of a self-evident statement, but this year’s theme for Infrastructure Week, “Infrastructure Matters,” is something that it seems can’t be repeated enough these days. It matters to our country, economy and jobs, health and safety, and to the strength of our communities. This includes the drinking water in our faucets and the lights in our homes and the air we breathe.
As part of Infrastructure Week, the Value of Water Coalition kicked off a national “Local Innovators Tour” of innovators in the water sector, spotlighting solutions to the nation’s water infrastructure crisis. And I’m proud that my neighbors in Camden, New Jersey were one of the participating cities telling the story about why water infrastructure matters to our community.
My colleagues recently had the opportunity to speak at a press conference held by the City of Camden and American Water to announce a major milestone in a public-private partnership to improve water and wastewater services, and provide workforce training and skill development in the community. When the company began operating Camden’s water and sewer systems in February, they recognized the opportunity to address challenges at many levels.
A partnership was announced with the city’s PowerCorps program, part of the Center for Family Services, for a project to map out pipes, drains, meters and hydrants. The goal is twofold: to enable American Water to better maintain the system and conserve water, and to help Camden’s young people hone their work skills on the path to employment.
The PowerCorps participants will gather information throughout the city that will be fed into a database to plan for improvements aimed at reducing water loss, improving water quality and better managing storm- and wastewater. This helps the city’s the participating young people to better understand both the environmental importance of water and the critical need to maintain our water infrastructure. They’ll see firsthand how technology and infrastructure can come together, and how it plays a role in the city’s work – in partnership with Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority – to mitigate flooding, create more sustainable infrastructure and turn defunct industrial sites into green spaces.
The challenges facing aging water infrastructure in cities across the country, like Camden, are too big for one entity to tackle alone. There is no single sector that can solve this. Government officials, the private sector, and cities must advance the ways we are all working together. There is no doubt that the infrastructure crises facing our country are vast, but let’s remember that there are also innovators advancing solutions to our nation’s water challenges, both from the private as well the public sectors. As efforts are made so that public-private partnerships can come together more frequently, the nation’s infrastructure projects, and communities, stand to benefit for many years down the line.